When I first heard about State of Decay, the concept fascinated me. An open-world zombie simulation survival game? Sign me up. Alas, it was an Xbox exclusive at the time. Fortunately though, the game eventually came to the PC, but by then, other priorities in life took hold and the game slipped away from my mind. Thanks to the Steam sale though, I was fortunate enough to pick up State of Decay Year One Survival Edition on sale. Did State of Decay live up to my expectations? Yes, for the most part.
For those of you who are not aware, State of Decay is as previously described an open-world zombie simulation survival game. In the base game, you start off as a small group of survivors battling a sudden outbreak of zombies. You shortly make your way to a small base in a town and thus begin slowly building up that base.
There is a main plot loosely involving the U.S. military and trying to figure out what is going on as the world has apparently gone mad. I say loosely because the primary narrative also has quests involving neighbors, local government officials and even the surviving sheriff. Many of these plot threads do not go anywhere after they end, some surprisingly abruptly, and that is a shame, as the characters grow on you and their stories never get proper closure.
There are also plentiful side quests that open up involving specific zombie hunts, a mysterious supplier of army origins and even just general surveillance of the terrain. When you are not on missions, you will find yourself scouting for supplies, looking for survivors and just trying to stay alive.
Anyone can die, as I learned the hard way when I lost two of my original survivors. When one of your characters does die, the game reverts you back to town and you begin as another survivor. There is a short mourning for your fallen comrade and the game then goes on.
The game is not easy and as it progresses; the zombies you face get more numerous, more varied and more deadly. Stealth is very critical for surviving. Even characters that you have leveled up to max can get easily overwhelmed if you decide to go Rambo on a zombie horde and not realize there are mini-bosses nearby that pick up on the noise. If you choose to fight though, you can either hack your way through a horde of zombies with a variety of weapons or shoot 'em up with an array of guns. Shooting will not tire you out compared to melee, but it will make noise that can attract unwanted company. On the flipside though, you can use sound to lure zombies into deadly traps.
My main complaint about the combat system though is the lack of guidance when it comes to special attacks and abilities. The game will tell you about skills you have upgraded, but it comes off as vague and can be easily ignored. An accidental Internet search should not be the way to discover potential life saving techniques.
Half the charm of the game, though, is making it through those tense situations. Managing to loot supplies in a house while a zombie horde is just outside patrolling and then slip out the back undetected is straight out of a scene from The Walking Dead. As well, nothing stops your heart like a surprise zombie attack, and surviving it will leave you breathing one hell of a sigh of relief. And if you really feel like letting off some steam, just get in a car and start ramming zombies. Careful though, as ramming does damage the car and it takes a while to repair at home.
Speaking of home, this is where the simulation aspect of State of Decay comes into play. Your home base begins with just a basic watch tower and not much else. You have several options as to what you want to build – a sleeping area to house more survivors, maybe a workshop to repair damaged equipment. You cannot build everything, at least not in your initial base, so you will need to play around and see what fits with the situation.
The survivors inside will not sit idly by. They will be heading out to pick up supplies or face morale quandaries that require your attention. As well, they can become stranded and in need of rescue or have missions that they want you to help them with. They can die or leave if these tasks go side-ways, so you will have to prioritize what you want to do, because, again, you cannot do everything. Also, you cannot just pile on survivors as you will find yourself without space and your supplies depleting rapidly. A balance will need to be struck.
When it all comes together, State of Decay is one of the most engrossing games I have played in a while. A sense of accomplishment and drive comes from rescuing survivors and watching them contribute. As well, the urgency of maintaining optimal supplies makes you want to complete just one more run. The game also has a real-time clock, so you do have to check up on it daily and keep those stores in check.
The game ran mostly well on my computer, aside from some slowdowns here and there. The visuals are decent, but nothing to write home about. There were noticeable graphical issues with character limbs clipping through walls and doors, but nothing bad enough to break the immersion. The audio presentation, though, is surprisingly strong, with good voice acting and an atmospheric soundtrack.
The base game is quite solid, aside from the aforementioned plot threads that are left hanging and an annoying cliff hanger at the end. The Survival Edition, though, includes two additional DLCs: Breakdown and Lifeline.
Breakdown is essentially a hardcore mode of State of Decay. There is no main story here. It is truly survival. You find a base, build it up and then find a vehicle to patch up and then get the hell out of there. It is level based, and each time you manage to survive and drive off, you are set in another part of the map where you have to start all over again but with up to 6 accompanying survivors. The zombies get tougher and faster so you have to be smarter and stealthier. I enjoyed this mode, and it definitely feels more harrowing. I did notice some glitches such as my controller disconnecting and zombies walking through walls.
Lifeline, though, is an outright disappointment, as the zombies were the least of my problems in the face of the game's hideous glitches and bugs.
In an inversion of typical zombie survival stories, you begin as the U.S. military. You find the last remaining military base in the city and hold out as long as possible. The plot is frankly the most interesting of all the games as it explores the outbreak and tries to confirm its origins. There is even quiet a bit of humor and genre savvy dialogue here.
Because you are the military, you have a lot more versatility and resources to accomplish your tasks. There are more base options, such as solar generators, heli-drops of supplies, and issuing orders to your troops, such as scouting for surviving soldiers or scavenging for supplies.
I loved how Lifeline handled this. It did truly feel like I was in charge of a military fort, with the threat of invasion hanging just outside your fences. You also have access to A LOT more firepower, which is good, because there are A LOT more zombies to face off against; the most pressing event in Lifeline is siege mode.
There is a threat monitor on your mini-map. When it reaches 3, you best prepare yourself for an onslaught of zombies that will try to overrun your base. You can keep the threat monitor down by ordering your soldiers to hunt and kill zombies, but it is not always effective, and it is made less so when you accomplish tasks such as rescuing critical and civilian personnel. Every time you survive an assault, the helicopter will come in and pick up any personnel you have rescued. The assaults get stronger every time and the game can reach an unwinnable point, especially considering how glitchy the game is.
State of Decay had its technical problems, but Lifeline just takes everything to eleven. The slowdowns are more frequent. Zombies will walk through walls much more often, probably due to the engine not being optimized for the more urban environment. Car physics are hilariously bad, as I experienced trying to ram a zombie on an on ramp and having the truck flip over. Characters would stop functioning properly in certain instances or just not function at all. The A.I. is especially dumb in base as characters will just stand there. I never once saw them take advantage of the watch towers during sieges or even just on regular watch duty.
Worse of all are the illogical spawn rates. I have died multiple times because areas that seemed cleared would suddenly spawn a whole horde out of thin air. That is immersion-breaking coding right there. I finally put my controller down when my character was seemingly killed, but then saved by my partner, who was then killed. But when I tried to fight back, I had no weapon in my hand and could barely move … I was done.
And that is unfortunate, because when Lifeline works, it is my favorite of the three games. The story is intriguing, the gameplay options are fun and more versatile, and the soundtrack is reminiscent of apocalyptic titles such as Terminator 2. I just wish Undead Labs had spent more time putting Q&A into Lifeline, because it is almost, if not outright, broken at times.
State of Decay Year One Survival Edition is a good but uneven package. It has a strong, solid base game and two unique DLCs that give alternate modes of play, albeit with varying degrees of stability. If you have not played State of Decay, this is a great entry point if you are into zombie survival.
This game was purchased by the reviewer from Steam and reviewed on the PC.
Engrossing gamplay and an atmospheric environment help State of Decay rise above its narrative issues and technical problems.