Review by Anti_Roxas
A fun first outing for Undead Labs
State of Decay is the first game to be developed by Undead Labs, being published exclusively for the Xbox 360s Live Arcade. It has been said by the developer on numerous occasions that this game is a testing grounds of sorts for the companies ultimate goal- an MMO zombie survival game. But does that mean you should skip this game and wait for this eventual sequel?
The game has been compared to other open world zombie games such as Dead Rising and Dead Island, however neither of these games require you to think about your characters and NPCs well being, how much food is stocked up at the safe house or if the town youre living close to is running low on building supplies for that upgrade to your medical area you so desperately need to save one of your characters, whos skills youve spent the last few hours maxing out.
For a downloadable title, this game has enough content to warrant a full retail price value. From sneaking past a zombie horde to find your next scavenging location or inviting other survivors to your safe house to train them in fire arms combat, State of Decay seems to cover all aspects of the rather popular post apocalyptic zombie genre.
An RPG/Action/Stealth Hybrid?
So what specific type of game is it? There are a lot of different elements that make up State of Decay. Sometimes the game may seem more action based, as you use one of the many different weapons available to defeat the walking dead. Sometimes however, stealth is your best option, such as when youve run out of health items, or you need to quickly search a house for supplies. Mixed in with all of this are some light RPG elements, where almost everything you do in the game affects the character you are currently playing as in terms of stats bonuses. Things like cardio, weapon specializations and vitality can all be improved to give each character a better chance of surviving this undead nightmare.
Delving more into the RPG elements of the game, each character can also have a random trait assigned to them. Perhaps before the apocalypse one of your group was a therapist? This will help morale within the safe house in a small way. Negative traits can also affect the group, such as someone who is argumentative or depressed, will bring down the group and in turn cause others to feel the same.
Time management also plays a small factor in the game. Turning the console off doesnt pause what happens in the game world. You may come back after a day of not playing to find a member of your group missing, or medical supplies dangerously low. However, turning the game on and having to spend the first 20 minutes raising morale back to what is was when you powered down can be quite tedious and annoying, though thankfully the longer you are away from the game, the less time passes. A week of real time for example, will only be around 3 in game days.
Story of Decay
The game starts off rather abruptly as you take control of Marcus, a natural born leader (as his character profile traits state) who must defend his friend Ed from a swarm of zombies. With nothing more than a wooden stick to save you friend, you quickly come to grips with State of Decays combat, which will be discussed later on. It is this opening area that serves as the games tutorial. Once you leave, you cannot return and must proceed into the fully open world. Its worth noting that you should spend as much time in this small area as possible, to fully get to grips with a lot of the games mechanics and menus.
The menus in particular can be quite daunting at first. They arent very intuitive and the small text guide on each page doesnt do much to help. It doesnt take too long however to get to grips with it. Its also a nice touch that the game world does not pause whilst you are in this menu, so you arent safe from attack whilst youre quickly trying to switch characters, or check your home supplies.
As for the story itself, it is rather uninteresting. The opening hour or so of the game gives you the impression that a good story could be told, but it is seemingly dropped in favour of non-linear mission progression. Story missions like defending another group of survivors farm, or helping the military investigate zombie hordes still do little to build interest. Perhaps this is due to the fact that your characters can die permanently. Once a character is gone, theyre not coming back. Be it through being eaten alive, infected and succumbing to the disease, even having the player put a bullet in their head so they dont turn. An auto-save feature means you cant quit the game and reload to your survivor being fresh faced and in good shape. Should all your player characters be killed however, you are given a new, random survivor that joins your home base, so luckily there is no permanent game over.
An Arsenal to Defend Against the Dead
So how is State of Decays combat? Overall, melee combat works very well. Three buttons for attacking, one for dodging, holding down the left bumper then gives heavy variations of these attacks (For example, the jump attack becomes a very useful drop kick). Instant kills can be preformed once an enemy is downed (Though not necessarily against the games numerous special zombies) , resulting in a satisfying decapitation. Each of these attacks use a different amount of stamina, which must be used cautiously so that you dont become tired and unable to attack, or even worse, unable to run.
Extra moves can be taught dependant on traits and weapon specialisations can be unlocked, giving characters bonus attack power when theyre equipped with that particular type of weapon (Blunt, Edged etc).
Unfortunately, ranged combat isnt up to scratch. The controls feel rather clunky and none of the weapons feel particularly impactful. Ammo can be hard to come by, so the game almost treats guns as a last resort escape method, especially when the player doesnt have a silencer on hand. Firing a gun without one will cause every flesh eating monster in the area to come hunting for you. Its a good balance between quick kills and the chance of being overrun and brutally killed. It really mixes well with the games running theme of life or death decisions at every turn.
Traversal across Trumbull
Coming up against a horde with nothing more than a pistol and a table leg isn't recommended. Vehicles in the game are a great way of quickly dispatching a group. Driving head first into zombies is usually enough to kill them, with a button being used to open the drivers car door, to hit any enemies you would have otherwise driven past. Position your car correctly and you can plough straight through an entire horde, taking them all out in one go.
Cars are littered around the map with the player being able to jump into any one of them for a quick getaway. They are also finite in number and once destroyed, cannot be repaired. Although vehicles are the quickest way to traverse the world, they are also the loudest and much like anything in this game that causes noise, it will attract the attention of zombies. Cars will always stay in the place you left them, never reverting back to their original position where you first found them. This can make planning raids that much easier as you never have to worry about not being able to find means of escape. The handling of the vehicles could be improved though, with muscle cars not feeling that differently to a sedan. Cars feel very loose and could have benefited greatly from superior driving mechanics.
Size isnt Everything
Moving onto the size of the game, it can take anywhere from 12-18 hours for a story playthrough, even longer if you enjoy trying to hold out as long as possible before supplies run dry. Its certainly an impressive scale for something half the price of a retail game and even though the story is very lacking, I found I had a personal motivation to continue on and try and keep my survivors alive as long as I could.
Stand by Me
Now, as with a lot of games, partner A.I is very important. But do your friends in State of Decay save you in your time of need? Or do they make you want to push them into a pit full of the undead?
Thankfully, its not the latter. Whilst not the most intelligent partner A.I ever to be seen, its certainly not going to stand there idly whilst you get eaten. Companions will come to your aid; they will respond to advancing hordes, they will even tell you if getting into a car is a bad idea. Unfortunately, I have never seen the A.I use a firearm other than when they are up in a guard tower at your home base. Continuing from this, you have a distinct lack of control over your companions. The more trust you earn with them brings you closer to unlocking them as a playable character, although not everyone can be controlled by the player, making this feature seemingly pointless for NPCs.
A final point to make about partners is that you cannot request that they come with you outside of the safe zone, be it just for scavenging, a quick mission or to explore uncharted areas. Only certain missions let you take a pre-determined character with you, I personally would have liked the ability to be able to have someone accompany you once trust levels have been raised high enough.
The Beautiful Dead
So how pretty is the undead apocalypse? Well, it wont be winning any awards for best looking game. Theres not much colour to the brown looking Trumbull Countys farmland and small towns. Obviously a variety of colours are present in the game, but its almost as if there is a slight sepia filter over the camera.
Clipping issues and slowdown are also a common occurrence within State of Decay. Several times I slammed a door in a zombies face, only for them to clip right through the closed door and take a good chunk of my health and arm away. As for frame rate, although slow down can happen fairly often, its not too noticeable. Having 15-20 zombies charging through windows and doors of the house youre trying to defend can cause some stuttering and frame rate drops, but when you look at the big picture, a downloadable game around 2GB, with a large open world setting, it could be a lot worse.
In closing, Id recommend this game to anyone. You can spend hours in one sitting fortifying your home base, upgrading skills, tackling any number of missions. Or you can jump in for a quick 20 minutes of play, maybe to go scavenge for more fuel or searching for a missing member of your group. As its an Xbox Live Arcade title, it has a free trial to play through. So regardless of my opinion, including numerous Easter eggs related to other zombie fictions, you should at the very least give the demo a playthrough.
Detailed game world to explore
Tense moments make you appreciate how fun the game really is
Excellent value for money
Clipping & framerate issues can annoy
An endless type mode would have been a nice touch
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: State of Decay (EU, 06/05/13)
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