State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition Review (Xbox One)
Just as undead fiction keeps evolving every decade or so, proving there’s still plenty of ground to cover in the world of Romero, State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition reflects the capacity for growth and innovation that zombie survival games have. Almost two years ago, we were introduced to State of Decay back on the Xbox 360 and a few months later, PC. State of Decay was all about survival, stealth, stronghold management, overseeing your fellow survivors and managing your resources.
While we certainly enjoyed getting lost in Undead Labs' rotting dystopia, there were plenty of improvements that could've been done to help weather the apocalypse. The Year One Survival Edition of the game marks State of Decay’s debut on the Xbox One. As with most titles jumping from last-gen to current-gen, we should expect some visible improvements and a collection of game’s previously released DLC, but those familiar with State of Decay should know that it takes more than a few upgrades to survive.
State of Decay fans already know what they’re getting into, but should be warned there aren’t many changes this time around. As you would expect, the visuals and sounds of State of Decay were all improved going to the Xbox One. Crytek's CryEngine 3 gets pushed to the limit with a much further draw distance than before and a supposed 1080p resolution upgrade. Unfortunately, most of the visuals look way too similar to the last-gen version (which were already a bit underwhelming) for me to have noticed any major graphical upgrades in terms of lighting, models or rendering. The improved draw distance makes it easier for you to locate zombies and special undead variants. Being able to reduce the likelihood of being surprised by a Feral, Juggernaut, Bloater or Screamer can definitely help in surviving.
Roaming the wilds of State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition left me wondering if I would have been able to spot the same caches, survivors and zombies in the distance while playing the Xbox 360 of the game. The longer draw distance also helps with sniping, which I was extremely fond of doing; I would often set traps with cars, flares or other distractions, reach a high point and start shooting. Regardless of your playstyle or how you would handle living in the zombie apocalypse, State of Decay caters to your inner survivalist and rewards you based on your ingenuity and logic. At the same time, it randomly punishes you for almost no reason at all.
There are a lot of bugs, glitches and game-breaking errors throughout Trumbull Valley. Considering that State of Decay has been in the works since 2011, this is a bit disheartening. At the same time, I understand that a game of this magnitude, which offers you a vast amount of freedom, is bound to have a few hiccups, especially when you take the engine of an open world game that already had its fair share of glitches and start expanding and upgrading it.
Unfortunately, the game’s sporadic glitches are frequent, ranging from silly to game-breaking and AI-related to visual, like clipping through objects. Nothing beats infiltrating a gas station, looking for medical supplies for my co-pilot Sam and melee killing a zombie, only to have it magically glitch (mid-death animation), rush up and kill Sam in one hit. That was when I learned my lesson not to bank on my one or two Daryl Dixon-esque cohorts and to level as many survivors as I could. These errors get worse the more you play. Occasionally, you’ll get a zombie that inexplicably makes it through a building’s wall. While the improved draw distance is nice, I would still encounter random objects popping into existence, including buildings and zombies (and the occasional variant).
One of my biggest gripes with State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition is its erratic framerate, which would randomly drop or even bottom-out without any major events going on during gameplay. Running across a yard, rummaging through some cabinets, walking around your home base and getting into a car are just some of the random times the visuals slowed down to almost a screeching halt. Most of my car trips were plagued by at least one noticeable framerate dip. Combined with the pop-in issues, animation hiccups and a wide array of glitches, I would often find myself disconnecting from State of Decay because of its technical issues, which is a shame, because its premise is so much fun. While the Year One Survival Edition’s problems are apparent, its gameplay is so engaging and addictive that it pulls you right back in, regardless of how frustrated you get.
State of Decay is an ongoing learning experience that helps hone you into the ultimate survivor and leader. It’s amazing how authentic of a zombie apocalypse that Undead Labs made with State of Decay. Through trial and error, you’ll quickly learn that you’re never truly safe in Trumbull Valley. Just because a house or even a block looks clear, doesn’t mean that it is. I often found myself just getting thrilled to see what I could salvage from a neighborhood and constantly tweaking my approaches in the best ways to get in and out without hitting any snags. Do you pull the car right up to the house you’re going to explore so you have a shorter distance to run if things go sour? Just remember that zombies can hear the noise of the car, so I found myself parking down the block or somewhere inconspicuous.
The same goes for the actual investigation and searching. Before you know it, you’ll become used to always looking over your shoulder, making as little noise as possible and anticipating the worst when it comes to the hordes of walkers. I cringed the first time I lost a companion while looting a house simply because I left the front door open behind us and left my companion on the first floor (sorry Isabella). You need to assume the worst will happen and plan accordingly: carry a backup melee weapon, carrying extra ammo and don’t bother gambling on a vehicle on the verge of breaking down. I felt really stupid the first time I used a police car’s sirens to draw an infestation out of an area and ran them all over, only to have the car hit a few bad drops and die as I was heading back to base with my loot.
In terms of its premise and ideals, State of Decay hits every high note that a zombie apocalypse simulator should hit. I found myself harvesting as many resources as I could from an area to the point where I had to relocate my forces to a new base and set up shop. I even felt bad upon returning to one of my outposts in the wild, finding that my fornications and forces were overrun and the survivors I left to guard it were all killed. Just as I felt for the soldiers I lost, I was surprised by how gripping and human State of Decay’s storytelling was. Unfortunately, State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition is best thought of and described as an ideal, as its presentation and delivery detract from a good game.
The game also includes the Breakdown and Lifeline DLC packs, where Breakdown cuts out the story and raises the difficulty for all you survival enthusiasts out there. The Lifeline DLC follows a group of soldiers outside of Trumbull Valley and gives you a different kind of survivor scenario. Combined with its $30 price tag (and a $10 discount if you already own the last-gen version of the game), State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition offers a ton of content at a great value. If you’ve already played through State of Decay, Lifeline and Breakdown, then you’re not going to find anything really new in the Year One Survival Edition. Luckily, its already solid gameplay and story eclipse State of Decay’s lack of new content and its ongoing presentation issues. This left me wondering just how Undead Labs’ next take on this genre will be, especially once they figure out how to incorporate multiplayer and utilize current-gen tech. While Year One Survival Edition won’t wow returning players, this is one state you shouldn’t mind revisiting.
This review is based on a purchased, retail copy of State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition for Xbox One.