State of Decay is a 3rd person survival game developed by Undead Labs and published by Microsoft on the Xbox Live Arcade. It’s a zombie RPG that isn’t primarily about killing zombies, but rather trying to survive their presence for as long as possible with good micromanagement. It’s about collecting survivors, trying to set up base camps, scavenging for supplies and essentially avoid getting eaten. Just when you thought it wouldn’t get any better there is permadeath for all characters.
The game was originally refused classification in Australia due to drugs giving positive outcomes. Undead labs had resubmitted with a name change of the drugs to “supplements” and stating the newly found vitamins to be a much better way a looking at them. “Who doesn’t like vitamins right?”
You start the game playing as Marcus Campbell, who has returned from his 2 week fishing trip to find the world around him has been zombified. Marcus and his buddy Ed are now on a mission to find out just what the hell is going on, and get away from everything as quick as possible. It’s a nice way to start the game because you have as much idea about what’s going on, as the rest of the characters.
With the apocalypse only being a few weeks old, civilisation hasn’t collapsed as much as what you would see in other games. I mean sure, there are a few thousand zombies and some crashed cars, but it still seems liveable if you ignore the whole zombies thing. There are still useable cars littered around every corner, which can be used to run down a horde of zombies. Although this makes a ton of noise, it is worth it for the amount of fun I was having while doing it. Unfortunately this does damage your vehicle, and after a few hours of running down hordes, I found it increasingly difficult to find a car that wasn’t a previously ditched zombie slayer about to explode.
Once you reach your first main defensible base, it becomes a different style of game from then until the end. You have to manage resources like food, ammo and crafting materials that will allow you to build new structures – either for defence or to increase your supply for your residents. This is where the micromanagement section kicks in, and you always have houses to search and structures to construct. If you get to a house and there is too much to carry you, can radio back to base for a runner to pick up the slack.
You can issue a number of orders via your journal. Things like calling for pickups are quick and easy to do, although the runner AI is completely broken. I issued an order for someone to pick up a stockpile of ammo basically on the opposite side of the map. Now I drove there as you would think would be the smart idea, but no, this guy ran all the way across the map through multiple hordes of zombies and back just for this stash of ammo… now THAT’s dedication. I really wish I could just start with a runner with me so we could just go and look for resources together. Even with the amount of cars around, it would be nice if I could load up a Ute with at least a few bags of materials before coming back to home base, but unfortunately you can’t.
If you find an area you think you can hold better than your first location, you can even move the entire base there and set up anew. The whole game is about making decisions like these that you can’t come back from. If you send a runner out and they die, then oh well, they’re dead and your community gets sad about not knowing him/her as well as they should have. This goes the same with playable characters who can also die from a multitude of things like sickness, infighting or just the big overhanging cloud called zombititis which is contracted via neck bites and death due to the ZOMBIES.
Seriously, these things just spawn all the time. I would clear a house, call for a runner to pick up the extra gear while I continue to scavenge and somehow, there is a horde present, waiting for the runner by the time he gets there. Not to mention all the weird infected that pose a constant threat. These can basically be summed up as the Hunter, Smoker and Tank from Left 4 Dead to give you a picture as to what you may be up against. An AI-controlled survivor on a fetch quest usually means you’ll have to go and rescue them. That’s one of my main gripes about State of Decay – AI-controlled characters have super-buggy pathing and combat scripting. They will see a horde of zombies, and instead of sneaking past or avoiding them all together, they run blindly through them hoping by some miracle they don’t get seen. Then when you come to rescue them, they just stand there motionless as you try to fight your way out of the horde.
One Button melee attacks means combat can be a bit dull at times. While the “Mash attack to not die” option is there, I wouldn’t recommend it as it will quickly drain your stamina, and you will be forced to hobble away if you have to encounter more than 3 or 4 zombies at once. Guns are very useful but when are they not? Once you get a decent stockpile of ammo, it’s easier to defend yourself with a pistol and a melee weapon or 2 as a backup. There are also options for silencers which help with being stealthy, but they are only good for certain amount of shots and I stayed away from them.
The game chugs like crazy, which is a problem when you are dealing with something like zombies. The worst section where this happens would probably be when you are driving, as the game has to keep generating the open world scene as fast as you are driving, and sometimes it just doesn’t keep up. This forces you to drive slowly or take the chance and find yourself spinning out, as the game chugged you into a rock which sends you spiralling through the air.
Although the buggy AI and game chugging could be game-breaking for some, I enjoyed most of what State of Decay had to offer right till the end. The micromanagement had me constantly looking for new ways to improve my civilisation, so that everyone could be happy and safe. The effects of the permadeath aspect really play upon your decisions, and I think that this is the clearest example of the innovation that Undead Labs have achieved with this game. For those of you who have yet to pick it up, I would say download it now and experience it for yourself. At 1600 Microsoft Points, it is an absolute steal.