State of Decay presents a type of game that honestly has rarely been tackled before, at least not in this particular way. It’s an open world, zombie survival game. Much of the elements of the game are pulled directly from titles like Grand Theft Auto or Day Z, but State of Decay brings plenty of its own ideas to the table. It’s a shame, then, that the game fails in so many of the basic areas when it has such fresh and unique ideas for an open-world zombie game.
The premise of State of Decay is presented with almost no fanfare or build up. The game dawns on Marcus, a guy who was simply out camping with his buddy. You run into, and fight off, a couple zombies only to learn that over the past two weeks the world has gone to hell. That’s about where any type of meaningful story ends. After that you find other survivors, join a protected enclave and go about your life in the zombie apocalypse.
State of Decay is a true open world game. You are free to go and do whatever you want, almost to a fault. In fact most of the time it will be quite difficult to differentiate between the next “story mission” and the side missions that pop up randomly. Mostly you’ll just spend your time clearing out zombies from houses, stores and other buildings and then looting said building of all it’s valuables.
This gameplay element of scavenging and clearing buildings is by far the most interesting thing about State of Decay. Your world map will be marked with various types of buildings as you discover them. Cleaning out a building places a X through it on your map. There is something very satisfying about heading out from your compound, clearing out a building or two, and then heading back with your spoils.
Unfortunately that is pretty much the most interesting aspect of the game. By collecting supplies you can grow and build your home base but even that feels fairly limited and you will likely max it out quite quickly if you are efficient. The other tasks the game sets before you are fairly menial: rescue a survivor, clear out infestations, hunt down special zombies, etc. it’s not that any of these tasks are not fun, it’s just that they become repetitive very quickly.
The action of killing zombies is quite satisfying as well. State of Decay definitely leans towards the hardcore side, though. You can have one melee weapon and one firearm equipped at a time. Melee is generally the way to go as gunshots will only draw more zombies but melee is capped from being too powerful through degrading weapons and limited stamina. Guns are powerful – if you are a good enough shot – but ammo is scarce. Encounters with one or two zombies will never tax you much but if you are unlucky enough to draw an entire horde the experience can be exhilarating. Since health must be refilled with items you will constantly find yourself in situations where death is right around the corner and fleeing is simply the best options.
Another way that State of Decay makes the game feel more hardcore is through how it handles characters. Instead of just controlling the opening character Marcus, you are free to choose from various people as your group grows. The game actually forces you to constantly switch out who you play via stamina reductions that can only recover by resting at home. In the unfortunate event that you are killed, you simply will jump into controlling another character. It’s an interesting mechanic but one that ultimately feels more restrictive than helpful, which may be the point. The game allows for skill progression but each character levels up independently, meaning you will likely end up just leaning on two or three of your strongest people, unless you feel like doing something that could be considered a suicidal run.
The main problem with multiple characters rears its head most, however, when you witness what happens to the other people you aren’t controlling. People will randomly get lost or go out on missions, and therefore unable to be switched to. You will also find that they simply may die while out doing some type of AI-controlled scavenging run, which feels incredibly cheap.
Another aspect of the game that feels cheap is the way it handles precious resources. State of Decay runs in a pseudo-persistent world that is constantly going on while your not playing. Every 24 hours your community uses up a set amount of resources, whether you are playing or not. It’s one thing to run low on supplies through the course of natural play, it’s another thing entirely to essentially be punished by the game for any delayed breaks from playing.
This brings us to what is most disappointing about State of Decay. There are a lot of complex systems involved in this game from building up your base, training up your characters, convincing other groups to join you, etc. However, the game does a completely terrible job of explaining most of the mechanics to you. I got one group of survivors to join early in the game but I’m not entirely sure what I did or how I can go about earning the trust of some of the other groups I’ve found. I wanted to relocate my base to a new town once I had cleared out our surrounding area but couldn’t figure out how to do so for two days (real life time).
State if Decay is also an incredibly buggy experience. You will constantly run into enemies stuck within fences or walls, unsure of whether they are on your side or the other. Enemies also have the habit of simply spawning right next to you or sometimes even inside of your base. A recent bug floods your world with Infestations, one of the hardest things to deal with, which causes anxiety and unrest amongst your community. The whole game seems to just be lacking polish, a surprising thing from a Microsoft Studios published title.
Still, despite all of its shortcomings, which there are many, there is something alluring about State of Decay. It’s take a long time to figure out but when you do, you kind of appreciate all of the neat ideas present. At first glance you might think Grand Theft Auto with zombies but in reality it’s more along of the lines of Minecraft. It’s an open world and it’s up to you to decide what to do with it. Sure there are some attempts at story but they fall by the wayside pretty quickly. What remains is a fairly mediocre zombie survival game that is oddly addicting. It has a bunch of glitches and some pretty bad design decisions but they don’t seem to hinder enjoyment of the game much at all.
SCORE: 7.0 out of 10
A copy of State of Decay was provided to Pixel Related for review.