Zombies are everywhere. Television, video games, the Internet; hell, there are a couple shuffling down the road as I peer out my bedroom window. The very idea of zombie survival plagues our minds because we’re not really sure how we would react if ever there were to be some freak breakout. Until survival rears its ugly head to slap us in the face, we’re left with theory and conjecture. From George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead to the titillating and famous The Walking Dead, we just love watching helpless humanity struggle to survive. No more watching from the sidelines, children, let’s dive in head-first.
State of Decay is developer Undead Lab’s introductory creation into the ubiquitous genre that just won’t go away, like a bad case of the fleas – except in this case State of Decay doesn’t cause a rash. The release of State of Decay on the XBOX 360 caused pandemonium because up until that point, combining zombies with surviving in an open world just hadn’t been well done. Yes, that’s a jab at Infestation: Survivor Stories. Undead Labs not only delivers a rather fresh iteration to blowing a hole in a zombie’s head, they tease us with what could have been so much more, and just may be so in the future. So, it’s only obvious that Undead Labs releases their spectacle to PC users in an effort to unite zombie-smashing across all platforms. On to it!
The story is simple, if a little muddled. Clearly, there has been a zombie outbreak in our little isolated area of Trumbull Valley. Dead loved ones mysteriously coming back to life after they’ve died sends the local populace into panic, and rightly so. State of Decay doesn’t do much more storytelling above and beyond the premise of zombies. I won’t spoil (not that there’s a whole lot to spoil) anything but the army becomes involved and let’s just say the linear missions you must partake in to come to game’s end feel rushed. The ending left a questionable taste in my mouth, almost akin to if you drink skunked beer. I felt cheated. Yet, I felt as if Undead Labs berthed a gigantic ship for us to explore in the future.
You begin the game as Marcus – a brother from the hood with an afro that wouldn’t cause you to ask many questions – and Ed, some guy that they just had to add along, because who camps alone? The two of you are under attack from what appears to be flesh-eating hippies out in the woods. Apparently, you just so happen to be holding a 2×4 and you appropriately and promptly beat the crap out of your cannibalistic kin. Oddities aside, it’s evident from the get-go that State of Decay is going to be taking itself rather seriously.
Once you end up coming across the church you will call home, there are a ton of things you can do. You have the main missions that Lily will prompt you to check out, you have the opportunity to walk/drive around town and bludgeon/shoot/run over as many zombies as you want, and you can scavenge for supplies to keep your small community safe and fed. The menu system may look daunting initially, but a few minutes acquainting yourself with it will leave it easy to manoeuvre. The first tab op the menu offers you the ability to look up the state and general bios of everyone in your community, what their health is like, as well as the current player’s inventory. Scrolling over weapons and items will give you a brief decryption of what they do. Next, the skills tab focuses on the current character you are in control of, including stats, and specialization techniques. If you want to be a current-day Billy the Kid, then you can opt to focus on specializing in handguns. Or you can specialize edged weapons like I did, allowing me a 25% chance to decapitate my friendly zombie. The events tab allows you to track everyday occurrences. This felt more like show to attempt to add to the story than actually carry merit, because I don’t care how many times Ed takes a dump in his own pants. The last two tabs allow you to take a gander at the current state of affairs in regards to item stockpile and an aerial cross-section of your home base and what kind of amenities you have to call your own.
The introduction to the game softly tutors you on the small nuances that will allow you to adjust to the harsh realities of living amongst undead corpses. The port from the 360 version is decent and the controls are straightforward for a 3rd-person action game. As I mentioned in my first impressions, I did have a little trouble with the mouse movement snapping around and it did aggravate when trying to aim for headshots. Though it didn’t seem as evident this time around (maybe I’m not shaking my hand around in a panicked craze), there were still a few instances of mouse mishap. Though I don’t have a top-of-the-line mouse, the Logitech G700 has done me well in a variety of other games.
Perhaps it’s just me, but my time with State of Decay on the PC has been smooth when it comes to bugs. I’m not talking graphical bugs; I’m talking those bugs everyone experienced on the 360 when the game launched. I never encountered a too many infestations warning, had zero crashes and freezes, and just plainly had a great time in terms of not having to pull out my hair a la the State of Decay 360 day one release. I assume the devs have been very active on the PC release, so that’s a very welcome addition.
Unfortunately for me, my PC is a few years old but I was still able to handle State of Decay at ultra-graphics, with a little slow down here and there when things got cluttered. The PC version does boast smoother textures as well as a smoother frame rate over its console brother. Character models are fair but nothing exciting; their lip movement isn’t exactly the best when it comes to voice acting. Though State of Decay may not boast next-gen graphics, for an indy game it’s not bad, but not great. A few graphical glitches come to mind as well. “Why are zombies walking through that garage door?”
As a lover of all things sound, I am more than happy to report that the musical score in State of Decay is genius. It’s powerful, it’s somber, it hits you in the recesses of your mind at all the right times. Crouching along a white picket fence outside an abandoned home looking for supplies? Bam! Eerie music. Getting chased by a horde of the undead with little stamina left? Bam! Energetic rift. I am amazed at how these indy devs can pull out the punches when it comes to musical score. Aside from music, all the sounds work well in the game. The voice acting is nothing to praise, as well.
What makes State of Decay set the bar incredibly high compared to other games is the way it’s played. Stealth, distraction, and careful planning take the front and centre making the game a definitive survival title. You are not rewarded for gunning around town because guns make loud noises. Noise attracts zombies and if you’re out alone popping heads, you will certainly attract unwanted attention. Moving in stealth mode allows you to evade would-be cannibals, so you can get the job done quietly. If a problem calls for drastic measures, be sure to have a potential back-up plan in the back of your head. Diligent planning is the key to survival; running out of ammunition half-way through a mission or not packing enough snacks to keep stamina at peak level could endanger you. If you lose all your health, your character will be knocked to the ground allowing you to get back up at the cost of your max base health. When you use up these ‘freebies’ your character is dead: no potions, no first aid, no way. If hand-held weaponry isn’t your forte, consider a vehicle; no one else is using them. They seem to be ubiquitous, and they take a hell of a punching before they’re out of commission, so plow away!
The one issue I’m on the fence with is when it comes to your community. You don’t really get any emotional attachment to any of the NPCs, even if they die. They’re definitely useful to help in raids, gather supplies, and kicking zombie ass, but all they do at home is whine and moan. What’s that, Ed? We’re going to starve if we don’t get food soon? No, no we won’t, because we have 40 units of food. You’re more than welcome to complain out on the road with a Snicker’s bar and a bag full of mayonnaise. Every now and again, Lily will chime in on the radio in her chipper voice stating that someone at home is sad/angry/depressed/etc. It happened all the time on the 360 but seemed to subside a little on the PC. It gets super annoying because you already have three things on your plate, and walking down the road to kill the Robinson family while discussing Sarah’s feelings seems out of place. Not because this is a survival game, but because there is almost no other attempt to feel out a person’s emotion anywhere else in the game. Small emotional mini-games are not fun. Perhaps if they focus on the story and character-driven issues of zombie survival in future games, it’d make more sense. Lily’s dad – who dies at the beginning of the game – doesn’t even stoke a semblance of sadness from her! If my dad was torn into ribbons and left to the mice, I’d probably grab a bottle of whiskey and head to the woods to howl at the moon.
Though I’ve already played State of Decay on the XBOX 360, it was fun to run at it again on the PC version with slightly improved textures, an actual keyboard and mouse, as well as less bugs and glitches. Though the game is far from perfect, it does have a lot to offer in terms of survival, and Undead Labs has undoubtedly set the bar very high with this iteration. I do feel, however, that State of Decay was a guinea pig for them because there is something there that is lacking. Fans have been loud and clear with their support through thick and thin and I believe that Undead Labs is just getting their feet wet with their first zombie game that, in my opinion, surpasses many other zombie titles. Here’s to their future and the future of zombies!