Zombies are huge in pop culture nowadays, coming in all different types of packages. Zombie culture is everywhere, coming in packages ranging from a Pepsi-laced film, to a plethora of books that detail zombie anatomy in a way that almost makes sense, or video games named Resident Evil, Left 4 Dead, and more recently, State of Decay.
State of Decay is an eclectic mesh of ideas that come together in an extremely addictive package. Players obtain quests by following audible gunshots (signifying other survivors fighting off undead), and each character that the player can use has independent stats that they can increase by performing activities related to each. Survivors, the playable characters, can increase their stamina by improving Cardio (rule number 1 for surviving Zombieland) by sprinting or can increase their fighting or powerhouse stats by bludgeoning zombies to death. Each of the survivor’s individual stats are handled much like stats in the Elder Scrolls games, so that should be very familiar to a fair number of players. Increasing attributes like stamina, which is used for everything from attacking to sprinting to dodging, makes certain survivors more adept at handling the ravenous, flesh-hungry abominations, especially since running out of stamina is one of the largest reasons for character deaths.
To address the allusion in the previous sentence fully: Character deaths in State of Decay are permanent. If a character dies, he or she is gone for good. Just the thought that if you’re jumped by a special zombie while searching for supplies in the corner of a house is enough to increase the tension of the game and the blood pressure of the player. Increasing the attributes for individual characters and finding the right perks for each one can commonly enable a bond between player and character which can be easily stripped away, going back to that tension factor aforementioned.
Beyond increasing the stats of the various survivors you can add to your group, players must search out supplies and sustenance in order to survive Raccoon City, er, Trumbull County. Characters that go without food or a proper bed take negative impacts on their stamina (which can lead to a death at the most unfortunate of times), so finding stashes of food in abandoned houses and gas stations is a must.
Of course, savvy players can erect gardens to supply nourishment and reduce the need to scavenge edibles, but building additions to the survivors camp or base requires that the player scavenge building materials (and, unfortunately, you can’t train the plants raised in the garden to fend off zombie hordes, so much for all that time playing Plants vs Zombies!). Medicine, fuel and ammunition are additional resources the player must continually hunt down in order to continue meeting the surviving needs of the group: You can’t shoot a gun without bullets, after all.
Another unique concept in the game, taken straight out of popular zombie lore, is that the face eaters are attracted to sound. Consequently, everything the player characters do makes noise. Searching through toolboxes and cabinets for supplies can create enough noise to attract a zombie that was lurching around the outside of the home, while firing a gun without a sound suppressor is one of the easiest ways to get swarmed by dozens of angry flesh-biters. Players can go gung-ho and drive everywhere (cars make a decent amount of noise, especially at full throttle), firing their guns at each horde they come across and eventually getting swarmed, but the significantly smarter approach seems to be sneaking when appropriate while utilizing stealth insta-kills on unsuspecting zombies. Learning the combat system to its fullest is yet another important aspect, with players able to down zombies with drop kicks at the beginning and even perform double kills and body slams toward the end, saving guns strictly for emergencies or for later in the game which is when suppressors can be made without significant fuss.
Every mission completed and supply bag brought back to base provides the player with valuable Influence, which is basically the monetary system of the game. Ammo, snacks and various weapons can be traded with other survivor enclaves using Influence (groups of NPC characters who aren’t part of your group but are trying to live through the same undead threat) and it also aids in the acquisition of new facilities for your base. Of course, that’s just what happens while you’re playing the game. Even while the game is off, the survivors in your group struggle to survive. Resources still get used by survivors even while the game is off, repairing walls and fighting off hordes in your absence being the reason as to why.
As it stands, the ability for playable characters to die while you are away was removed in a patch. This is an exceptionally good thing since sometimes one or two characters would die each time the console would be shut off, lending more to frustration due to random factors well beyond the player’s control. Notwithstanding the killing of playable characters seemed to happen entirely too much, for those who only have an hour or so to play at a time, losing one or two playable characters from your group every time the console shut off is a bit much. So, those dissuaded by the harsh simulation aspects can be more willing to give the game a try now.
The way that players approach State of Decay is one of the larger reasons why players would have such disparities concerning the difficulty of the game. Players who drive around all the time may be ill-prepared to handle missions where you have to help other survivors fend off hordes of zombies. Even without taking individual character attributes into account, weaponry, both melee and firearm, all have durability statistics. So, the more zombies the player kills, the more players have to seek out weaponry that helps them do more damage. This management of resources, like the weaponry used and medicines that restore health and stamina is easily the largest focus of the game.
Speaking of restoring health and stamina, characters that are out scavenging will eventually fatigue, getting a temporary reduction in stamina until the character has a chance to rest (accomplished by exchanging that survivor to play as another). There’s no regenerating health in this game either. Just popping a few painkillers to restore health isn’t going to help much if you barely got out alive after a fight with a juggernaut and were badly hurt, taking a 25 or 50 percent penalty on your health because of internal bleeding or broken bones. This isn’t even taking into account that characters will catch colds or severe illnesses on their own, some of these forming other, additional penalties that would probably be best avoided by using a different character until they recover. This isn’t to say that medicine to restore health or prevent illness is extremely rare or anything of that nature, but it does stand to be the only resource in the game that will eventually run out. When the new sandbox mode gets added in a later patch, players who use their resources to the utmost will be surviving longer than those who use up all of their medicinal resources making painkillers and other health restoration items, eventually having their characters succumb to illness or disease.
To summarize: State of Decay is a post apocalyptic zombie survival game that is extremely addictive. Lots of missions to seek out other survivors, protect your own while they scavenge for supplies or even assisting other enclaves pop up a lot, always giving the player something to do on top of looting locations for resources to keep your characters fed, healthy equipped for combat. All characters are able to die to the hordes of walking (or sometimes sprinting!) dead, so tensions will raise while trying to make it back to your home location with a favorite character that’s heavily injured and has no vehicle.
Foraging for supplies, resolving differences with other surviving groups, and adding more people to your group to increase your own odds of survival is surprisingly addictive and time-consuming, oftentimes while playing mission after mission to go kill a special zed or accomplish some other task only to find out that hours have passed.
State of Decay provides value and play time similar to that of a full $60 title for a third of the cost, and while it’s not without glitches or the occasional design flaw, such as not being able to directly trade items between characters right now without running all the way back to the storage locker in the home base, there’s a lot of fun and entertainment to be had by those interested in a solid game that gives the player a lot of freedom.
Developers: Undead Labs
Platforms: Xbox 360