A Review of The Video Game State of Decay
By Jason Wagner
Note that I’ll rate this game as any other video game; with that being said, I may be somewhat more forgiving in certain respects, considering that this game costs a scant 20 USD.
State of Decay is an M rated zombie survival sandbox game developed by Undead Labs for the Xbox 360 and Windows powered computer. It was released through the Xbox Live Arcade on June 5th, and is pending release on Windows PCs. Other information includes that this game is only a third of the price of traditional Xbox 360 video games at only 20 dollars, compared to 60 and is, for the moment, only available for purchase via download.
Additional State of Decay Information: State of Decay was originally known as Class3. Class3 was created to pave the way for State of Decay’s successor: Class4. They wanted to test the waters, and the build a budget, and from the more than 500 thousand sales has gotten so far, it seems like they’ve managed their objective pretty well.
Personally, I find video games to be a great way to kick back and relax, however so, entertainment of the digital variety isn’t the first thing to jump into mind when it comes to emergencies or surviving the apocalypse, now are they? This game might not really help you survive a survival situation like a good knife and some MRE’s would, but, because of its heavy survival theme, I think a review is in order!
The beginning of the game is basically a tutorial, but don’t despair, it’s actually rather smooth, only as patronizing as any other tutorial can be, perhaps most important of all its quick and lastly, while this is hard to believe, it’s quite fun. If I had a complaint about the tutorial, it kind of gives you the sense that you can have companions, than it takes them away from you. I think that’s some fairly cruel behavior from Undead Labs, but all’s forgiven.
Graphics – 8.2/10: I’ve never been one of those graphics people, you know? I look at video games like this: Video games are held up by several support beams, each one helpful in structural stability, but, individually not entirely necessary to prevent collapse. So, the graphics here aren’t great. The guns, well, some look nice, like the Officers 1911, while others look, well, gross. To be fair this is a 3rd person shooter, so you don’t really expect the same kind detail in this sort of game, for the firearms, that is. I did like how some of the cars looked, especially the Trans-Am, slightly glossy and well put together. Now that some of the micro has been explained, I really should get to the map and environment itself – the houses are fairly well detailed, the trees are nice, the roads look sort of real – everything in the environment looks well, with some things looks great, some looking kind of bad with everything averaging out to good – very good.
RPG Elements – 8.0/10: I think that this game implemented the RPG stuff pretty well overall. The basic premise here is of a stripped down RPG, and as such, you’ve got core skills like Cardio, Fighting, while some character have traits that allows them additional skills, like Reflexes or Powerhouse. Unlike most RPGs, you don’t grind out experience and invest the points into skills, no, you increase your specific skills through using it; for example, you’ll increase your cardio by sprinting around, or your wits will naturally improve by looting containers. I actually like the minimalist, but still there approach they took here, but I also liked the following: When you max and/or get to a high level of a skill, you can choose between some different perks, so to speak. Like if you get to rank 5 of the shooting skill, you can choose to master the art and use of a specific type of gun, such as rifles or shotguns. I should also point out that there are a few special abilities you can choose through, like bullet time (slow-motion) which makes it easy to line up that perfect shot. As you can see, the RPG elements are light and straight to the point; plus, they aren’t overbearing, which can, sometimes be a bad thing.
Physics – 5.0/10: At best, pretty good, at worst, frustrating, and as a whole – really basic. This game was developed on a relatively small budget, with the maximum amount of game size being at 2GBs and all with a team of a little over a dozen…With that mind, I think I can excuse some sub-par physics, but I cannot excuse the fact that they’re there. Like I said, the physics don’t bother me much, as a whole, but there are some infuriating examples that I cannot ignore, here’s something that happened to me: So, I’m driving out of Spencer’s Mill into the Marshall area, the vehicle I’m in looks like a Prius, anyways, I’m driving at medium speeds, about 35 MPH, and, so I go to make a turn…There’s a zombie horde on the road so I figure what’s the harm in taking the dirt path…bad call, I guess. Despite there being only a tiny bump, my vehicle violently flips into the air, rolling about 2 times in the air, and a third once it hits the ground; the vehicle is now upside down and the horde is a scant few yards away, to make matters worse, without giving any spoilers away, a particularly dangerous and extremely fast type of zombie is present and closes in fast, and with his buddies showing up, me being down to a single clip, no reserve ammo, a useless vehicle and no useful supplies to speak of, what chance did I have? A 2×4 can only do so much! Anyways, I wrote that story so that you could see how the physics could be, at times, quite annoying. To be fair, that experience is one of my most memorable moments of the entire game, because, despite being something that should of never happened, was pretty cool…and it was my first encounter with that unique zombie type that I vaguely mentioned.
Map Size & Detail – 8.0/10: This isn’t as detailed as GTA IV or Red Dead Redemption, neither is it nearly as vast as Just Cause 2…but, this is quite an impressive feat, when you consider the restrictions I mentioned earlier. My single favorite thing about the map is what is probably most beloved by everyone else, too – the explorable buildings. I’d say that at least 90% of the structures can have their front door kicked in, and you know, that’s pretty amazing. A truly explorable environment is something that even AAA sandbox titles cannot manage; of course, AAA titles tend to have massively bigger budgets, and as such, they also happen to have an overall more interesting map, whereas this one, even with the open-to-explore environment, not long into playing you’ll see that the building interiors are largely the same. The center of the map feels a bit empty, but I’m not sure just how bad of a thing that is, given that its Trumball Valley, an underdeveloped locale with small towns, the little city, farmland and at times, stereotypical inhabitants. Right, Trumball Valley, that’s the name of the place where the game takes place.
There exist four main regions, and in order of appearances they are: Mount Tanner, Spencer’s Mill, Marshall and the Fairfield region.
I rarely venture into the Mount Tanner area, because, well, I’m not too fond of it at all; I’m probably not too fond of it because there’s nothing there except for public restrooms, cabins and a big forest.
Spencer’s Mill is basically your small town, town, and as such, I like it. Adjacent to Spencer’s Mill there’s a large trailer park, but there’s nothing to see there. You could argue the most important part of Spencer’s Mill is that it’s an easy hub to every major location in the game, all thanks to its road network.
My favorite, my hands down favorite is the Marshall area, why? Because it’s the closest thing to a city that this game has to a city. Of course, we’ve yet to see a free roam zombie game set in large and well-formed urbanized setting, so don’t go expecting anywhere in this game to be like that. Being the small time city that it is, you’ve got plenty of offices, supermarkets and that’s about all I’m going to give away, not like offices and supermarkets are spoiler-tastic surprises.
Fairfield, which is, ironically enough, a large fairground and isn’t available unit very late in the story. Fairfield has got some interesting locations associated with it, such as the dam, or, well, without giving away spoilers – its got plenty of valuable loot, compliments of its recent occupants. The problem with Fairfield is that, despite it being interesting, after you’ve explored Marshall, it feels partially underwhelming. What I mean is that, it’s the last location to be unlocked, so I was thoroughly expecting some truly incredible place; although that was me getting my hopes up, how much could I of honestly anticipated for a 20$ game, Manhattan?
Despite what I said about preferring the relatively developed areas of the map, I liked how there are rural off the road houses dotted throughout the map. I love these because, I like details, but also, what could induce more tension than investigating one of those out of the way homes? The tension is rightly felt, the largest zombie attack I’ve ever seen occurred when I was scouring one of these rural homes; there must of be three or four dozen zombies swarming the place. Good times indeed. As further incentive for exploring these houses, and as a nod to the necessities of rural living, these rural homes tend to have a much higher chance of spawning firearms and ammunition in the household containers.
The area’s outside the towns, or hubs, with a few noted exceptions (like the rural houses I liked) feel rather cut and paste, so to speak. Anything of any interest is sort of separated by fairly vast expanses of nothing but groaning zombies…I like empty spaces, but I really like when empty spaces have tons of character.
Story – 3.0/10: There’s a story? You know, I respect how this game didn’t really try to force the story – they knew the story wasn’t well produced, in fact, you can tell that creating a story wasn’t even a priority for the developers. Instead of a story, they created a…loose collection of stories to roughly string the games minimal plot together so that it could have an ending; a, you won the game, so to speak.
The minimal time that went into the writing is painfully obvious when bringing home supplies. Why? There are only about three dialogue variations…three dialogue variations for something that you’ll be doing over and over again, probably hundreds of times.
Gameplay – 8.0/10: The gameplay is amazing, and amazingly unpolished. From my two playthroughs, I fail to see gunplay being something that you can rely on for the very long haul, which can be viewed as either good or bad. Me, I like the option to run and gun all day long. Why isn’t spraying and praying viable in State of Decay? One word, unsustainable – there isn’t nearly enough ammunition available for anything less than completely optimal accuracy, you can forget spraying and praying if you have any hopes of building a stock of ammunition. I know that this game wasn’t designed to be completely realistic, but even so – I don’t think there’s any excuse for the lack of ammunition; Say I was scavenging the post-apocalyptic American countryside, there’s no way I wouldn’t be able to find a cache of more than 50 rounds of ammo, anywhere, even in police stations or gun stores. It’s made all the weirder that I can loot a house of 7 guns, including scoped AK-47s, Automatic Assault shotguns and P90 SMGs, but such gun loving owners might have no ammunition to speak of…even if they fought to the last man, there should still be notable amounts of ammo lying about. The zombies don’t take loot, right?
My points still stands, but, I do like how a .22 will just as surely kill almost any zombie with a headshot as a .50, and if it weren’t for this fact, the ammunition shortage would be even more alarming. Oh yeah, and the guns don’t have usable scopes; scoped weapons only zoom in a little, no scope or anything, which definitely hurts the immersion.
The melee mechanics are definitely good, not complex, but good. There aren’t any complicated combos to memorize here, just mash X, Y, use LB for a special attack, B for dodge, all of that kind of stuff. I actually prefer that they kept things simple; I always hated the complex moves from fighting games, which is probably why I generally dislike fighting and beat ‘em up games.
Of all the melee combat, my single favorite aspect is how you can execute a downed or pinned zombie. For example, a zombie that’s been staggered against a wall can have its head smashed…hard enough to, well, you know. Or, you can use that giant blunt weapon in your hand to, coup de grace a downed zombie. I’m glad they put some good effort into the execution moves because over half of the time it seems like I’m killing them after they’ve fallen down.
The Home Base: In the beginning, you’re saddled with a home base, but it won’t be long before you’re able to relocate. Without giving anything away, there exist 8 different potential home sites. I like how I’ve got the option to choose where I and my fellow survivors get to dwell, unfortunately, place to place doesn’t really feel that interesting…Even so, the ability to live at different looking house sites is definitely one of the best parts of State of Decay. It could have been border-line amazing if you had the option of living out of a hospital or an airport, but no, about as interesting a place as you can dwell is a large warehouse.
Resources: Before we delve into anything else, the one thing to note about resources is that they’re finite resource. You completely loot a house; it’ll always remain void of resources. This is arguably the single most important mechanic of the game. The bigger your home and the larger the group of survivors you’ve got is what dictates daily resource use. Resources are also used up by random events, for example if someone contracts a sickness or a wall needs repairing, but those are special events, not the daily usage. Eventually, after a very, very long time that is, you’ll run out of supplies. Some people may lament that, but I feel it adds to the grim atmosphere, knowing that everything will, eventually run out and as such, and as such, everyone will die if you don’t play your cards exactly right. To be absolutely clear, I’ve heard that it’s possible, to create a self-sustaining community, but that’s difficult to form and even more difficult to maintain, and on top of that, things like ammunition can never be re-created. I’d also imagine that self-sustaining communities don’t get on too well with huge populations.
Having enough resources to cover your day to day needs is important, if not absolutely vital to you, and your communities’ survival. The game makes it so, if you want to build facilities in the safety of your base, you’ll have to be a real resource go getter. Indeed, building and upgrading facilities isn’t something that should be overlooked, a proper infirmary can be the difference between one person recovering and them dying, but not before spreading their illness. While I’m not sure if the following is a good or bad thing, I did think it was an interesting design aspect: The system works so that a surplus of resources increases the morale of all your survivors, and vice versa.
Gathering the resources themselves are easy enough, if not somewhat tedious. Even so, I do not understand why they didn’t make it possible to load up a vehicle with supplies…the average vehicle could easily hold 6 rucksacks. No, when you find a resource, you can either pick it up yourself, or call a scavenger to carry it home, either way its one rucksack per person. Now that the carrying limits are out of the way, onto other matters. The resources are located in places that roughly make sense; despite the random item and resource generation, some places have odds that are so stacked that a place such as a supermarket is almost, if not guaranteed to contain vast sums of food.
The Radio: Like the resource gathering mechanics of this game, the radio is also pivotal. Through the radio, you can call in temporary backup, sharpshooters, you can set up outposts, relocate your home base and other random things like call in scavengers.
The fact that you can do so much makes what I’m about to bring up all the more annoying to me; why the hell can’t I order my fellow survivors to come with me? I mean, even in the games story the radio operator scolds a missing survivor with “you know nobody is supposed to go out there alone!” yet nobody has a problem with me dodging zombie hordes to find some food all by my lonesome? In fact, this may be the problem that irks me the most. There isn’t any excuse for the absentia of this feature in an open world zombie sandbox such as State of Decay, plus, I find it to be immensely more enjoying having allies. How do I know that allies = more fun? During missions you get temporary followers, so it’s during that time that I like to scavenge.
This game has an algorithm, and this algorithm is used when you quit the game. During your offline time, in-game time will progress, resources will be used, sometimes resources will be gained, people go missing and sometimes people even die. This all sounds nice in theory, but in practice it’s more annoying than anything else.
In addition to the overly harsh (to the point of appearing glitchy) algorithm, the game is rife with glitches. Without going into a long and drawn out session of details, two prime examples would be the Feral zombie being immune to edged weapons and zombie’s whom have a tendency to phase through walls. According to Undead Labs, the recently released patch tempers some of the glitches, and some of the more dramatic offline algorithm outcomes, but the community reaction has been mixed as to the patch itself.
Cars: The handling of the automobiles can be described as dauntingly unrealistic, but that’s half of their fun in State of Decay. This isn’t a racing simulator, or GTA IV, where I expect at least partially realistic handling. As far as I’ve been able to skim from the various State of Decay forums, there’s a rift as to whether people have a favorable opinion of the vehicles or not. It’s often brought up how the vehicles are overpowered – this is true. If I’m out of the vehicle, that’s when I feel vulnerable. The tensest moments you’ll have in State of Decay are when your vehicle gets flipped over, you’re cut off from your vehicle or when it’s otherwise unavailable and there are no other cars in sight. In that sense, I think I like how the vehicles give you that sense of confidence when you’re in them and a completely opposite effect when you’re out of them. So yes, I actually think the vehicles add to the game, plus the fact that if a vehicle is destroyed, it’s gone forever, so that does kind of makes you take care of them, have them repaired – all of that stuff.
Replayability – 8.0: You’ve got hundreds of homes, orchards, abandoned buildings – hundreds of places to explore and pillage. With each place comes the chance of good gears and resources, and with each new playthrough, the item placements will be randomized. Thanks to the randomized item generation, you never know what you’ll get, even if you’ve played the game a hundred times. Not least of all what I just mentioned, there are many reasons to replay this game at least twice, maybe much more. From exploring in greater detail, to trying to have as many people survive as possible all the way to randomly killing off your people for the malevolent thrill of it – this game is definitely worthy of the 8.0 on the replay scale. If there were cheats, I’d have no problem upgrading that 8.0 to a 9.0.
Difficulty: The game is difficult, but when played in an intelligent, somewhat cautious manner, it isn’t inconceivable that you might not die an entire playthrough. Your biggest concerns are getting swarmed by zombies while alone, double that concern if you’re ill-stocked with supplies. It’s only fair that I point out that this game lacks any difficulty customization. You’re stuck with what they give you, no easy, regular, hard, veteran or any of that.
Other things I didn’t like about it: Reckless Driving: I really hated how I’d drive by a character, and for no reason I’d get the “Trust Lost: Reckless Driving” message. The message doesn’t have a huge effect on anything, but it does affect something and its definition of reckless driving is unnecessarily harsh on the player.
The lack of cheats: If they were so adamantly against the idea of putting cheats in the game (which so many developers are these days, for some reason) then they should of included the option to wildly adjust loot ratios; for instance, why not be able to walk into a gun store and find far more rounds of 7.62 then I’d ever be able to use? That would be fun. We can hope that they’ll consider inserting a little surprise in one of the patches.
Lack of Multiplayer: I touched on this before, but another mention is 100% warranted. According to a an interview of one of the big wig developers, he let it be known that it was the original intention of the team to ship (or stream, in this case) the game with multiplayer. As I am hoping for with the cheats and other tweaks, hopefully we’ll get multiplayer in one of the future patches or DLCs. I like this game so much that I’d even be open to a paid multiplayer DLC…if the multiplayer experience was rightly implemented.
No Script for Fighting Other Survivors: Yeah, the game lacks the necessary coding/script for killing survivors. To kill someone, it’s only possible under very special circumstances, and it’s always on a very small, personal scale – like a mercy kill. Unlike zombies, you cannot immediately judge whether a person will be a close friend, or a seething nemesis, so, in the unlikely event of a zombie apocalypse, I’d consider strangers just as, if not more a threat than the mindless hordes; I would of loved to of been more weary of my fellow man then the zombies in State of Decay. I also would have loved to of played it out as a marauding, rape and pillage kind of survivor for one of my saves.
No Follower System: Without followers, it’s like the game has a visible, gaping wounds. The temporary mission followers prove that the necessary scripts for the AI are there, so I do not understand why you cannot have true companions. It’s almost like, it was meant to be there all along and right before release someone pointed out that they forget something. This game would be a much more tightly woven fabric if this problem was fixed, thankfully – I don’t see it being beyond belief to think that they’d remediate this in one of the upcoming fixes. I guess we’ll see.
Meaningless Mission: For example, the game has these morale missions where somebody is sad, scared, angry, you know, because the end of the world as we knew it occurred. So, you talk to this whelp-like person, take them out to talk a bit and kill some zombies for some good laughs along the way. This wouldn’t be so bad if there were more than a few lines of repeated dialogue for the missions. You’ve got to hear the same chatter, and the same replies over and over again, so, these kinds of missions feel like a total and utter waste.
Totally Out of Place Dialogue: This kind of goes to the point of generally poor writing, too. If I call for some scavengers, and I’m the de facto leader of the group, why does my guy say “I owe you one” to the radio operator, and more importantly, why does he say it like his life was just saved from certain death?
I cannot decide which of these problems I’d like fixed most…if I had to choose two, I’d say cheats and multiplayer. Or maybe companions and multiplayer, or how about cheats, companions and multiplayer, or better yet – how about we have all of these problems ameliorated? I’d like that.
This game has many good things associated with it, and many bad. If they want to spruce this sandbox experience up from a very good to an excellent experience, then they’ll need to do it as quickly as possible. With the Eighth Generation of consoles coming out soon, and triple A titles for the Xbox 360 and PS3 such as Grand Theft Auto V on their way, it won’t be long at all before I’ll rarely, rarely, if ever be playing State of Decay.
Entertainment Yield – 8.6/10
Graphics – 8.2/10
Replayability – 8.0/10
Map Size & Detail – 8.0/10
RPG Elements – 8.0/10
Physics – 7.0/10
Final Review – 8.2/10:
A very fun experience indeed, with some well-done gameplay mechanics, a lackluster story and some very memorable, and at times – terrifyingly tense moments. This game doesn’t even come close to tapping the majestic natural landscaping featured in Rockstar San Diego’s Red Dead Redemptions, or Rockstar North’s Grand Theft Auto 4’s cityscape, or even Avalanche Studios Just Cause 2’s blend of nature and metropolises, but it never had to. The game is, for lack of a better word, entertaining – that’s what it is, in fact, if all the bugs and glitches are at some point completely sorted out, and some beneficial features like cheats and such are added in the future, I’d say not only is State of Decay well worth the 20 dollar price of admission, but I wouldn’t of minded paying 60.