Grand Theft Auto 3 is undeniably one of the most influential games of the past decade. It basically started out what we have now come to call ‘open world’ games – with time, each of them becoming increasingly bigger and more ambitious than what came before. Undead Labs took that concept and married it to the next big thing out in videogames and entertainment lately: the undead craze. State of Decay is the result of said combination.
While not the most stable of games, nor the prettiest, Undead Labs’ long in development zombie fighting, post-apocalyptic exploration and base building game is easily the most ambitious downloadable game to hit Xbox Live Arcade. On top of an impressively expansive map full of buildings to explore, enemies to fight and missions to complete, there’s a robust set of character development, relationship and even bartering systems. Such additions make State of Decay feel like much more than a bloody hack n’ slashing game that happens to allow you to drive cars.
State of Decay starts out strong. You are basically dropped into the game with a handful of characters to control and are left to your own devices. Heading out to a better shelter is your main priority, as well as finding other survivors and arming yourself.
Each of the survivors you control has an unique set of skills and abilities. Some are rather useful in combat, but the twist is that some characters are skilled in other activities that come in play when dealing with base and resource management. Or, like a few strangers you’ll run across, some folks are just plain useless, which is where Undead Labs managed to inject a bit of humor into the game, with skills like movie trivia and being lazy. And once someone dies, they are gone forever – or at least during the remainder of your playthrough.
The aforementioned resource management system is probably one of State of Decay’s most notable feature. Money is useless after society has crumbled, leaving in its wake the rise of personal influences among the scattered groups of survivors. By raising influence through quests and trades, the more items you are able to acquire from their stashes. The noteworthy catch, though, is that supply trading works both ways – by giving back your own loot, you gain back influence points, as well as working towards having a decent inventory at hand when needed.
Influence can also be spent by sending fellow survivors out on supply runs, through buildings you drop by while exploring. Some houses, for instance, can serve as advanced outposts, which work as small bases away from ‘home’, which are convenient when going out on extended trips.
Missions are handed out by radio and often poke you into going further and further away from your base. Some of them let you in on State of Decay’s storyline, while others are often randomly dealt to you as you are out and about on the world. What may come as a surprise, though, is that most of these quests are time sensitive and may go away at any moment.
In fact, the passage of time is another impressive aspect of State of Decay. Unlike games that tend to unfold around you as you play, rolling out the red carpet and taking it away as soon as you boot down, State of Decay is constantly in flux, even when you are not playing it. Neighboring groups of survivors suffer losses, your own people get sick, and even supplies are dwindled or replenished while you are away.
Combat is probably State of Decay‘s weakest aspect, because it’s where most of its flaws and technical issues tend to pop out of the woodwork. Zombies tend to swarm you quite easily, but also tend to get stuck in random bits of scenery just as often. Enemies tend to get caught through walls, still attacking you, while you are left with no choice but to double back and help them find their way back to the ground. Weapons are varied and have different properties, as well as disadvantages, such as guns, which are noisy and easily give your position away to zombies in the vicinity. The same collision problems are extended to driving, with the added perks of being able to whack zombies with your car’s doors, run them into walls (and get them stuck there) or take it like McClane and drive your car into a propane tank, in a blaze of glorious glitching and flames. The chaotic nature of ‘Decay’s bugs hit 11 in the epic scale sometimes.
Being careful or going all out is a matter of how patient you can be while fiddling with State of Decay’s faults. The concept of noise and detection is extremely difficult to implement in games. The undead in ‘Decay have an unique sense of hearing that tends to fail them at the weirdest of times, while it’s punishingly unfair in others. There are points where you’re able to run past hordes of zombies without detection, and just when you happen to want to be stealthy, they detect you with the utmost precision.
Still, blemishes and all, State of Decay is a lot of fun. All the depth found in its impressive bartering and trading mechanics, as well as dynamically distributed missions and the sense of exploration and danger around every corner helps give this game lots of replayability and depth. While not the most original of games, State of Decay manages to shamble some excitement into the crowded group of ghoul centered videogames thanks to its ambitious scope; as well as the rotting, dry skin and all that comes with joining that lively club.