I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a huge fan of all things zombie. Sure, the zed themed market is getting a bit saturated as of late, but I’ll still take just about any zombie shooter or zombie RPG or whatever out for a spin. Heck, if there were a zombified version of Candy Crush Saga I might finally see what all the insane craze is about. Fortunately there isn’t and I can continue ridiculing all the people at work who play that silly game. Anyway, enough about candy, let’s get back to the zombies. One such recent game to hit the market is State of Decay. At first glance you’re likely to look at State of Decay and think “oh, it’s another third person shooter with a bit of RPG elements, been there done that.” And while at its roots, that is pretty much what it is, it is also so very much more.
The first thing you’re likely to notice that’s different about State of Decay is there isn’t really a main character. There’s no one character that you play and become attached to. Instead of playing a single character, you play as an entire group of survivors, one at a time. You switch back and forth like an indecisive spirit who can’t make up their mind which to possess. As one gets too exhausted to be effective, you switch to one of the others. Or at least you do if you’re smart, since fatigue is hugely important in State of Decay. Venture too far from base with someone who's worn out, make an accidental loud noise while searching a forgotten backpack and it's almost guaranteed that the survivor won't make it back to base. This mechanic also encourages you to keep going out to save the lone trapped survivors that pop up as missions every so often so you constantly have a decent sized pool of characters to jump between. And I know a lot of people are going to jump to the conclusion that just because you jump around from character to character their stories are going to be weak and the game is going to be populated with throw away characters that you never care about. I disagree. Each character has a background and individual traits and skills based on their former life and even personalities. There are missions built around this which pop up dynamically. There were characters which I was generally sad when they died. And trust me, they will die, and when they do, they’re gone for good. There’s no “let me back up to the last checkpoint and retry that” in State of Decay. When you lose a character, they’re gone for good. You’ll also occasionally have to do missions to improve some of the character’s moods in order to keep them friendly enough with you to continue to allow you to switch to them.
Graphically speaking the game was surprisingly well done. If you approach it looking for a title that is going to stand toe to toe with the sixty dollar game crowd titles like Crysis 3 or the CoDs and Battlefields, you’ll obviously be disappointed. But for a game that costs twenty bucks, I was pleasantly surprised. In a lot of cases with a game like this, which has a large number of characters and enemies, you’ll notice a lot of “copy and pasting”, especially with the zombies. With State of Decay I didn’t really notice it. I’m sure it took place, as sitting around individually crafting thousands of different zombie models is rather budget destroying. But honestly it just doesn’t jump out at me with State of Decay like it does with most games. There was never an instance of “oh, there’s red flannel zombie again.” Now the “special” zombies all look the same, but well, I’m not complaining about that, because I definitely want to be able to pick those badasses out at a distance.
There are definitely some other glitches. The worst of which are the clipping issues. You’ll see zombies poking through doors and walls all over the place. Every so often the framerate will take a drastic dip. Unfortunately those times tend to be when the screen is full of enemies and you’re very likely about to die. A lot of the features and systems could REALLY use a bit more explanation. A bit more of a tutorial or even some popup tooltips could really help in this regard. Some things just aren’t as intuitive as they could be and are easy to miss. For example, I was on my third play through, with a total of prolly somewhere in the neighborhood of 40+ hours spent playing before I discovered you didn’t have to go back to base and talk to another character face to face to switch to them. You could instead take one character out on that long retrieval mission across the map, and then switch to someone back at the base, letting the first character make his own way home.
State of Decay does a great job of keeping you sucked in. It is the best example of a “just one more mission, and next thing you know it’s 5am” game to come out in a long time. Everything is doled out in small chunks, so it’s easy to keep telling yourself “oh, I’ll go grab that survivor real quick” then “oh, we need construction resources” and then “better go find some medicine” instead of turning it off. Next thing you know, it’s 5am, you’re still playing, and everyone still needs something. And then you decide to keep going, because your ragtag band of survivors needs their leader, whichever character you choose to possess while leading them.