State of Decay seems to have popped up out of nowhere, at least for me. The first I’d heard of it was on the day it was released, and that’s more often than not a very bad sign… or just a sign that my mind is slipping thanks to old age. Zombie games are a dime a dozen nowadays and can be easily overlooked, so a game like State of Decay really needs to win over even the most enthusiastic zombie fanatics if it’s to earn a rightful place amongst the zombie greats like Left 4 Dead, Day Z, and my personal in-alpha favorite The Dead Linger. If you haven’t noticed by now, I have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to cheap attempts to cash into the zombie fad. The War Z tried to capitalize on the popularly of zombies and got more than a couple lashings. As a downloadable XBLA title, I feared that State of Decay wouldn’t be much better off. Like the melodramatic reaction to a fallen friend arising from the dead, I found myself quite shocked at State of Decay’s overall presentation.
It would be easiest to explain State of Decay as an open-world, single-player version of Day Z , but it’s so much more than that thanks to a heap of moral choices that affect every NPC and playable character in the game. If that sparks your interest, be prepared to immerse yourself in an open-world zombie survival game that is like no other.
State of Decay (Xbox Live Arcade)
Developer: Undead Labs
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release: June 5, 2013
MSRP: $20.00, 1600msp
In State of Decay, the goal is to survive. How you go about doing that is entirely up to you. The story is the same zombie story you’ve been told a million times before. Everything was normal, then zombies attacked. Yawn. The way the story unfolds, however, is what makes State of Decay so special. From the beginning, you are free to do as you wish. Will you go salvage for supplies or scout the area for fellow survivors? Will you take a vehicle or hoof it on foot? These are the decisions you must make as a survivor of the zombie apocalypse. Interestingly enough, each decision has benefits and consequences. Cars and guns are loud and can draw hordes of zombies to your position. You can fix the gun noise problem by attaching a silencer but that requires resources to create or some time rummaging through homes. Little decisions like these have a big effect on the way you play the game.
You don’t play as a single character; instead you play as an entire group of survivors and are able to swap between them when one becomes tired or ripped to shreds by a feral zombie. It’s almost a rougelike, but characters can easily be replaced once more are befriended within your group. Given the context, this works very well and makes State of Decay feel like The Walking Dead TV show. Important people serve their purpose and then die. You can hope, pray, and even play it careful, but chances are everyone will meet their demise at some point during your playthrough. In fact, it’s unavoidable. It’s impossible to keep track of everything going on in the game at once. When you aren’t playing as them, characters will go out on their own missions and there’s always the chance they won’t make it back safely. Depending on how busy you are, you may notice a blip on your map that shows where one of your team is in dire need of help. You could try to save them, but there’s always a more pressing matter to attend to than saving a single friend. The large amount of blips and missions that start rolling in really makes you want to prioritize your time. Even if there’s a chance to save the first character you’ve played as, is he really worth screwing up your chances of gaining a entire group of survivors? If you save the group of survivors, will you even have enough food for them all?
State of Decay does a lot of things right and manages to capture everything a zombie survival/simulation game should be, but unfortunately, State of Decay seems to have been released in a literal, well, state of decay. It’s reminiscent of The Dead Linger in terms of clipping, jaggies, bugs, glitches, and framerate hangups. The only difference is that The Dead Linger is in alpha testing and State of Decay is a fully released product. Granted, most of the problems can be overlooked and don’t necessarily “break” anything, but they are a nuisance and make State of Decay feel like a very unfinished game that needed several months of polish before release.
Side missions that require going out with a depressed survivor to help clear the air and open up to each other as a form of social bonding loses any emotional investment it tries to maintain thanks to the repetition of the dialogue. Every single member of your team of survivors goes through bouts of depression, and quite frequently . Instead of mixing it up, they all say the exact same things. I understand it’s the end of the world and there’s a reason to be depressed, but the repetition makes your home base feel like Emo Pride Fest 2013. The same repetition hits when you’re bringing salvage back to the base in the form of a stupid “zombie pony” joke that was slightly amusing the first time, but will make you want to live wasps into your ears when you’ve heard it over twenty times in a single sitting.
A fantastic concept that fails to impress is the barricading of windows. Barricading windows feels pointless since it attracts zombies and it’s a lot faster and safer to just run through a house, kill any zombies, and salvage supplies. Even if you do want to barricade up your little home fort, you can’t block the doors and zombies will just open them and pour in after a couple good hits. Not only that, but the boards on the windows will disappear the moment you leave the game.
I didn’t find the graphics of State of Decay to be as ugly as some, but they certainly aren’t anything to brag about. It’s forgivable since it’s an XBLA title, but the ugliness gets amplified once the screen-tearing and texture pop-ups accumulate.
What breaks my zombie-loving heart is that State of Decay feels like it is damn near close to being the best single player zombie game out there, only to be held back by the limitations of the Xbox Live Arcade and odd and lazy development decisions. There’s plenty to love here, but like making out with a corpse, it’ll leave a bad taste in your mouth. Those of us who are into that kind of thing will be able to overlook its problems in favor of the breath of fresh undead breath it breathes into the world of zombie games, but it’s most certainly not for everyone.