Preview – State of Decay
These days, you could be forgiven for rolling your eyes as yet another zombie apocalypse themed game releases. However, State of Decay from Undead Labs – the most recent title featuring the shambling undead – offers something more than just your run of the mill zombie smashing action experience. State of Decay is a unique take on what’s fast becoming a tired genre, offering an incredibly detailed and nuanced open world zombie survival horror experience to Xbox 360 and PC owners.
Whilst a casual perusal of State of Decay may lead a player to believe this game is all about fighting zombies, nothing could be further from the truth. At its core, State of Decay is all about survival – leveling up your character, your base and your band of survivors to better survive in a world that has, for want of a better phrase, gone to hell. In State of Decay, you will be relying on your ability to scrounge for resources, to barter with others for resources and to reinforce your home base to fend off zombie attacks. You’ll need to venture from the relative safety of your home base in order to find the supplies you and your band of survivors needs in order to meek out an existence in this harsh new world. If you’re like me and you’ve ever wondered just how effective you would be if placed in the middle of a zombie apocalypse – State of Decay acts as a trial by fire, allowing you to answer that very question. Sink or swim, survive or die – you decide how you interact with the world around you, and how you respond to the dynamic nature of the game world.
And dynamic it is. The game world develops in real time, shaped by your choices and the way in which you decide to explore. You can choose to approach situations with stealth, or go no holds barred. I started with an aggressive mindset, attacking every zombie I came across, however I soon learnt that stealth can be a much better option in certain situations. Stealth kills allow you to explore the game world relatively undetected, whilst the use of firearms draws other zombies to your location. And these zombies are hard-core – if you’re standing in a building, they will crash through windows in order to get to you, and I’ll admit to jumping the first time this happened to me. The game does an excellent job of conveying the sense of dread and urgency that comes with existing in a world filled with shambling undead. You’ll need to explore areas for supplies, and you will soon find yourself checking every area you come across for much needed items to help your survival. Thankfully, the game does a fantastic job of letting you know when you have searched every container within an area, so you needn’t feel as though you have missed anything important. A notification will appear in the top right of your screen once you have searched everything, allowing you and your band of survivors to move on to the next area.
The supplies you’ll be searching for include food, ammo, medicine, and shelter and construction materials, all of which can be utilised to improve your chances of survival. Inventory management is handled well – you start off with very limited inventory slots and deciding what is absolutely necessary for your survival becomes a challenge in and of itself. Pack rats beware – you will not be able to pick up everything you find. Instead, you’ll need to prioritise what you choose to pick up and what you decide has to be left behind. It’s a small thing, but adds so much to the feel of the game and really challenges you to re-define your priorities.
The game mechanics are intuitive – use a skill and it will level up. The use of firearms increases your shooting skill, for example, and meleeing zombies increases your fighting ability. In a very real way, the choices you make in your playstyle will shape the character you become, setting your strengths and most used skills. If you feel like a change, however, the game provides this by enabling you to switch between characters you have rescued once you have built up a relationship with them. Each of these characters has their own unqiue skills and strengths, and the ability to switch between them opens up new avenues to experience the game utilising a completely different skill set. This keeps the game feeling fresh and provides a welcome freedom to explore the game world.
Whilst I have barely scratched the surface of the richness of this world, I am already impressed by the nuances and depth already on display. Weapons sound and handle differently, and each has their own strengths and detractions. Areas are populated with interesting places to explore and the environments themselves are well-detailed. I spent a great deal of time in the starting area simply exploring and gathering resources, appreciating the dappled sunlight and autumnal colours on display around me. It’s early opinions yet, and whilst a full review is coming soon, things are certainly looking good.
If you’ve become jaded with zombie themed games, or felt the zombie apocalypse idea has become mundane and tired, State of Decay might just be the game to re-invigorate your love for all things zombie apocalypse.
State of Decay is out now for Xbox 360 and PC. I’ll have a full review of the title soon.