Developers Undead Labs have created a remarkable zombie survival simulator available on the Xbox LIVE marketplace. If you allow yourself to delve into this game, called State of Decay, you will find yourself rewarded with one of the more memorable gaming experiences during your summer break. It is definitely not a boring pick up and play button masher. It’s a full on zombie survival simulator complete with every detail imaginable. State of Decay drops you into the deep end immediately loosely holding your hand as you get started. You instantly find yourself surrounded by zombies (referred to as Zeds) and you’ll be running to the nearest safe house located in Trumball Valley.
During your time in Trumball Valley you’ll find yourself holding up in an abandoned church as start along with a handful of other survivors. Shortly after the brief tutorial phase you’ll expand your group by finding new enclaves beyond the sanctuary of your makeshift home. Prove yourself to other characters and you’ll gain their trust, which in turn enables you to become friends. Once this is achieved these new friends become playable characters. Switching off to different characters is important, as each character will find themselves fatigued, and possibly hurt, after a long night of supply hunting or zombie fighting.
There are both pros and cons come when expanding your community. More hands to help around the base is always welcome, though you have to take into account their needs. Each survivor under your roof requires your time, food, a bed, and even medicine when sick or hurt. They also bring in their own set of personality traits. When you are not playing as a selectable character they will still play a part in your gameplay experience. When situations arise, it falls on you to be the word of reason. People may get into arguments, they may become fearful, or they may want to leave and try their luck elsewhere if they feel truly unhappy. How you handle these situations is completely up to you.
Character’s skills can be developed to make them stronger, with experience gained through performing certain actions and completing missions. Missions range from running trades with other bands of survivors to assaulting a hive of the undead. Each playable character also carries a rucksack and a journal, the latter being an essential tool. Upon pressing the d-pad you can access your journal allowing you to manage your inventory, see the status of others within your group, and check on your current skill progression.
These kinds of details are fantastic, but they are only a small part of what makes State of Decay so interesting. There is a great amount of depth to this game. Many mechanics only make an appearance once you are several hours into the game. The sense of discovery found as you play is great, though at times it seems necessary to have a guide of some sort to figure out certain features that remain hidden. Having the finer details of gameplay continue to show up as you make your way deeper into your adventure makes for a better experience for sure.
You’ll find that everything you do in this game can be quite a tense experience, from scouting out locations to scavenging for supplies. Nearly every building in the game can be looted. You are given the option to perform a slow, quiet search or scour quickly. The latter is indeed speedier, but is also noisier and you risk alerting the undead to your whereabouts. Even a simple supply run through your is full of tense but fun situations. Your enclave requires a number of resources, and if you are unable to supply the required amount of resources daily things will start to go downhill. Without enough medication people will get sick and put your camp in jeopardy. The size of your rucksack dictates how many items you can hold. Being over encumbered will result in your stamina being drained rapidly, and without stamina fighting Zeds is a rough experience.
Trumball Valley is a vast land. During my first few hours with State of Decay I found myself huddled up in a corner slowly pushing out into the nearest town scavenging for supplies. The game is an edgy experience through and through; it’s also a hard game to put down. New missions are constantly popping up. A single survivor may be heard on the radio requesting help, maybe they have a supply of food or ammo they would be willing to share if you lent them a hand.
The risk and tension generally comes from the fact that every death in State of Decay is permanent. This gameplay mechanic makes State of Decay that much better. Knowing that any mission you embark could be your last with that particular character has meaning and this instills a distinct sense of fear. It also means finding a balance between the characters you switch between is essential. Having a well-balanced team has never been more important.
Being that money no longer matters in a world overrun by the undead, players gain influence as a result of their actions, not their monetary worth. Having more influence gives you access to more gear, granting you a higher success rate for your many missions. Earning influence can be done several different ways, but the most basic being a supply run. Picking up some food from a nearby market and delivering it to your base is always well received by the locals.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed my time with State of Decay one can’t deny it can be a clunky experience. Menus are unintuitive, often buried within a layer of unnecessary tabs. The controls feel stiff and awkward at times, and visual glitches plague the screen frequently. The game has a fairly rough exterior, including a choppy frame rate and ugly textures that are noticeable. That being said, these factors can be overlooked considering how much fun the game is with everything else it offers.
At the end of the day this $20 downloadable game offers more content then many $60 titles available, and that is a great dollar value. It is a bit disappointing though that there is no form of cooperative play to be found here, but one can only hope that in the future this would be an addition. State of Decay is certainly not without its flaws, but if you can see past them you’ll find that there is a boatload of entertaining gameplay that awaits you in this unique zombie survival simulator.