State of Decay 2 Review – Not The Exclusive Xbox Needs Right Now

State of Decay 2 Review

A grotesque and bloated corpse – dead, yet still alive – shambles towards you, groaning gutturally. The dead have come back to life, and … Wait, you’ve heard this one before? You’re right, the whole zombie thing is getting a little played out. Metal Gear Survive, The Walking Dead, Dead Rising, there are a ton of properties that hinge exclusively on the premise that dead things aren’t staying that way. State of Decay 2 hits Xbox One and Game Pass this week and is the latest game featuring a zombie apocalypse. Though there are some smart ideas here, unacceptably low levels of polish and snooze-inducing scenarios make this easy to skip – Game Pass or otherwise.

Most zombie properties are, like it or not, pretty generic. An (experiment/virus/situation) gone wrong has caused (the dead to come back to life/people to go crazy) and now the (walkers/undead/freaks) are ending civilization as we know it. That’s exactly what’s happened in State of Decay 2. Initially, I held out hope for a meaningful or at least entertaining storyline. You’ll select a pair of characters at the get-go – I went with squabbling siblings Andrea and LaShay – and guide them through a discount brand tutorial section. That’s kind of the extent of true storytelling though. Characters will have little personal missions as you truck along, but they might as well be randomly generated like the side missions are.

After some slight shenanigans, the next order of business is to find a base of operations. The game spoon feeds one to you at the end of the tutorial and walks you through the basics of maintaining your base. Resource management is a big part of that – your residents will consume food, ammo, materials, medicine, and more as time goes on, and a large portion of your time will be spent scavenging or doing errands for the resources you need.

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I kind of like most of how the base development works. Each survivor has his or her own quirks and preferences, and you can spend resources to build modules that satisfy those wants such as an Infirmary or a Watchtower. It’s a very small scale simulation, but paying attention to the needs of my survivors was one of the entertaining parts of State of Decay 2.

One Hot Mess

Frustrating and bizarre design decisions start to creep in rapidly though. Other groups of survivors will often call on the radio asking for help, but there’s no clear way to tell who is calling you. The text will say something like “Mike”. I’ve never encountered Mike, nor his group, absolutely zero character motivation for undertaking dangerous tasks for these people is given, and a small black marker is placed on the map.

I completely missed those markers for a good long while, but they’re a small piece of a much larger and lousier UI. Navigating inventories and equipping items is tedious, and when you’re upgrading skills the tutorial UI blocks reading the actual upgrade you’re looking at.

Visually, State of Decay 2 is more or less pleasant to look at. Environments and landscapes are largely well done, though there are a good deal of repeated assets. Animations are passable, but little details like missing mouth animation in some conversations really strip away any immersion that has built up.

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Functionally, there’s so much jank in the world I found it hard to believe. Unclimbable rocks are forgivable but invisible walls where doors appear to be open, zombies falling from the sky, abysmal pathing, and whacked out vehicle physics aren’t. At least, not to this level. Presumably, my review code is final or near to it, and it’s buggier than most really rough alpha builds. Bluntly, it’s a mess.

At one point, I toggled off the HUD to capture some footage. Don’t do this. Toggling it back on again doesn’t actually bring the UI back, and I had a conversation with a character where his dialog wasn’t onscreen or voiced. Yeah. The problem persisted through several toggling cycles and a reload, but mysteriously resolved itself after I gave up. I’d usually consider that a one-off, but when almost everything seems to be hanging on by a thread my leniency drops off.

Kill Zombie, Rinse and Repeat

The gameplay itself is less bad, but generally only barely approaches mediocre. It’s a survival game, so expecting a lot of scavenging and tedious walking around is necessary, but State of Decay 2’s world is totally devoid of any personality. The zombies aren’t scary or menacing even in large groups, which is severely disappointing for a game like this. Exploring and scavenging should be terrifying and require careful planning – it isn’t, and it doesn’t. There are only a few types of zombies, and they’re all dealt with by mashing the X button. Each kill is more or less identical, and with very little to make it stand out compared to almost any other game. Driving with your car doors open and smashing through deadheads is admittedly a good time, but going further than a few minutes from home is just asking for a randomly generated crisis to happen at base. Things get boring in an awful hurry, and there was very little motivation to explore much after a few hours.

I was about to launch into another broken situation here, but I’m sure you get the point. The point is this: although there’s a very competent core loop and entertaining resource management sim somewhere within State of Decay 2, it’s really, really, broken. Unacceptably so. It frustrated me mightily to see a flash of a game I wanted to play, only to be immediately reminded that it’s not ready for release.

***Xbox One code provided by the publisher***

The Good

  • Promising core systems
  • Smashing zeds with car doors

The Bad

  • Unbelievably janky
  • Tedious gameplay
  • Generic setup