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A while ago, we posted an article listing the Top Five Doomsday Scenarios in Gaming, and at Number 5, we listed the Zombie Apocalypse. The concept is powerful: the world as you know it is over, filled with vicious creatures that would eat you if they caught you and survival was the ultimate, and seemingly unattainable, goal. The days of George Romero’s social commentary seem lost in this generation of zombie as they gained speed, ability and even intelligence in some iterations. The focus has shifted from helpless survival to a more action-heavy narrative, seen in Left 4 Dead, Dead Island and Dead Rising. And though those games are ridiculously entertaining, I always felt there was something missing to these games, an element of preparation and planning. And State of Decay is everything I ever wanted in my zombie games… with a few issues.
Children of the Corn
State of Decay is a single-player Survival Horror game developed by Undead Labs in conjunction with Microsoft Studios. Jeff Strain, the founder of UL, made his company strictly with the intent of developing Zombie games, and this is their first product. His original intent was to create a game where players could test their own plans for surviving a zombie apocalypse. Assuming this game is a success (250 thousand downloads in the first twenty-four hours), their next game will be an MMO *ugh* in the same genre, but first let’s consider this one.
In front of a hoard is not the place you want to be
The game opens up with you controlling Marcus as he prevents his buddy Ed from becoming a lakeside snack on their annual fishing trip. The lack of cinematic is disappointing, but journal entries serve to fill you in. The first twenty minutes serve as a tutorial, introducing all the major concepts of the game, like mission selection, combat skills, scouting and stealth. As you leave the area, you feel prepared to take on the world, all 16-squared kilometers of it. But you really haven’t even begun.
Why would you turn on the flashlight? Haven’t you played Silent Hill?
Oh, and this game is not an easy one. You need to be able to think on your feet and balance long-term survival with short-term gains. Firstly, zombies are no joke here. These are the fast variety, the ones that you can’t just run circles around. And they hit hard, see you if you’re not sneaking and hear you if you do ANYTHING. Secondly, each survivor has a health bar and a fatigue meter, which means running and attacking will tire you out, leaving you easy prey for your enemies. This means stealth becomes very important for simple survival. And now thirdly, the barrage of missions thrown at you. You will receive multiple missions from exploring, radio messages or just scouting out the town. Oh, and they’re time sensitive, so if you decide to stealth around the whole time, you’ll probably miss the majority of them. Did I mention missing a mission can be bad, like Survivors killed, resources lost, new troubles gained, bad? Well I have now.
A Work Area is nice, but isn’t a Garden a bigger priority?
The true genius of this game is the base management aspect. Survivors are gathered at your home base, starting with a church. you can add new structures if space is available. Doing so costs resources, though, like fuel, medicine and building materials. Actions done for characters increases your Influence, a form of currency in the game. Morale of the group is equally important, as if it gets too low Survivors will leave or even commit suicide. So when you’re trying to figure out whether to make a new sleeping area or a medical area, it’s a constant balancing act of losing one benefit to claim another.
I Spit on Your Grave
The Zombies aren’t the only unfriendly locals here
This game is far from perfect, however. The draw distance is comparable to a PSone at times, with zombies sometimes popping up two feet in front of you, crouched and in attack position. Clipping is also a problem, as zombies are visible lodged in walls and sometimes move right through them. The inventory system is also lacking, as you can’t exchange items directly between Survivors, meaning you’ll lose time and Influence points exchanging them through storage boxes. These were problems solved, or at least improved greatly upon, in the last console generation, and it’s painful to see them in a current generation game. There’s the matter of time going on when you bring up your map, making it harder to plan your next step when being chased or driving. Also, the graphics look creepy and well-defined, but are also less pretty than GTA IV which was released in 2008. Not a great thing to be saying in 2013.
Moment of Truth
The gameplay innovations make this game completely surpass its shortcomings. The story isn’t presented fantastically, but it gives you the ability to trailblaze your own. The graphics have their issues, but they carry their own subtle creepiness. The sound, well, some lines are cliché and uninspired, but the music is great, orchestral in some parts, single instruments in others, all well placed. The system itself feels unfair to start, leaving you feeling like you missed something, but once you embrace that you can’t save everyone and everything, you begin to enjoy the choices you make. It’s also worth noting that this game is from a new studio, covers a lot of gameplay, and comes in at a price tag of $20, not only making it more affordable than new titles, it’s worth every bit of that money and more. Even without the low price tag, this would be worth getting. We thank “Man Walking” for requesting such a unique game to review, highly recommend this game to anyone with an Xbox 360, and eventually PC owners everywhere.
State of Decay is Rated M for Mature for Intense Violence, Blood and Gore, Sexual Themes, Partial Nudity, Drug References and Strong Language, which are all par for the course in Zombie Apocalypse games, so if you’ve played one, nothing here will shock you. Enjoy your stay, there will be more to come.
Diligent readers (I love you if you are) will recall an article written some months ago titled …And in Greater Numbers: The Argument Against Open World Gaming and you’re probably thinking “He may be an amazing writer, not to mention devastatingly handsome, but he’s about to eat his own words by LIKING one of these games!” And though you’re correct on the first two counts, (and no, my hair really IS naturally that color), I will not be eating any of my overly-hyphenated words. In that article, I made three main arguments against most games of the genre: Linearity, Useless Space and a Lack of Realism. State of Decay delivers on every aspect of my desires for the genre and then some.
First, there isn’t time to be idle. If you’re not doing a mission, you’re scavenging so your group can survive another night. If you are doing a mission you are doing it as fast as possible to scavenge more. If you’re doing nothing, you won’t make it. And with missable missions, you are making those choices quickly. This all leads to VERY non-linear gameplay, as you will always find a new approach to try, and randomly placed items and enemies help that a lot. Second, empty spaces are less concerning. Most buildings are explorable, and exploring them is necessary for survival. Roads tend to have hoards, and you’ll be thankful for the long way around to where you’re going. Lastly, for realism, well, I assume zombie bites kill faster than your health goes down, but one equipable ranged and melee weapon at a time and carrying space limited by your backpack and the weight of the items leading to encumberment makes it that much closer to an apocalypse simulation than an action game. So yes, I do like an open world game. But when they did everything I wanted, I feel like everyone wins!
How many Survivors did you lose your first session? Drop your experiences in State of Decay in the comment section below!