The zombie genre is bustling right now. You can’t turn a corner without bumping into a Resident Evil, The Walking Dead, DayZ, Lollipop Chainsaw, ZombiU, The Last of Us, Dead Island, etc. Some might even say there are too many zombie games out there right now, that the market has, or is about to become, oversaturated with the undead.
With that said, even if all of the above is true — and it may very well be — if we keep getting games like State of Decay, I’m completely okay with it.
When developer Undead Labs first began work on that game that would eventually become known as State of Decay, it was known as Class3. They were vocal about their goals to start small, with a simple idea — a single-player zombie arcade game — as a concept, before releasing a more ambitious game called Class4. If that mysterious game is still in the works, I have some ideas for it that we’ll get to in a bit.
First off, let’s talk about this game.
For the unfamiliar, this is a XBLA exclusive action RPG set during a zombie apocalypse. You control a survivor — one of many — who’s been tasked with gathering your fellow survivors so you can all survive together against seemingly endless hordes of the undead.
I’ve sunk roughly twenty hours into it and I still feel like I missed a lot. The amount of content Undead Labs has thrown into this game is extremely impressive. You have the main quest-line that progresses the story, but in order to complete that you’re going to have to spend quite a bit of time with the side quests.
The side quests include helping defend neighboring groups of survivors, or enclaves, lending a hand to individual survivors, scavenging for supplies when your base is low, clearing dangerous infestations, and much more. The optional missions are randomly generated, and they don’t last forever. That means if someone is in trouble and you can’t find the time to assist them, there’s a chance they’ll die.
In State of Decay you have a home base that can be fortified with a shooting platform, dojo, library, shooting platform, garden, workshop, kitchen, etc. Each base can only support a certain number of buildings, so you’ll have to decide which ones you choose to build and upgrade for even better bonuses.
To keep the area surrounding your home base clear it’s necessary to claim outposts. This can be done by clearing out a building and sending in a Runner — more on these guys later — to fortify it with traps so it’s safe from the hordes.
Oh, did I forget to mention the hordes? Essentially, they’re groups of zombies that walk, er, shamble together. If you make any noise near them, they’ll all be alerted at once. Unless you’re in a car, if you alert a horde it’s best to run.
When you first start off, the hordes are very intimidating. My first couple hours with the game involved a lot of me waiting out hordes as they passed the house I was exploring. However, as you continue playing and your characters become more capable, you’ll eventually become more confident.
There aren’t skill trees in State of Decay. Instead, you have basic skills, like combat, fighting, shooting, and leadership. You become more adept with guns, melee weapons, running, and managing fellow survivors the more time you spend doing it. There are also random features that are unique to your character and are determined by their personality. I met a soldier whose friend had been killed by dogs, so one of her traits was a “Fear of Dogs.”
There’s an incredible layer of depth in State of Decay that you don’t see in many retail games, much less arcade titles. I’ve only scratched the surface.
On top of all that, you have the human element to keep in mind. When you’re not busy scavenging for supplies, fortifying your base, completing side quests, making progress on the main quest, or just driving around hunting for hordes to run over with your car — so fun, by the way — there are people you’ll need to manage.
First off, you’ll need to keep everyone happy. You can accomplish this by being good at everything I mentioned in the previous paragraph. If someone starts to get angry or afraid, you can step in and take a walk with them to calm them down. Finding new survivors and making sure everyone gets enough sleep and plenty to eat also helps. Basically, it’s like managing a 10-20 Tamagotchis at the same time.
On one hand, I liked this. It kept me busy at all times, and that’s how a post-apocalyptic scenario would likely play out (only if I were the one in charge we’d all be living in a Best Buy playing video games and eating Cheetos. We’d also all be dead in about a week.) On the other hand, there were many occasions where I’d embark on a mission and by the time I returned three people would be sick or injured, two would be missing and a horde would be at our doorstep.
You won’t be the only one who gets tired of all this. The character you control will become fatigued, lowering their maximum stamina (and health, if they take enough damage). Thankfully, you can switch between the survivors in your community who you’re friendly with so they take over. This is a neat way to break things up if you’re getting sick of playing as the same character for so long. Just switch to someone else and play from their perspective for a bit.
It’s intense having so many virtual lives in your hands, but at times it can border on the frustrating. All I want is that damned illusive achievement for getting fifteen survivors in my community, and it took way longer than I wanted it to because these idiots kept getting lost or killed.
Speaking of stupidity, the AI isn’t particularly smart. Enemies and friendly NPCs would get caught on objects in the environment, or in one case, a survivor I had just saved got stuck on my car’s rear bumper. Nothing else was nearby, she just couldn’t seem to wrap her mind around the whole “go around the car” bit of our hasty escape plan.
Overall, the game looks great. The day/night cycle is a fantastic addition. I would’ve liked a bit of weather, too, but that’s not a big deal. The enemies are moderately unnerving to look at, even if they’re a little too familiar. You have fat zombies, fast zombies, zombies that explode, zombies that scream, alerting nearby zombies, etc. It’s not particularly original.
Adam’s Wish List For State of Decay 2/Class4:
A Mass Effect style conversation system. I hated every word that came out of my survivor’s mouth. Give me the option to choose.
Dawn of the Dead style car customization. I want to be able to reinforce my car with kneecappers, a stronger frame, more lights, a cow/fat zombie/ catcher, etc. I also wouldn’t mind a little weapon customization.
Give me something else to hunt. Zombies get boring, even when they come in a variety of flavors. Outside of birds, there’s zero wildlife in this world. I want zombie bears, cougars, whatever.
Co-op. The entire time I was playing this game all I could think about was how much better it’d be if I had a friend to experience it with.
Deeper combat. The combat in State of Decay is deeper than I thought it would be. You can distract zombies with loud noises, evading attacks is easy, and you can easily push them away. There’s a light attack, strong attack, lunge attack, executions, but even with all that I often found myself knocking a zombie down so I could finish it with an execution. If I had an arsenal of moves to choose from, possibly ones I learn from the dojo, that’d give me a way to mix things up.
State of Decay is a fantastic game. The issues I have with it are minor, because in the end, Undead Labs has made a true survival game with a dash of horror, RPG, and human drama. It’s insanely addictive, sounds great — thanks in large part to an incredible soundtrack by Jesper Kyd — plays exceptionally well, and for $20 (1600 MSP), it comes packed with more than enough content to keep you busy for a very long time.
The Final Word: This is a zombie fan’s dream. State of Decay expertly combines elements from RPGs and survival horror, mixing in human drama and an engrossing story into a neat post-apocalyptic package.
This review is based on a code for the XBLA version of State of Decay, which was provided by the publisher.