Having seen brilliant reviews on State of Decay over the summer whilst travelling, I was curious as to how another zombie game had managed to entice journalists. Thanks to a friend, when my Birthday came around in Novmeber, I was given the gift of accessing State of Decay during its Early Access program, something I am extremely thankful for, and put to good use.
The game starts you off in a camp site next to a lake, making you fight off a hoard of zombies that are attacking your friend. It doesn’t give you much context as to where these zombies came from, and just explains it away by saying that because you were camping, you haven’t heard anything from the outside world. Once you make your way to the ranger station, you meet your first group of survivors, who set about tasking you with gathering resources and scouting the area for hot spots. It’s a nice introduction that gets you used to the main mechanics of the campaign, without giving you too much information, so you have to learn how to play the game through trial and error (Akin to the S.T.A.L.K.E.R series of games).
Once you get out of the initial camping area, the world really opens up, with villages and attractions making this a truly realised world. Every house can be explored and scavenged for survivors or resources, making this a game that runs at your own pace. The world centres around your base, your safe place to keep coming back to after trips out into the zombie infested wild. It contains your stockpile, which starts off relatively small, as well as fellow survivors and essential equipment.
Most of the core mechanics are centred around realism/simulation, so weapons will break, cars will take damage or eventually run out of fuel, and your survivors can get tired or get sick, meaning you’ll have to swap control of several people throughout your playthrough. Each survivor that you control has their own stats which increase the more you use them. A fantastic idea in theory, but it lead to me using the same few survivors throughout the entirety of the game, neglecting others in the base. This then becomes a hassle when your main characters are sick or tired, and you’re stuck with a character you’ve never used before, meaning taking on zombies becomes frustrating chore rather than an enjoyable smash up.
The world continues to go on whilst you’re away from the game, meaning you can leave your base happy and satisfied one night, and come back to a shit storm the day after. This constant feeling that I had to get back to the world in order to maintain and defend my base became an addiction, one which kept me coming back every night for at least an hour as a maintenance session. I felt like if I didn’t play the game everyday, I’d be letting the survivors down.
Combat is fluid, albeit simple and repetitive. You hit zombies with the same animation until they crouch in pain or fall over, then cave their head in with a devastating finisher move. It makes individual encounters simple, but can lead to difficulties when taking on a group of the undead (try placing your character in the right place over a downed zombie when there’s 5 trying to hit and bite you). Zombies become a bit more varied towards the latter parts of the game, with unique zombies that explode into gas, tanks that take a million bullets and armoured zombies becoming a common sight. They add variance to a game that’s fairly repetitive in nature, which is never a bad thing.
As I said in my GOTY discussion, State of Decay could have easily of been my game of the year. It resonated with me like no game has since I first played S.T.A.L.K.E.R, a game so convoluted and unique that you truly have to invest yourself into the mechanics to get the most out of the story and atmosphere of the world. State of Decay felt like a homage to what S.T.A.L.K.E.R conveyed all those years ago, making the player go out of there way to learn the intricacies of the game rather than being walked through them step by step. I loved it, that is, until I came across game breaking bugs that stopped me from progressing.
Yep, in a game that has been out for over 6 months now, there are still bugs found that stop the campaign missions from appearing, and zombie outbreaks appear in areas of the map that shouldn’t. After 16 hours of play time, I decided to research why the end of the game wasn’t in sight, yet the whole world was almost out of resources from my gathering. Turns out, after a further 3 more hours of gameplay, those final few missions never did turn up, which turned my feelings for the game from enjoyment, to anger, to despair, as I ran around a world that had no end in sight, with no more resources to gather, and nothing left to explore.
It’s a shame, as in it’s current state, I cannot recommend State of Decay to anyone. I genuinely wish I could, but having game breaking bugs that stop anyone from finishing it is always bad in my book, something that shouldn’t be overlooked in this industry. Until State of Decay is fixed and gives players a consistent experience from start to finish, I’ll have to suggest friends and family to avoid it at all costs.