Review: State of Decay

It’s one of the fastest selling downloadable games ever, second only to Minecraft. But is it any good?

Spoiler alert: The answer is yes.

State of Decay is surprising a lot of people these days. Released at the end of a console generation, by a completely untested development studio, and featuring genres (zombies, third person shooting, open world) that have begun to wear out their welcome, the downloadable X-Box 360 exclusive shouldn’t be nearly this much fun to play.

garden_1Without a tutorial, text scroll, or cut scene, State of Decay drops you right into its world. Somewhere in the western US, you and a friend have returned from a camping trip to find that civilization has descended into chaos as the zombie apocalypse has arrived. That is the only set up the game gives you, and its the only one it needs.

State of Decay does a wonderful job of giving you exactly what you need, and no more. There are no lengthy cut scenes to provide back story, just hints of things in conversation. There is no tutorial, and very little hand-holding. If you think you can do something, try it – You probably can.

The gameplay is mostly typical for a third person shooter, although my experience involved far more “violently beating with a pool cue” than actual shooting, as resources are scarce. The mechanics of the shooting and fighting are passable at best, but work with the rest of the game to provide an excellent sense of danger. Encountering one or two zombies in an open area is child’s play. Coming up on four or five in an enclosed space could kill you quickly.

State-of-Decay-Weapons-and-Tactics-gameplay

While you will spend a fair amount of time killing zombies, that isn’t the focus of the game. The true game is in surviving. You can travel through the large open-world map, collecting survivors and resources, all of which have positives and negatives. Do you join up with the angry guy who gives off a bad vibe? Do you bring food, ammunition, or building supplies back to your group of survivors? Eventually you get the opportunity to build your own zombie-proof home, the particulars of which are up to you.

That’s a large part of the appeal of State of Decay – The choices. Talk to anyone else about the game, and their world will be completely different. As the game begins, you are playing a single character. Each friendly survivor you team up with, however, becomes a character you can switch to and play as. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, and you’ll need to switch often enough to let some characters rest.

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And you’ll want them rested. Every decision and action taken in State of Decay is permanent, and that includes death. If one of your characters dies, whether from the zombies or the flu, they’re gone forever. This adds much needed tension to the game that gives the most basic expeditions a sense of danger.

The game is not perfect, or even close. There are some technical issues, especially the framerate when driving. And the dialogue has a tendency to repeat. After 20+ hours of the game, there are a couple of lines of dialogue that I’ve heard so many times I can recite them in my head.

Without spoiling the story, or too many of the enjoyable moments, the best parts of State of Decay are the little things. Over and over again, I encountered small things that the game let me do, or information provided to me in an intelligent way, that spoke to the capabilities and experience of its development staff. I’ve enjoyed all of the hours I’ve put into this game, and I’m very much looking forward to Undead Labs’ next release.

State of Decay is available on X-Box Live for 1600 MS Points (or $20 in Earth money).

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