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Everything about State of Decay screams survival. Whether its trying to help fellow survivors so you can recruit them, scavenging for food and ammo or just running for your life from a zombie horde whilst your character slowly runs out of stamina. This isn’t your typical zombie game where you constantly feel powerful and almighty. This is the end of the world as we know it and if you are to survive you will need to constantly fight and plan your every move or you will end up as someone’s dinner. And there ain’t no coming back from that.
State of Decay is an open world zombie game in the same vein as DayZ but is strictly a single player experience. This adds to the tension as you don’t have a team to rely on in bad situations. If you mess up, you’re going to have to deal with it. If your characters dies, they stay dead. Permanent death is here but you can go and loot your dead body to retrieve any items or weapons you had at your unfortunate time of death, after you have switched to another one of the survivors in your group.
Controlling your character is easy to pick up and intuitive. Within no time at all you will know how to run, attack, change weapons, loot houses, creep, and take down zombies in all manner of horrific and satisfying ways. Car controls are slightly awkward and with each vehicle only taking a certain amount of damage, it does stop you feeling invincible which happens in similar games once you acquire four wheels.
Graphically the game isn’t the most gorgeous you have ever seen but definitely holds it’s own and is even more impressive for a downloadable title. Unfortunately the visuals are slightly marred by a few glitches such as texture popping which is frequent when travelling by car as the world takes time to catch up with the player. On top of that the usual open world jank is present here in full force. Zombies clip through walls and disappear whilst cars can sometimes hit invisible walls. Nothing gamebreaking but just general small things that can sometimes frustrate and distract you from the experience which for the most part is incredibly enjoyable.
The variety of weapons is good with a vast array of melee items to use. Guns are also present but the shooting mechanics aren’t the best so I would recommend sticking to hand to hand combat as it is more satisfying to play this way anyway. The option of crafting weapons like Dead Rising 2 would have been nice especially as you are constantly collecting materials but you will have to settle on the weapons the game gives you. These also degrade over time and you can’t repair them so you will have to change weapons frequently.
Story is also something this game lacks as it doesn’t really have one. Other than the initial premise of trying to figure out what’s going on the story isn’t anything other than these characters trying to survive. Whilst this does reiterate the importance of survival, establishing a relationship with the characters would have meant losing someone would have had more impact rather than just losing a number from your base.
The world itself is fantastic. Completely nailing that broken down society look that every apocalypse game tries, it feels like you are exploring what used to be a functioning community before the undead appeared. Broken down cars, skinned animals and devastation everywhere, really adds to the overall dread and tone of the game. It feels like you are exploring a town in The Walking Dead and that is a great thing.
The different objectives you are set include taking out zombie infestations in houses, helping other survivors and the occasional more meaningful mission but do lack some variety. After doing the same thing multiple times it can become tedious and a more diverse selection of objectives would have been nice. One of my favorites was when one of my group got infected and I had to take them away from the group and ‘execute’ them. These type of moments unfortunately aren’t frequent enough.
Heavily present is the reliance on resource management. You constantly have to worry about the morale of your home base which is decided by many factors including having enough beds for everyone so they don’t get tired and agitated or having enough food so people don’t get hungry. If you are running low on a certain resource then you have to go out and find out.
This can become very stressful as the demands of your group never slows and the larger your base becomes so does the problems that come with it. It’s very realistic and trying to survive in this situation wouldn’t be enjoyable but in this case it would have been nice if everyone pulled their weight and you weren’t in charge of absolutely everything.
Stamina is something you have to keep an eye on as everything you do whether it’s run or fight will drain your energy which you can refill by eating a snack or just waiting for it to refill automatically. This adds another level of tension as you really don’t want to be stranded with no stamina in the middle of nowhere.
One time I was exploring a house for resources with a character I had spent hours with and a zombie horde come flying in out of nowhere, which was absolutely terrifying. I was in a small bathroom area and had to dropkick zombies and jump out of the window to barely survive. I was so worried about losing my character I had spent hours leveling up and it felt so awesome to survive that situation. These unscripted, unique moments are what make this game special.
There are also many different types of zombies to keep you on your toes during the adventure. “Screamer”s will make you temporarily immobile as well as making your presence known to the surrounding area. Big Uns can absorb a lot more damage and will charge you frequently. But by far the hardest and most annoying is the “Feral” zombies which move incredibly quickly like cats and are incredibly strong. Word of advice, if you encounter one on your own and are low of health/stamina, try and get the hell out of there as fast as you can.
A very nice touch is a bunch of different references and Easter eggs to other zombie media that is present in the game. Whether it’s the name of specific achievements or in game weapons it really does draw a wry smile if you are big into the genre. I won’t ruin any of them but I have to mention my favorite was after I first moved my home base I ended up living in the “Savini Residence.” If only Tom had been there ready to help me on my zombie killing quest.
The game costs 1600 Microsoft Points which puts it on the high end of downloadable titles alongside Minecraft and the first season of The Walking Dead. With Minecraft being the most popular XBLA game to date and The Walking Dead being many people’s GOTY last year, is this game also worth that price? I think it absolutely is. If you compare it to say Dead Island Riptide, which was a full retail release, this is a way better experience and costs far less. This game deserved the spotlight of Summer of Arcade and hopefully without that push and the high price point this will still find it’s audience.
The amount of content of offer here is huge. Having spent already 16 hours with the game and really feeling nowhere near bored, it is almost unrivaled in replay value for an XBLA game. Whilst the price is high compared to other downloadable titles they could have easily released this as a retail game and it wouldn’t have looked out of place on the shelf.
What is most refreshing is that this is a hardcore, uncompromising game that is so unlike most games released today. You are given almost no tutorial after being immediately thrown into the action and have to adapt to the world all by yourself, just like the characters. This game does have a few technical problems that are easy to criticize but there’s a certain charm that you can only see once you have played it that cannot be described. Once you start playing you will find it hard to put down. Rewarding, addictive and unique gameplay make this one of the surprise hits of 2013.
The groundwork established in this game is the formula for the perfect zombie game. If they fix the few problems, add in encountering other human players online, and expand upon this concept they could have something very special on their hands. However for a first attempt this is still a fantastic game that sets the standard for how deep a downloadable title can be. The best XBLA game of the year so far is a treat and should be played by all zombie lovers immediately.