Published on June 13th, 2013 | by Scot Mackay0
Review: State of Decay
Now I have never heard of Undead labs before but apparently these guys have been around since 2009 after being founded by Jeff Strain, a former Blizzard employee who just so happened to be the lead programmer for World of Warcraft. Now if that has caught your attention allow me to introduce a little something they have been working on… State of Decay.
State of decay blends many different elements from previous games such as Dead island, Dead Rising, Left 4 dead and strangely enough, it has an overall look very similar to that of GTA: San Andreas (Once seen you it, you can’t stop noticing it). Blending survival tactics of stock piling weapons and supplies to defending locations and earning the trust of the local hillbillies, S.O.D. tries to tie a nice big bow around a genre which has already been exploited to the max.
From my experience as a zombie hunter, zombies tend to filter into two main categories. Firstly you have the slow groaners, the ones who always suddenly develop a limp and look a bit like someone in the permanent state of yawning and secondly the Usain Bolt’s of the un-dead, who will throw themselves at you like 40 year old soccer moms at a Justin Bieber concert. Both make an appearance as expected but offer little in the way of a challenge to the savvy adventurer and can be treated as a mere obstacle to avoid using a somewhat primitive stealth tactic of crouching and moving slowly by any gathered zombies.
Set in the open world, sandbox environment of Trumbull valley, you start off with a character called Marcus. He happens to be the kinda guy that likes reading poetry, long romantic walks on the beach and bathing in zombie blood. Throughout the course of the game, you will stumble upon other characters that may be useful or in dire situations and require your help. Many of these characters are able to be controlled by the player but there is one drawback of getting attached to anyone in particular. Within the world of S.O.D. if you character happens to become a human sized beef burger for the zombie horde and meets their grizzly end, there is no comeback. Every death is permanent and your most recent save is automatically overwritten. So don’t expect everyone to make it out alive.
Starting out with just big stick like some kind of zombie hunting Moses wannabe, weapons can be scavenged from various locations around the map. To begin with, many of the weapons you use tend to be close range melee weapons such as knives, golf clubs and fire axes which soon have heads flying in different directions. These weapons are great for dishing out the pain whilst still being relatively stealthy. The trade-off being that each weapon degrades with every use so scavenging becomes more important as you progress.
When you’re lucky enough to obtain a firearm ranging from the standard zombie issue pistol all the way up to a rocket launcher, things get real interesting. After firing off a few rounds and popping some zombies from a distance it becomes apparent that the noise of each shot attracts more flesh eaters to your location. You will quickly find yourself running out of bullets and resorting to melee weapons in a matter of moments and with a rapidly depleting stamina bar, you really have to think about how you’re going to escape or more importantly, where you can set up a defensive position.
Now this brings us to the more tedious side of things for me. Throughout the Trumbull valley, there are pockets of survivors who have set up defensive strongholds who may require your assistance in scavenging materials and supplies. Whilst this does offer up reasons to journey around the map hunting for anything useful, I personally find it a little soul destroying and prefer to spend my time kicking some zombie ass but for those survivalists out there who happen to have an Xbox in their disused missile silo house, there is the option of setting up camp in a suitable building to use as a base.
Different characters will be available at each of these bases and after a hard day’s zombie slaying, when your character is busted and broken, you will be able to switch to another character and use their particular skills instead. I found that this made the game a little more interesting even though each character only had slight variances of skills.
Missions tend to be handed out on a need to know basis and can improve your standing with the survivors who have set up camps. By completing missions and collecting supplies you are able to upgrade many of the camps original features by adding towers for armed guards to patrol and upgrading medical facilities.
A fantastic option in S.O.D. is the availability of vehicles. With the sandbox being quite large, vehicles make traversing the terrain allot easier and also helps me brush up on my Carmageddon driving skills.
Whilst not having the smoothest of textures throughout the game, there is a surprising amount of detail to be seen. S.O.D. is set in a detailed and heavily populated world which for an XBLA title is quite impressive. I’m not saying it’s a perfect work of art with some elements of the collision detection requiring some extra work to stop people pretending to be David Copperfield and walking through walls but all the same, this tends not to get in the way. As I have said before, there is a very GTA: Sand Andreas feel to the overall look of S.O.D which to me is no bad thing.
With the repetitive nature of many of the missions slowly beginning to wear me down, I found the latter half of State of Decay to become a little sluggish and grinding. Although there are many fun set pieces to have in the S.O.D. world, it is a little too easy to resolve to mindless button bashing to get out of most situations. The only other thing that caused an issue for me was the strangely set out inventory menu screens, it seemed a little bit fiddly and when time is against you, could be very costly. For the value of 1600 MSP’s it may be a little bit much to pay for what you get but if you love your sandbox titles and are a serial zombie fan, this could be the title for you.
State of Decay
Summary: Satisfies your zombie lust whilst stunning you with the scope and size of the play area. Very enjoyable but lacks a certain X-factor that could push it to the next level.