State of Decay Review
Hinges. I risked Maya's life for hinges to help build the medical tent at our safehouse. It should have been a routine outing. The few homes where it was suspected hinges might be found were just a block away. Maya had been out on tougher missions before, and this seemed like a walk in the park for the military-trained woman I'd met just a few days before. However, in a zombie apocalypse, there's no such thing as a walk in the park any more. Each step forward is the one that could kill you. This is the world of Undead Labs' State of Decay.
When you're first dropped into State of Decay, you take on the role of Marcus. He and his friend Ed were taking a vacation away from the hustle and bustle of city life, and spent some time fishing and camping in the wilderness. While they were gone, the whole world went to hell. A new virus sprouted up out of nowhere, bringing the dead back to life, and giving them a taste for human flesh. You'll escape the campgrounds, make it to the next town, and find some other survivors. Everyone is just trying to make it out of whatever is happening alive. It's a tale as old as time, and State of Decay doesn't really bring any new twists to zombie lore. That's all fine and good though, as Undead Labs is more concerned with putting you in the harsh reality of such a possible situation than it is breaking new narrative ground.
At its core, State of Decay is about survival. Your life isn't the only one on the line, and there will be countless others looking to you for their safety, to provide shelter and food, and to get answers as to why everything is suddenly so grim. Immediately after escaping to the first safe house, the weight of the collective is put on your shoulders. They need medicine. They need food. They need weapons. Most of all, these people need guidance. It's easy to crack under the weight of the world crumbling, but you don't have that luxury. Everyone has to pull their own weight, but you'll do most of the heavy lifting.
It's a strange feeling to suddenly be placed in charge of the safety of so many lives, particularly with perma-death lingering around every corner. Though you can control multiple survivors, there are no infinite lives in this game. Once a survivor is added to the playable pool, they become instantly mortal, and can die in an instant if you're not careful. You'll have to switch between characters often too, as they get tired and hurt, and will need to rest. This somewhat mandatory character switching is good though, because each character can level up skills like fighting, shooting, and leadership, and you'll always want to keep improving your team of the living. If your biggest and best character dies, you'll want to have a backup capable of taking the reins.
Actions have consequence in State of Decay like few other games. Searching the world for supplies is a key component, but exploring is highly dangerous. You have limited space in your bag for items, so you do bring a handgun and a few bullets (risking loud noise to attract more zombies), a more silent melee weapon that has finite uses (making multiple threats more of a challenge), or do you bring both, and have less space for new items you might find and need? That house over there looks like it has some good items inside, but the back door is locked. Do you risk breaking a window or smashing through the door, causing a ruckus that will bring the hordes after you? Or do you abandon this house, and find one where the owners forgot to lock up before being eaten alive? These quandaries nag at you every step of the way in your journey, and we haven't even tackled whether or not you should save that survivor at the other end of town. Another mouth to feed means more food, medicine, and shelter needs to be created, found, and handed out every day. Does that person's life mean more than yours?
Even without a heavy narrative guiding it along, State of Decay does take the time to present realized characters for you to interact with, and your decisions will undoubtedly not always be agreed upon by the whole of the group. This goes beyond the standard "moral choice results in different outcomes" system you see in other titles. Here, the group morale and character attitudes towards you can change in an instant, and it's strange how the opinions of virtual people suddenly matter. Undead Labs incorporates a nice way of dealing with disruptive attitudes though, as you can choose to take characters out on quick missions with you to have a talk about attitudes, or you can simply dismiss them from the group all together. You're essentially giving characters a death sentence by merely disagreeing with you. It's an interesting amount of power, and State of Decay really makes you wonder about who is right -- you or them?
Of course, for everything State of Decay does right, there are a few things that keep it from being wholly successful. There isn't a lot of explanation about the game's mechanics, leaving you wondering how certain items and aspects of the game do work. Most importantly, leaving the game doesn't mean the world stops existing. If you shut off the game one day to return to it later, you might find all the moral and influence you've accrued has depleted, other survivors have died, and everyone is angry at you for some reason. It's a bit of a shock the first time it happens.
Additionally, the presentation isn't the greatest. There are a lot of framerate issues, particularly when there are a lot of zombies on the screen, pop-in is a frequent issue, and there are often issues with the camera that make entering a building alone an interesting experience to say the least. For an Xbox Live Arcade game, the vast open world is rather impressive, and characters all have a very distinct look, which is nice. It can feel as if there's almost too much space to explore at times, but it's better to have a game be expansive than claustrophobic.
State of Decay is a unique experience, and one that really stands out amongst a collection of zombie action titles already bursting at the seams. Though it has its flaws, and at times missions and exploration can become dull and repetitive, the threat of danger looming keeps you on your toes. There's a lot to be impressed with in this tiny package, and you'd do well take a turn at seeing how long you could survive in State of Decay's world.
As for Maya, she didn't make it. There was an infected lurking in the yard she was trying to sneak through to avoid a herd of zombies. He tore her in two with little effort. She will be remembered.
This review is based on a retail copy of State of Decay for the Xbox 360.