State of Decay Review

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This is one of those games that I don’t mind admitting I have been greatly anticipating and after its initial refusal for classification here in Australia I was incredibly excited to hear it had passed classification with an R18 rating so that I could finally see if all my excitement was worth while.

State of Decay from the team at Undead Labs puts you into the role/s of a band of survivors trying to make sense of this sudden rise of the undead in a style that is best described as GTA meets Walking Dead. This is one of the best zombie games I’ve played in a long time, taking into account it is an open world game with random quests that assist the overall story line, lots of choice in the way you navigate the map and even though the game encourages you to use stealth and misdirection (which is recommended in a lot of cases) it still gives you just enough weapons and ammunition to keep you and you’re other survivors going.

As you explore the fictional area and home of this zombie outbreak Trumbull Valley, which seems to be themed as a remote American region with scattered towns, farms and houses for you to explore, you will have to complete missions for various people (who seem to be on both sides of the law) and in doing so will gain you trust and respect along with various precious resources.

You’re introduced to the game as Marcus who has just returned from an annual trip into the forest into an apparent recently occurred zombie apocalypse, After playing through a few tutorials to give you basics on how to survive in this new kill or be killed environment you make your way along with a few other survivors to a church which becomes you first base of operations and where the main part of the story kicks in and you begin the ongoing battle to gather precious supplies, rescue other survivors, assist others, establish outpost and new bases, all while trying to either stealth around or kill as many zombies as you can.

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There was a spider in his hair….but dont worry, I got it

Game mechanics

A lot of games out there have some sort of system in place to help you measure your health and let you know when your getting tired and with State of Decay you have a stamina bar which is impacted by several factors including running, fighting (including the type/ weight of weapon you use), the amount of supplies you’re carrying and even how long you have been out scavenging and completing mission as after a while your overall stamina will decrease due to going on for so long without a rest. When fighting off zombies you will slowly get tired and your hits will become less and less accurate and more ineffective until you have had a chance to rest and restore your stamina. I really like this system as it forces you to think about what you are doing in the game and further encourages you to be stealthy and work around the zombies rather than trying to take them head on and if you are forced into an encounter to fight smart and possibly know when its time to stand your ground vs. knowing when its time to make a run for it.

Another fantastic system is the stealth and diversion options you have to assist in getting what you need without being detected, while crouched and hiding in a bush or behind cover you can often pass within feet of a zombie without being detected with even hordes of zombies passing right by you. However there are certain times where you will want to get the attention of the undead without become a tasty treat for them and this is where diversion options come into play. As you scavenge around you will find items such as alarm clocks, firecrackers and even flares which create a lot of noise, can all be used to lure zombie hordes away from a building or other survivors so you can get in get what you need and get out before the zombies even know you where there. It can also be incorporated into a trap to take a few zombies at once by placing a landmine and them placing an alarm clock to draw them out and to their doom. Another great use for these diversions is to check out whose home in a building before you go in, open the door, drop some firecrackers and see who or what comes running before you work out what your next move is.

Getting around in Trumbull Valley means either walking or using one of the cars that are scattered throughout the map, there is a wide range of vehicles available to choose from, ranging from old school muscle cars to 4 wheel drives and even station wagons and hatch backs. At time using a vehicle will be a necessity to get to where you need go however using a vehicle means noise and noise attracts zombies and while you an use your vehicle to go all GTA on the undead it will damage your vehicle and the last thing you want is to have the car your driving die on you right in the middle of a zombie horde, one of the things I found useful was to reverse over zombies and even hordes of zombies as even though this did still do damage to the car it did less damage and enabled you to get more life out of each vehicle until you can set up a workshop to repair your vehicles as once they’re destroyed they’re gone.

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You get a head shot, You get a head shot, Everybody gets a head shot!!

Barricades and Outposts:

During the game you will be encourages to build outposts to assist in the defense of your main base and help with gathering supplies, to establish and outpost you will first need to clear a building of all its current “living challenged” residence and then radio in to set up the outpost which you can also use to set up traps for any potential undead incursions. The importance of these areas along with further defenses for your home base is it also makes for a handy place to replenish ammo, weapons and medicine while also stashing away any additional resources you may have found while scavenging.

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Anybody got a light?

Permadeath;

One of the things that sets State of Decay apart is that the people who you might see as the main characters can die and once dead that’s it, there’s no respawn, no sudden miraculous unexplainable escapes, they are just dead and you will have to rely on your remaining survivors to continue the game. One thing id like to point out is if you play smart you should be able to keep everyone alive, but it only takes one lapse of judgement  to cost you a character and anything that they may have been carrying along with all the stats you had built up for that character. When a character dies in this game it is quite brutal and has other impacts including to your overall supplies and to moral, friendship & trust that you had built up thus far.

The Undead

To me the real stars of the game are the undead, with the entire storyline and everything you do being based on or around them, their AI is quite good with them being reactive to sight and sound triggers that you may give you away along with swarming tactics to try and take you down. There are also plenty of random wandering zombies to keep you on your toes along with the hordes and various other types of zombies such as SWAT, feral and juggernaut zombie just to mention a few.

Resource Management:

As mentioned before resources are very limited in this game and you always need to be on the hunt for new/ additional resources to help feed, supply and protect you and your fellow survivors and once you have them more will not suddenly appear once you return back to the area forcing you to venture further and further away from your home base to keep your community going and eventually moving everyone to new areas once you have exhausted all the resources from one area to ensure everyone’s ongoing survival.

I see this as a brilliant mechanic to force the player into the mindset of the characters in making every decision, attack and bullet count, with the constant need for expendable necessities such as food and medicine along with the need for items such as weapons, ammunition and other items to ensure you can still safely scavenge for more supply’s the way you manage what you scavange and what you use becomes a crucial part of the gameplay.

Glitches and Gripes

As enjoyable as this game is it does have a few glitches, at times the graphics will cut out, camera at times seems to have a mind of its own and I have encountered the occasional randomly spawning zombie but none of this is really enough to detract greatly from the overall game play experience. One gripe I do have is that in a game that is based on two of the in game achievements, “Torn Apart” which requires you to let someone die at the hands of the Undead  and “Ya Always Were an A Hole Gorman” which while a nice little hat tip to the Aliens movie means that someone has to go out in a blaze of glory. Now while this does not have any impact on the story line and you will find others to replace your fallen comrades, in a game where survival has such a strong focus, being forced to sacrifice people for the sake of achievements seems somewhat counter intuitive or perhaps I missed something.

Conclusion:

State of Decay from Undead Labs has quickly become a personal favorite of mine and has pretty much been the only thing being played on my Xbox for the last week and at only 1600 points on XBL it is well worth the cost. It’s a fun and engaging zombie survival that has some genuinely atmospheric moment and forces you into the mindset of a survivor of a zombie apocalypse and I for one cannot wait to see what else Undead labs has on the horizon.