As much as I loved Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed I couldn’t fully explore that zombie-infested world. I wanted the freedom to scavenge, establish a stronghold and repel an advancing horde. In State of Decay, I got my wish.
It’s certainly not a cheap game, setting you back a mammoth 1600 Microsoft Points, and its beset by dodgy frame rates, blatant pop up and clipping issues… oh, and the AI does have its moments too, but don’t let that put you off. State of Decay from Undead Labs is arguably one of the jewels in the XBLA crown right now.
An open world zombie RPG full of resource management, strategic decisions and moral choices, State of Decay gripped me from the outset. You’re quickly thrown into the action, having to run to the aid of someone being eaten… Deny the zombie attackers and the next quarter of an hour forms a tutorial, with plenty of handholding to outline the controls and basic principles of stealthy exploration.
This is a game about survival, growing your influence and fame, upgrading skills and building a secure network of outposts. Bear in mind it’s a single player experience though, which is a real shame – imagine roaming about the place with friends online!
Still, there are plenty of opportunities to explore and wander around the huge landscape, with time sensitive missions peppered throughout. And it is great fun alone. By meeting like minded souls, making allies and levelling up the characters, you’ll build a community capable of fending off the undead.
Before long you’ll have a home base and will soon need to expand to cope with the demands of all the survivors you attract. There are plenty of structures that can be built, such as a medical area or a garden, a library or a watchtower – and each has different benefits. Choose carefully, however, as each plot only has so much space available and you won’t be able to keep everybody happy.
Remember the days of Fable II and the way you could come back to the game after a few days and your coins would have miraculously multiplied? The game functioning during your absence was a fantastic idea, without which I’d have been unable to buy several dwellings… well, a similar thing happens in State of Decay – although I’m not so chuffed about it. You see, even while not playing, the game continues. Supplies dwindle, colleagues get eaten, zombies gather. Returning to the fore after a few days will most likely result in you having to put our several metaphorical fires.
Chances are that the nice secure home you established and cultivated has turned to rack and ruin, and your fellow survivors are seething, low on morale and hungry. Funny thing is, you really do start to care about their plight. These are people you’ve rescued or helped. No doubt, they’ve been on supply runs with you and maybe one was wielding the rusty spade that killed the zombie about to sink its teeth into your neck.
This is a game about flitting between tasks and prioritising missions on the fly – it’s almost got a kind of tower defence feel to it, juggling objectives to try to minimise the impact on your community. Spend too long scavenging and fail to return to base in time with vital supplies and a colleague could die. Deliberate too long on whether to build some sleeping quarters or a new veggie patch and it could have repercussions. Even deciding whether to take your time raiding an abandoned house for food/ammo or rushing through each room and creating more noise in the process has dire consequences … it’s a fine balance and could be the difference between life and death.
You see noise is not your friend. Every time you rifle through a cupboard or sift through drawers, a small blip appears on your mini map to indicate the disturbance. Similarly a gunshot or inadvertent honk on the car horn is bad news and chances are a passing horde will soon be down on you like a tonne of bricks.
If you’ve got a couple of survivors with you, there might be a chance of making it out alive – but trying to fight zombies alone is never going to end well. For that reason, running about the place and going in all guns blazing is a definite no no. Before long, you’ll be all too familiar with the crouch button and will learn to ransack those houses as silently as possible.
It’s certainly tempting just to grab a car, put the pedal to the metal and tear through the towns and countryside, swinging open your door to strike a passing “Zed”. And it’s fun too. But like all games of this type, you soon realise that cars don’t take kindly to running over the undead repeatedly, and planks of wood or baseball bats can’t dish out too much damage before they also become useless. Play in a wreckless fashion and you’ll soon be weaponless and have to rely on traversing the huge map on foot – a very risky business indeed.
Heading out at night on a supply raid or having to clear an infestation at a nearby property really fills you with a sense of dread as there’s every chance you or your friends won’t make it back alive. When you’re dead, you’re dead. That’s it, no second chances.
Constantly keeping an eye on the stamina and health bars will soon become second nature. I know from experience that there’s nothing worse than draining all your energy after an un-necessary jog, only to be set upon by a feral zombie and be unable to run away! Get too tired and you’ll be prompted to let your character rest, allowing you to take control of another in your camp. This gives you the opportunity to not only boost their stats but to form yet another bond that makes it all the more painful when they perish.
Giving a zombie a good beating is supremely satisfying, and you’ll feel pretty confident in doing so. They’re not the fastest or the smartest of creatures and a couple of well-placed blows will leave them a bloody mess. However, when there are few of them about the odds are firmly stacked in their favour. Making a poor decision about your next mission or whether to explore a new building can quickly lead to your untimely demise.
The majority of the slobbering beasts are fairly easy to kill, with a few kicks to the cranium sufficient to see them off. Like all good games of this ilk, however, there are several enemies that are tougher and quicker. Among them, the juggernauts are huge brutes with a powerful attack and are tricky to kill, while screamers attract other zombies and make your survival even more unlikely.
There’s no doubting that State of Decay is a little rough around the edges aesthetically and it really misses a multiplayer option but it’s a compelling and addictive game that offers an altogether different experience from most of the other zombie-filled titles currently available. It’s engrossing and immersive, and is certainly a welcome addition to your hard disk!
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.