STATE OF DECAY REVIEW
A traditional undead tale?
Posted by PlayDevil.com Staff on Jul 8, 2013 15:08 (Jul 8, 2013 15:08)
Written by: Joe
Is Undead Labs' first game a fresh take on a stagnating genre?
Undead Labs faced a tough challenge with State of Decay, their first video game since the studio opened their doors in 2009. Releasing a zombie game into the incredibly crowded and irritably hackneyed genre is a challenge for any developer, but have Undead Labs surprised everyone and delivered something truly fresh or just polluted the market further with a game that's dead on arrival?
State of Decay doesn't stray too far from your traditional undead tale. Main character Marcus and his buddy return from a fishing trip to find the dead are rising and hungry for the other white meat. So far, so zombie. Before long the two meet up with other survivors and set up a base camp, and soon are dealing with narrative clichés such as zombie attacks, bitten friends, psychotic survivors and power struggles.
It's all standard fare and it's a shame to see such banal themes revisited like this, as the rest of the storytelling in the game is somewhat original. Characters are believable for the most part and each are surprisingly fully formed considering you can collect so many of them. Whilst the relationships amongst survivors aren't as fleshed out as they could have been, what is there is promising, and it's easy to grow attached to certain members of the group - which makes their ultimate fate that much more important to you.
Whilst State of Decay opens in a familiar manner and adheres to conventions we're all too used to, it is but a prologue of the complex game waiting beneath the well-worn exterior. After the initial tutorial-segment of the game gets out of the way you begin to realise how harsh a world State of Decay presents. After being told how to scout, climb, loot, sneak, and dispatch the undead the game welcomes you to your first base, a homestead you as a player are completely responsible for, and lets you off the leash. It's a scary prospect at first, looking after survivors, grabbing food, medicine and building materials, saving the stranded and playing diplomat to the inhabitants of your homestead to create the ultimate zombie-proof base, all whilst trying to progress through the story missions themselves.
Like most games with similar time-management systems the whole prospect is daunting at first, with overly stressful situations and choices presenting themselves all too often. Your characters become fatigued, their wounds take serious time to recover from and if they die, they're gone for good. You can switch out to other survivors and lighten the load that way, and depending on your actions survivors level up different skills, such as their proficiency at running, fighting or shooting.
It's deadly to rely on improving a single survivor, and with care you can cultivate a team with specialists for any situation. This connection and dependency, however, makes it all the worse when you inevitably make a mistake and lose one for good.
Outside the relative safety of your gate is a world that's begging to be reclaimed. The game urges you to be cautious, to avoid confrontation and be quiet, but these lessons are all too easy to forget when you catch sight of a gun shop or a pharmacy. I found myself taking risks I knew I shouldn't when things got desperate at basecamp, and had to rely on makeshift diversions or the forbidden clangor of firearms to extricate myself from the messes I frequently found myself in. Zombies roam in hordes, and any encounter on foot with more than three of them often proves to be lethal. State of Decay demands you respect the danger zombies present rather than see them as simple fodder, and know that a swift retreat is often your best option.