The aftermath of a zombie outbreak has been explored across all genres, but you’ve never experienced anything like this. Originally titled Class 3, Seattle-based developer Undead Labs has finally delivered its ambitious sandbox, zombie apocalypse title to anxiously awaiting 360 owners. While a little rough around the edges, they’ve managed to create one of the most enjoyable zombie titles I’ve experienced in a while.
Instead of focusing on a drawn out introduction, State of Decay opts to place you into the midst of the epidemic soon as you press start. With a very basic story, you begin the game with two Trumbull Valley residents, Marcus and Ed, who have suddenly been attacked by some “crazy people” after a fishing trip. They soon find shelter in a nearby Ranger’s Station, where a group of survivors vaguely explain to them what has been going on in their once peaceful town. From that point on, the game turns into a multitasking orgy as you rummage through the surrounding area for supplies and ammo, while dwindling down the zombie population and caring for the physical and mental well-being of your new found community.
It may seem a little overwhelming in the beginning, as you adapt to the game’s varied gameplay, but everything will fall into place as the story progresses. The onslaught of missions, radio messages and scavenging cycles never lets up, and the constant fear of being attacked while roaming through the town won’t allow you a moment to admire the scenery. Exploration is a huge part of the game and State of Decay doesn’t disappoint. Whether its sneaking through the streets or getting behind the wheel of a vehicle, you’ll enjoy discovering new locations. Visually, Trumbull Valley looks a little outdated but it’s vast and well-designed map makes up for it. Composed of multiple towns, you’ll roam through wooded areas, up creeks and discover small areas like old farm houses, derelict warehouses and camp sites. Thankfully you have access to a map that displays areas previously explored and a compass to lead you in the right direction, which alleviates pointless backtracking.
While most games provide you with no consequences for running around acting as a hero, State of Decay will alter the way you think about saving each person you come along. Sure you’ll be able to take control of them after you’ve gain their trust and built a relationship, but new mouths to feed not only depletes your resources faster, but their personality may enrage other members of the group. As you hand select survivors, you will need to relocate your safe house to larger, more auspicious locations. Doing so will allow you to accommodate their needs with sections like bedrooms, kitchens and infirmaries. Additional areas like gardens and libraries may not be a necessity to survive, but they will allow you to take advantage of certain character’s unique skills and help you gain Influence. Serving as the game’s currency, Influence is earned by putting the communities needs first. Keep the supply locker stocked and they will adore you, but start removing items faster than you replenish them and they will start to lose trust. The system is complex, and its adds a layer of depth not available in many titles.
Locating resources like food, ammo, medical supplies, construction materials and gasoline are a necessity if you want to survive. Resources decrease as each day passes, so in order to prevent illness, hunger and fear from spreading amongst the group you’ll need to remain fully stocked. Venturing out to rummage through derelict buildings and campgrounds to gather supplies is nerveracking. You never know when you will be met with a ferocious horde of zombies. Each character has their own progression, so you’ll be switching back and forth increasing skills based in areas like stamina, power, wits and shooting. Keeping them armed is crucial and you’ll find plenty of melee weapons and firearms hidden throughout the town. Despite combat feeling a bit cumbersome, the game’s melee combat system allows you to perform a variety of different attacks and maneuvers, with more attacks becoming available as you level up.
Although you have access to a variety of weapons, avoiding confrontation with the undead may be in your best interest. Staying incognito is done by crouching while you walk, hiding in bushes and creating distractions by tossing firecrackers. Draw attention to yourself and the game’s tempo changes as these relentless monstrosities won’t give up on sinking their teeth into you. Run into a building and shut the door, and your pursuers will burst through the door or leap through windows. The intensity of State of Decay is further enhanced by the infusion of realism not found in many titles: supplies and vehicles do not respawn, characters can get tired, or worse–permanently die. Watching a character succumb to wounds or be overpowered by zombies evokes a realistic sense of accountability, especially when you realize that all those hours you’ve invested in maxing out that character are now meaningless.
Sadly, State of Decay suffers from some technical issues. You’ll come across minor issues like inconsistent collision detection, texture pop-ins and other small glitches that are annoying but don’t manage to make the game unplayable. Besides, didn’t Skyrim have a handful of issues when it launched, but yet it managed to become the game of the year to many players and gaming websites? I am sure that most of these issues will more than likely be fixed with the first patch being released soon. That does not excuse some pretty awful voice acting and the repetitive one-liners that are spewed throughout.
Despite some technical issues, State of Decay managed to live up to my expectations. With its heavy focus on survival and resource management, this is a refreshing take on the zombie apocalypse. Some may be hesitant about spending $20 on a downloadable title, but trust me, you won’t be disappointed with your investment.
Release Date: June 5, 2013 • Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios • Developer: Undead Labs • Genre: Action, Strategy • Multiplayer: None • Achievements: Moderate • Cost: 1600 MS Points ($19.99) • Replay Value: High • ESRB: M for Mature