State of Decay: Lifeline Review (Xbox 360)
Zombies, zombies, zombies. The walking dead are everywhere these days, and in no medium are they as omnipresent as they are in video games. Though most use them as endless, guilt-free cannon fodder, Undead Labs’ State of Decay used them as the terrifying, world-ending horde they were unborn to be. This open-world zombie apocalypse sim had players lining up in droves to scavenge, fortify, and slash their way to survival, and now, with the release of the State of Decay: Lifeline expansion pack, it’s time to see how well the military fares against the living dead.
The basic premise in Lifeline remains the same as in any State of Decay: you play as a group of survivors, and must forage for resources, upgrade your homebase, rescue the living and put down the dead. As a group of military personnel, you’re in charge of trying to maintain some semblance of order in a once-thriving metropolis gone mad. Various story missions have you rescuing high-priority assets (military speak for “smart people”), and keeping the chain of command intact. Like State of Decay, Lifeline’s writing is solid, with some fairly charismatic characters and a story manages to balance thematic intrigue with compelling gameplay. Though a few missions can grate on the nerves (particularly those which have you relying more heavily on your brain-dead NPC allies), for the most part they’re exciting experiences. However, unlike the base State of Decay, time is a major factor here. Don’t expect to be able to save everyone, hotshot; there just aren’t enough seconds in the day. At times you have to make tough choices about what to do and when to do it, adding a delicious new layer of tension to an already-tense experience. Failure is an option, people will die, and you may have to restart your campaign if things to really sour. Even if you do make it to one of the campaigns multiple endings, it may not be a happy one— this ain’t a fairy tale, you know. This is the end of the world.
Outside of the primary storyline, you’ll be doing the usual zombie apocalypse thing of fighting and foraging. Lifeline offers far more guns ‘n ammo than the base game, but since loud noises still attract zombies like honey attracts Winnie the Pooh, you’ll still primarily want to stick with the incredibly-satisfying melee combat. Scavenging is as tense as ever; each new building you come across is a potential treasure trove of resources and hidden zombies hungry for your flesh. Searching quickly minimizes time spent at risk for zombie attacks, but increases the amount of noise you’ll make, so there’s a delicate balancing act of trying to hurry vs. trying not to draw attention to yourself, and with the randomization of resource/zombie locations, you never quite know what’s going to happen. Sometimes you’ll skip back to your car armed with tons of new goodies, others you’ll have to cheese it on foot across three city blocks because a horde heard you smashing around someone’s fridge. Some of State of Decay’s greatest moments occur during such encounters; players with sacks full of valuable loot hiding in bushes as the dead shamble past, hoping to God none of them wander too close. It’s frightful, it’s intense, and even as sharply-trained military personnel it’s still a wonderfully scary experience.
Though State of Decay and its many expansions offer an incredible amount of fun and content at a budget price, this lack of monetary cost does come at a price. Lifeline, like its predecessor, can be a buggy, glitchy game. NPCs will often behave in useless ways, standing around during melees while you’re getting mauled not twenty feet away, or even worse, charging into the fray when they’re armed with nothing more than a rolling pin and getting themselves torn to pieces. While Lifeline is open-world, don’t expect the level of mission variety you’ll find in bigger-budget titles. The game you experience in the first few hours is more or less what you’re going to get for the duration. And while the audio and visuals do a nice job of establishing a tense, fear-infused mood, the frequent graphical pop-ups, untextured objects and general bugginess detract from the Romero-inspired atmosphere.
Whether you’ve played State of Decay to undeath or have yet to make like Daryl Dixon and fight your way through the zombie apocalypse, State of Decay: Lifeline is an engaging, often terrifying, experience that lets players explore the way they want to in a world overrun with zombies. Sure, it’s got more than a handful of balancing issues and glitches, but State of Decay: Lifeline offers an invigoratingly original, highly-replayable experience and does so at a budget price.
This review is based on a purchased download of State of Decay: Lifeline for the Xbox 360.