Platform: Xbox 360
Every once and a while, a game goes completely under the radar before it finds itself on either physical or digital shelves. State of Decay fell into that category when I turned on my 360 a couple of weeks ago to see what was new. After playing the demo, I was convinced it was worth the investment and was ready to get into it. What I found once I got into the full game wasn’t exactly what the demo led me to believe. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though.
It starts off simply enough – save your buddy from being attacked by a zombie, try to avoid the rest of the surrounding zombies, make your way to the nearest defensible position, and meet another group of survivors. You head out to look for more survivors and supplies and…well, you probably can tell where this is going. Things don’t go well and you’re forced to move on.
Once you meet up with another group of survivors, you put down temporary roots and start to look for even more survivors and supplies. Here’s where the game takes a slight turn in style that you likely won’t get the full taste for in the demo. The more survivors you add to your encampment, the more supplies are used up. Not all of these people survived because they have a great set of skills that helped them press on while others fell around them. Sometimes dumb luck is as big a factor as how handy you are with a two-by-four.
Some of these people are going to seem like a drain on your resources. When your main stable of characters grow fatigued and needs rest, these new recruits will have to pick up the slack. Some of them are flat out lousy at surviving. Low stamina, low health, weak attacks…they’re not really making much of a case to continue to use them. You’ll likely go back to one of your other characters once they’re even a little more rested. What seems like a good strategy could ultimately spell your session’s doom.
Slightly fatigued or not, your main stable is going to be stronger, faster, and better at scavenging for supplies than the new recruits. You’re going to use them. And then, when you least expect it, one of them is going to die. It could be being ripped in half by one of the larger freakos. It could be a random horde just overwhelms your overworked character. It could be after you turn off your console and go about your real life.
That’s right, the zombie apocalypse doesn’t stop when you do. It keeps going, slowly dwindling your supplies, using up the supplies from the surrounding areas that might have supplies, and killing your encampment’s citizens. It’s a touch of slightly unwelcomed abstract reaslism. Leave the game to its own devices for a week and you’re likely to walk back into a shit storm you can’t recover from, making you start from scratch.
Supplies disappear. Survivors die. Weapons break. Your strongest character is fair game. Even going on a mission with a friend to boost their morale could be fatal to either of you. State of Decay throws obstacle after obstacle at you to overcome, it almost feels a bit overwhelming at times. If you’re looking for a game like Dead Rising where you start to feel powerful as your abilities increase, keep looking. Everyone is expendable. Odds are you’re going to fail more than a few times. If not directly, you’ll find yourself without enough supplies and people to persevere, leading to a slow, inevitable death for everyone under your wing.
You’ll be moving homesteads regularly. You’ll outgrow one, wipe out the supplies in the surrounding areas, or progress to the next story beat that’s so far out of the way, packing up and moving is the only viable option. There’s going to be times when it benefits you greatly. You might find one that’s larger than you might ever need, leaving you plenty of room to grow crops and better able to withstand the rigors of trying to survive, but it might be so far away from any places to grab supplies from, it becomes a very delicate balance of progression and keeping up with the demands of the others in your group. You might find one a bit small, but it’s right in the middle of huge supply caches. This might sound more ideal, but your characters never really rest well enough to be at 100% when they’re all sleeping on top of one another, leaving them weakened and more vulnerable. Also, without the extra space, you’ll have to choose between the add-ons your camp can build. You’re unlikely to be able to have ample sleeping quarters, a place to grow food, treat wounded, and repair weapons in such a small space. You have to weigh your options carefully because there’s no perfect solution.
There might be a lot of mechanics and systems that seem more like a pain in the ass than anything. Combat isn’t anywhere near as smooth as Dead Rising. It’s not pretty to look at either. The engine will chug along at times, struggling to keep up with everything happening onscreen. You’re most likely going to have to start from scratch a few times. Hell, odds are good you won’t ever see the game’s end. I didn’t. But that’s not what State of Decay is about. State of Decay is a survival simulation. You have to eat. You have to deal with zombies and with degrading states of people and equipment. You have ever dwindling supplies to scavenge for to contend with. You also have to realize that in some situations where people are forced to survive in conditions they’re not accustomed to, they don’t. Odds are, you likely won’t either, and that’s what makes State of Decay so great. It’s not going to be for everyone, but what it sets out to do, it does so nearly flawlessly, that you’ll be seeing this on more than a few Games of the Year list when 2013 wraps up. It’ll be on mine.