Our palms are sweating as we desperately try to outrun the vicious, flesh-craving horde gnawing at our heels, watching all the while as our vulnerable survivor’s stamina gauge unforgivably drains away. Having had a life-threatening run in with a ferocious Feral zombie just moments prior, our health bar is dangerously low and, worse yet, our obnoxiously loud gunfire attracted a mass of hungry, relentless zombies. With death closing in fast, we see a beacon of hope off in the distance; an abandoned sedan parked carelessly on the side of the street. Dashing towards it with our last shred of stamina, we reach the car door right before an onslaught of undead reach us and, without hesitation, speed off into the night knowing damn well that we just barely survived by the skin of our teeth.
We’re only six hours into Undead Labs’ recent contribution to the over-saturated zombie genre. Welcome to State of Decay.
Developer: Undead Labs
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platforms: Xbox Live Arcade
Release Date: June 5th, 2013
Let the Apocalypse Begin
Serving as the latest addition to Xbox Live Arcade’s vast catalog of titles, Undead Labs’ zombie-centric open-world game, State of Decay, thrusts you headfirst into the gritty realism and personal turmoil associated with surviving an undead-plagued, post-apocalyptic world by allowing you to reap both the rewards and consequences related to the frequent, stressful decisions you are constantly faced with. Journeying away from home to scavenge for materials, clearing out infestations, or gearing up to take down a special infected – like the brutalizing Big Un – all requires you to carefully weigh out your options and consider if the mission itself is worth a potential, permanent character death. With death’s cold embrace constantly feeling terrifyingly imminent, State of Decay proves to exhibit more tension-filled experiences in mere moments than many high-budget offerings demonstrate during the entire duration of their respective campaign.
…State of Decay thrusts you headfirst into the gritty realism and personal turmoil associated with surviving an undead-plagued, post-apocalyptic world…
Most of this can be contributed to the fact that State of Decay doesn’t convey to standard hand-holding practices during the initial start of the game, and instead, anxiously dives you into the rotten depths of the zombie plague to fend for yourself right from the get-go. You begin as Trumbull Valley resident, Marcus whose been viciously thrown into the midst of a sudden, unrelenting zombie epidemic after his fishing trip with his companion, Ed went amok. After finding potential shelter in a conveniently nearby Ranger Station and being introduced to a small cast of survivors, State of Decay soon transforms into a tidal wave of multitasking madness as you explore every nook and cranny of America’s small-town wasteland in hopes of gathering sufficient supplies, ammunition, and enough unscathed survivors to allow your new-found community to survive the zombie outbreak.
Survival of the Fittest
Void of any true central protagonist, State of Decay grants you the welcome opportunity to experience humanities’ struggle for survival through the eyes of multiple, equally vulnerable characters – depending on how you play. This is mainly due to the shear fact that, regardless of who you utilize during your zombie-slaughtering exploits, it’s very possible that any one of the survivors you’re playing as will end up succumbing to the undead plague at any moment – even the fisherman-turned-zombie-slayer, Marcus. With this said, the stunningly realistic sense of vulnerability each character possesses might be a tad bit overwhelming for some, especially with health regeneration and extra lives being noticeably absent. It should also be noted that characters can and will grow tired and, as a result, weak after too many blood-splattering engagements, and unfortunately, if you’re anything like us, it oftentimes happens during the most life-threatening of moments. Ultimately, this makes the option to switch between other healthier, well-rested survivors that much more of an invaluable luxury during your hellish journey.
…it’s very possible that any one of the survivors you’re playing as will end up succumbing to the undead plague…
Expanding on each character’s life-like capabilities, State of Decay also showcases a remarkable variety of personalities that make each survivor you run across undeniably unique. Surprisingly, it’s quite common for survivors to deliver intriguing, personal stories during long car rides, which usually ends up highlighting a specific trait about the survivor speaking. We particularly enjoyed taking a glimpse into each character’s lives before the outbreak or hearing the details of their harrowing escapes from the cold, lifeless hands of the reanimated before taking them back to the safety of our home base.
While our initial impulse was to save every individual we came across, we also learned fairly early on that every character saved presents both rewards and consequences that must be thoughtfully weighed out. For instance, saving new residents during your journey could potentially provide your already established community with a conflicting personality to deal with, causing issues with the other survivors and, as a consequence, dropping the overall morale of your crew. Oftentimes an overlooked factor, you must also take into consideration that every able body saved is just another mouth to feed, with supplies, medicine, and ammunition also dwindling in the process to support both your new-found companions and the survivors you’ve already rescued. However, these same individuals can also help you scavenge for supplies, guard home base or even clear out infestations (with your help), and earning their approval grants you valuable influence – State of Decay’s form of currency, which can purchase anything from items and in-game assistance to outposts and map-marked locations wielding ammunition, materials or even unrecruited survivors. Whether you save every character you can or leave some for zombie bait, it should be acknowledged that there’s always a consequence to your actions that must be thoroughly considered.
Aside from choosing which characters join your established community of survivors, State of Decay’s implemented decision-making process flows into every aspect of the game itself, whether you’re attempting to solve a particular individual’s dilemma, completing story-based missions, or, most importantly, acquiring enough supplies to sustain your crew. For instance, scavenging for rucksacks of food, medicine or even ammunition may be quicker, but can attract flesh-hungry hordes of walkers as a result, while taking a more stealthy approach – by conducting silent infiltrations and noise-reduced searches – allows you to remain practically unscathed, but also takes noticeably longer to ransack valuable supplies from any given building. With this said, the decisions you utilize during combat also pose their own unique set of consequences as well, with powerful gunshots creating obnoxious amounts of noise and more silent, physically-demanding attacks depleting your character’s stamina gauge.
…State of Decay’s implemented decision-making process flows into every aspect of the game…
Though slightly less life-threatening, deciding which additional structures to construct – utilizing the materials you’ve acquired during your scavenging runs – inside your home base also makes quite a difference. While, later in the game, you can relocate your self-declared safe haven to more advantageous locations, each home base can only accommodate a set number of specialized buildings – ranging from food-supplying gardens to weapon-repairing workshops – at one time. With both space and building materials limited, it’s extremely important to weigh out which particular structures will prove the most beneficial to your entire community and provide you with the most useful items or services.
A Step Shy of Greatness
Although State of Decay introduces a relatively unique experience amongst the plethora of other zombie-related titles on the market, its persistent issues hinder the game from achieving true, unparallelled greatness.
First and foremost, inconsistent framerates slow the game to an agonizing crawl during particularly blood-splattering vehicular massacres or intense combat situations, and proved to be most noticeable during the first hour or so you initially start State of Decay, regardless of where you are in relation to the campaign. We would jokingly refer to it as the game “warming-up”, but nonetheless, these slow-downs occurred far too frequently to be completely forgiven. Along these same lines, environmental pop-in would occasionally cause us to crash our vehicles or – during more severe times – even propel us into the air, oftentimes leaving us damaged and the car in question completely immobilized. Worse yet, collusion issues sometimes allowed hordes of zombies to pass through doors, barricaded windows and even our moving cars while we attempted to perform vehicular kills, causing more than a few aggravating moments as we tried desperately to survive the downfall of the civilized world.
…[State of Decay's] persistent issues hinder the game from achieving true, unparallelled greatness.
Even though State of Decay’s technical and visual hiccups are far more obvious, there’s also some relatively minor design shortcomings deep within the game’s interior as well. While completing missing survivor missions, zed hunts, and infestation clear-outs may be tension-filled affairs during the initial hours of your undead adventure, the repetitive nature of these missions themselves can become tedious over time (especially true when pertaining to the game’s seemingly endless amount of “Missing Survivor” tasks). On top of that, we frequently experienced drops in our community’s morale due to infestations that were miles away and would still have to deal with the repercussions of these zombie-filled hot spots long after they were cleared out; a frustrating issue that Undead Labs promises to fix in a patch. It should also be noted that, while none of the story-progressing missions are necessarily captivating, the noticeably abrupt ending seemed particularly at fault, displaying the game’s credits before we could even register what exactly had taken place.
Despite State of Decay’s apparent lack of polish, Undead Labs still deserves praise for single-handedly creating an ambitious open-word title that cleverly incorporates a mixture of base management options, light RPG elements and tough, consequence-filled choices into a successful zombie apocalypse simulation where death lurks around every corner. With an admission fee of only twenty dollars, State of Decay’s Xbox Live Arcade debut easily proposes more value than some of the game industry’s most highly-anticipated titles.
BOG’s State of Decay Review Score
|7.8||Why so high?
Engaging world filled with content; appealing mixture of base management and light RPG elements; $20 price tag
|Why so low?
Inconsistent framerate; frequent environmental pop-in; repetitive non-story missions; questionable ending