State of Decay is a third-person open-world survival game releasing on Xbox 360 and a later PC release. The game is developed by Undead Labs who have taken on quite an impressive challenge with this game.
State of Decay drops you right into the action. When you hit New Game, you’ll be thrown into a fight with some zombies, which you can hit, push, kick and knock down. The opening sections of the game are somewhat of a tutorial set to get you used to the world and combat without throwing you into too much danger. You’re up on Mt Tanner with your friend for a fishing trip and this is your first exposure to zombies. Upon completing the tutorial section, you’ll be tasked with driving to the city to meet up with some more survivors and from there, the game is more or less completely open. You will, however, be required to progress the Story missions in order to unlock some things.
State of Decay‘s User Interface is neatly tied in with the game. You have a notebook which will allow you to access most options and a Bronco Gas travel map that is essential to survival. When using either of these, time does not stop. The map will show scavenge spots, zombies, zombie hordes, freaks, cars, bases, outposts and missions. All of these things are shown in real-time, so frequently checking the map can be essential to survival.
Zombies in State of Decay come in two Archetypes: Standard and Freak. Standard zombies have no incredible qualities or powers, but they’re not all the same. Standard zombies have a lot of variation. Some are incredibly slow, some can keep up with you and some can even outrun you. While some zombies are faster than you, they tend to just slow you down long enough for the slower zombies to catch up. The escalation of danger that can come from being caught by a ‘runner’ leading a horde of zombies towards you just feels like a zombie game should. While some games have gone for slow zombies that slowly walk you into a corner and others have gone for fast zombies who quickly encircle you, State of Decay blends both in a way that the feeling of danger from each zombie remains. Freaks come in different forms: Screamers – These freaks let out a ghastly shriek that will alert zombies in a large radius, Feral – These freaks are larger and stronger than standard zombies, Bin ‘Un – These are massive zombies that charge fast and take a beating. There are some more Freaks I encountered that I haven’t named, I’ll let you discover those yourself. Most of these Freaks manage to remain realistic enough that you wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the event of a real zombie apocalypse. Other than the types of zombies, there are also events surrounding them: Hordes, Infestations, Zombie Hunts. Hordes are large groups of zombies that patrol the streets and can easily take down a lone survivor. Infestations occur when Screamers take up residence in a building with their horde. Zombie Hunts involve hunting Freak-type zombies.
People are also an important aspect in State of Decay. People can be recruited to your base to replace any deaths. Any person is playable given you have reached ‘friend’ status with them. While playing the game, people will sometimes offer you missions which will raise your status with them. These missions vary from helping them perform a trade to taking out a Horde or Infestation. These missions will also help raise overall base morale, make sure nobody wants to leave and make things safer for any scavengers you radio out for. Death in State of Decay is permanent. Being careful and making sure you live takes priority over entering risky situations to save others or obtain resources. When your characters die, you will be able to obtain any resources they had in the same way you would collect resources for your base.
Scavenging involves entering and clearing Houses, Mini-marts, Construction Yards and other types of building and then searching objects within them for scavenge. There are two types of scavenge to be found: Personal and Base. Personal scavenge is items you can use like weapons and food. Base scavenge is larger and carried in a large backpack. It does not take any inventory slots, but adds weight. Base scavenge can be broken down into Personal scavenge, but can’t be made using it. Scavenging makes noise and can attract zombies. It is possible to scavenge faster at the expense of making more noise. If you’re already en route to a mission but have found something you’d like to keep but don’t want to sacrifice your stamina to carry it around, you can radio in another scavenger from your base to take the items back. The radio can be utilised in many ways, allowing you to call scavengers, make outposts or even re-locate your base.
The base in State of Decay is the hub of everything. You’ll find yourself going back frequently to drop of supplies or resupply. Your initial base is a church and can’t be changed until you reach a certain mission in the story. Bases can only be made in specific buildings, of which there are quite a few. To establish a base in a new building, first you must meet the requirements. The requirements usually involve having a certain number of people and building materials. When you first switch bases, you may find it is in disrepair or lacks certain facilities. The initial stages of establishing a new base can be quite tense as you’re left near-defenceless and will have to scavenge a lot to properly establish your new base. A great way of easing things up a bit is to quickly establish some outposts surrounding your new base to deal with zombie hordes. Outposts are also useful because they can access your base’s storage unit, allowing you to access all of your items without having to run all the way back to your base. Different bases allow for different numbers of outposts, some even allowing for enough to defend a whole town. You can build different rooms in your base such as bedrooms, a library, a training room, a watch tower and more. These rooms all provide different things, but you won’t be able to build them all, so it is important to have direction in your base. Do you want a base with lots of people and not much utility, or would you prefer a base with utility and few people. You can also upgrade these rooms to provide further bonuses. Sometimes when upgrading a room, you will discover you lack required materials and either have to wait longer for the room to build/upgrade, or get out there and find the items you require. I felt this was a pretty nice touch and was a good way to show that generic ‘materials’ didn’t always contain exactly what you needed.
The games currency is Influence. This isn’t some fancy name for bottle caps or ammunition. In State of Decay You’re not only fighting for yourself, you’re not only fighting for the residents of your base, you’re fighting for Humanity. If you prove you’re useful, people will let you have things. This works well both conceptually and in practice. Earning influence comes from completing missions and also dropping off scavenged items at your base or one of your outposts.
State of Decay does have a story to it. The story begins by following two friends; Marcus and Ed. While initially it follows these characters, it is actually possible for Marcus to be killed off and it doesn’t affect the story at all. The story isn’t actually specifically about Marcus and Ed, it is actually a story of everyone in the base. It doesn’t follow any specific character and that works in its favour. Along with the storyline following the ambient survival in the post-apocalypse, there are more faction-centric stories involving factions such as the Army. All of these missions can be completely ignored in favour of playing the game as pure open-world survival, but I’d suggest at least completing up until the point you can change base locations.
One thing really surprised me in State of Decay. Humour. There’s lots of humour in this game, but it doesn’t go so far as to make a joke out of the game. This is the kind of humour you’d expect people to be using in a grave situation such as the end of the world. Characters often make light-hearted quips in attempts to lighten the mood and there’s humour strewn throughout the game. I feel this really adds some character to the world and helps make it stand out more.
The world in State of Decay is rather large. It’s almost infeasible to travel wholly on foot. State of Decay has cars to help alleviate travel times, but there’s a catch. Cars in State of Decay make a lot of noise and will attract a lot of zombies. Different cars make different levels of noise and some are more effective than others for attacking zombies with. Cars control… strangely. They feel very light and will react in ways you would not expect when hitting objects at high speed. It’s a shame they didn’t feel more weighty and realistic, but they at least get the job done.
State of Decay has some RPG aspects such as level progression. Characters will become better at things as they do them. Interestingly, not all characters have the same skill-set. Beyond the basic skills – cardio, wits, fighting and shooting – there are some more unique skills – like leadership – which only some characters will have. The four basic skills each have abilities attached to them. An example of this is being able to specialise in a gun at level 4 shooting. I’m a big fan of this skill system as it requires very little interaction and allows full focus to be spent on enjoying the game.
State of Decay does have its problems. The frame rate can only be described as jittery, especially while driving. Sometimes textures take too long to load. Zombies can occasionally walk through walls. I’ve yet to run into anything game-breaking and the problems I have experienced haven’t managed to diminish the fun I had playing the game.
A great blend of game and simulation, State of Decay finds its balance somewhere in the middle and benefits from it. While somewhat rough around the edges, the core concept and ideas are solid and hold the game together well. Moderately difficult with plenty to do, State of Decay may not be the Holy Grail of Zombie Games, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Given a larger budget and co-op gameplay, State of Decay could have been something much greater, but for the first title from a studio it is beyond expectations. I’d highly recommend anyone who enjoys zombies, open-world games or just games with a lot of ambition behind them pick up State of Decay. You won’t regret it.