There’s no easy way to put this: State of Decay is a damn mess. The graphics are buggy, the pacing is off and the game has been glitch-slapped pretty hard. And yet, despite all this, it just might be the best zombie-themed game of the year; one that’ll eat away at your hours like an open human buffet for the undead.
Once again, the world has gone and done a full Romero (YOU NEVER GO FULL ROMERO) and the dead once again roam the world, eager for a leg of Larry. Enter you, a hapless survivor in over your head and seeking out a means to survive the brave new world before you.
And that’s the core aspect of the game here: Survival. It’s not about smashing in the most undead brains or leveling up some undead kung-fu. Any NPC can wield a plank (HIT WITH STICK! HIT WITH STICK!) And fight off a horde of ravenous chompers, but the real hook of the game is keeping your entire party in one piece between missions and exploration.
People will die in this game, you’ll feel bad and it’ll all be your fault. Getting past the introductory mission set in a summer camp that could double as a location for Crystal Lake opens the real meat of the game up, as players eke out an existence amongst the undead.
Safehouses need to be discovered, survivors rescued and skills honed if you want to stand a chance against the further terrors that await you. You’ll need to keep your home base going in the long run, scavenging for supplies and fortifying it against the outside menace. In addition, morale needs to stay high, people need to be kept alive characters need to be skilled enough to handle outside threats.
Combat is rather basic though, in this respect. Provided that you’re well-equipped, button-mashing can result in some satisfying melee action that is occasionally complemented with a slightly more complex action.
The zombie AI on the other hand can be an absolute mess. One minute they’re keen enough to spot you hiding in some bushes, the next minute they’ll literally shuffle past you. But it does get better; exploration into the outside world yields items, from new melee weapons that feature different grades through to food, medicine and guns which can be stored at your safehouse.
Foraging can be dangerous though, with the undead lurking around and while the process can be sped up, this creates the risk of alerting them to you and bringing in a swarm of face-eaters. It’s part of the rough charm of the game, where each pro has a con. Take guns for example; brilliant when you need to kill a zombie quick, but capable of alerting more of them to your presence.
All of this manifests itself in a set of stats that continually upgrades itself based on your actions. Enjoy running? Well that should boost your stamina for you. Want to mix it up in a crowd of undead? Expect boosts to your attack and defense then. Characters aren’t unstoppable though and even if you have a favourite that you use over and over again, that character is going to need a break.
Players need to cycle through their party members, lest they find themselves using a worn-out survivor with diminished stamina. Stamina is in fact, the be-all and end-all of this game, as everything is tied to it. Stock up on those potato chips if you can. You’ll need them.
Everything from bludgeoning through to running is tied to that stat, making it your most valuable resource and while a single zombie can easily be dealt with, a horde of them will kill that wonderful bar right down. That makes you slower, more vulnerable and just one bite away from a game over screen. It can be annoying, but at the same time, it helps give the idiotic AI at least some semblance of an actual threat.
There’s even a real-time aspect to the game, kind of. Just because you’ve switched off your Xbox, don’t expect to come back to a safehouse that was as you left it. Resources vanish, zombies can be waiting at your door for you and morale can dip. It’s a nice touch, and is certain to keep addicted gamers coming back for more.
But you’ve got to keep an eye on those buildings. One aspect of the game that no one is enjoying too much, is Infestations. The undead can take over a building, no matter where it is on the map. The thing is, only the nearest buildings will pop up on your map that happen to be infested with the recently deceased. If too many locations become infested, friendly AI survivors can go missing, meaning that players need to spend more time than necessary clearing out locations.
As of the time that I wrote this review, I’d only patched the game once, and this was still an issue.
While any character can be maxed out with their stats, players can also swap between NPCs at safe houses, something that becomes essential when one of your party members eventually bites the big one. Death is permanent, and replenishing your ranks is an essential means to an ends.
I’ll give State of Decay some points though, for giving players a massive amount of tasks and missions to tackle in that buggy apocalypse. There’s a ton of activities available, and even more to discover on your own and in that respect, the game succeeds completely.
It’s a game that could have used some more polish. The experience gets clunky at times, the user interface can be needlessly complex, gameplay can be unbalanced and the general visual appearance can be decidedly uglier. But there is more than meets the eye here; State of Decay does offer value for money, in a way that few modern blockbuster-budgeted games can, for a mere third of the price that you’d usually pay in the end.