State of Decay: Video Game Review

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“State of Decay” is Undead Lab’s foray into the zombie horror genre.  I had started playing this game several weeks after it came out, so I was not exposed to the many bugs that plagued the game on release. But that’s not important.  What you want to know is whether or not this game is worth playing, and the short answer is yes.

The game starts with you at a campground with your friend being swarmed by zombies.  After you “break their fucking skulls” (a phrase you will hear often throughout the game), you make your way to a nearby ranger station to see if you can find some help.  Don’t expect to stay too long.  The game has you do some very simple missions that serve as a tutorial and once you’re finished, you’ll quickly find yourself escaping the campgrounds and making your way to a nearby church where other survivors holed up.  From here, the zombie-infested Trumbull County is pretty much open to exploration, scavenging, and zombie slaying. 

If you’re expecting excellent story telling along the lines of Telltale’s The Walking Dead or Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, then I’m afraid you’ll be sorely disappointed.  The survivors you start with really don’t have much of a story, and as other survivors join your ranks, you only get tiny snippets of information.  There are several “campaigns” throughout the game in the form of non-playable survivors that offer you a few missions, some of which try to stir your emotions but fall short of the mark.  Simply put, it’s hard to give a shit about such a mediocre story, but that doesn’t mean the game isn’t worth your time.

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Combat is fun and simple.  Survivors have the usual light and heavy attacks, as well as the ability to dodge and shoot.  Every survivor also has four basic stats that can be leveled up: fighting, shooting, wits, and cardio.  Some survivors have other unique stats that can be leveled up, and these stats usually mean that survivor is better (and more valuable) than other characters.  As you improve your characters, you can also unlock a variety of special abilities, like specializing in blunt weapons or pistols and unlocking special attacks that knock down or instantly kill enemies.

Despite the awesome abilities you can unlock, survivors are still regular people in the end.  They have a stamina bar that gradually depletes whenever you run, jump, or attack.  Take on too many zombies, and you’ll tire out and be overwhelmed before it can recharge.  When you spend too much time scavenging or take too much damage, your stamina and health bars will gradually shrink, making a survivor an easier target for the zeds.  You’ll want to swap survivors frequently to avoid losing anyone since death is permanent for any character in the game.

As far as the missions themselves, this is kind of a hit and miss area with the game.  The campaigns themselves are pretty fun, but most of your time is spent scavenging, running errands for your home base, and rescuing someone in your crew every 5-10 minutes (seriously).  It will piss you off when you just saved an ally and then get a call on the radio that you have to save another dimwit that got him/herself stuck in a shed full of “zeds”.  Even the missions where you have to kill specific zeds get annoying when they pop up so frequently.  Sometimes it’s tough to get to campaign missions because if you don’t rescue your allies after a certain time or help your allies kill the special zeds, there is a chance you could lose that person.  If one of your favorite survivors happens to be the one offering the mission, you can’t choose that person until that mission is complete.  Despite that glaring flaw, the overall game experience is still fun because scavenging and breaking fucking skulls proves to be very satisfying.

The last thing of importance, and, frankly, my favorite part of the game is the ability to establish a base of operations and create outposts.  There are several homes that become available once you complete enough missions.  You are able to upgrade your base by adding sleeping stations, med bays, workshops, and several other structures. Some homes include certain amenities like kitchens and bedrooms, while others have pre-built workshops and storage units available immediately.  Each base also lets you build a certain number of outposts.  Outposts provide supply lockers that let you restock and they also give you the ability to lay traps for zombie hordes.

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It’s important to have outposts surrounding your base if you want to keep the hordes out.  In order to build your fortress, you’ll need to gather a lot of supplies yourself or by calling in scavengers to gather items you discover.  It sucks that you can only have one home at a time, especially when you end up with so many survivors later on, but hopefully Undead Labs will let you establish more bases in the sequel.

There are several other small touches that make this game pretty awesome, like movie references, and even a Plants vs. Zombies Easter egg, but I’ll leave it to you to discover them.  For a Live Arcade game, State of Decay is definitely worth the $20 price point.

“State of Decay” is available for Xbox on 6/5/13

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