The screenshots provided are not indicative of the game’s graphical potential. I had to play State of Decay in settings considerably lower than what my hardware can handle due to several technical issues that are inherent in a game still in its alpha stage. This issue will be addressed in the preview below.
There is no argument that the past two decades have seen a rise in zombies in film and TV. Now, it seems that zombies have taken over video games as well. People just love the idea of a world-wide catastrophe combined with the drama that comes with a horde of walking carcasses that were once daughters and sons coming to eat your brains. While there are plenty of games that utilize the zombocalypse setting in a variety of different genres, only a few have truly done justice to the undead phenomenon that has plagued popular culture for decades.
Developed by Undead Labs, State of Decay drops you straight into the midst of a zombocalypse where society has already collapsed and what is left of humanity are barely surviving in pockets of communities scattered across the country. A small building populated by a few other survivors acts as your base which upkeep must be managed by providing daily rations of resources. After a forced tutorial inherent in most open-world games, State of Decay started to gradually present itself as a highly-ambitious zombie survival game that takes nearly all aspects of the genre and mashes them up into a well-balanced gameplay dynamic.
Soon after the 30-minute or so introduction, you and two other survivors are taken in by a small community that has taken shelter in a small church – this is where the real game begins.
As strangers to the community, you are expected to earn your their respect by performing duties essential to survival such as looting the surrounding town for food, medicine, weapons, ammo, gasoline and later on, construction material.
As far as open-world games go, State of Decay gives many different options of spending your time without dictating which quests should be prioritised. You can clear out infested houses, scavenge for supplies, help out neighbouring survivors or continue with the main quest line – whichever you think should be completed first is completely up to you.
Each time you make a contribution to the community, whether its resources or rescuing an ally, influence points are earned which you can use to borrow or use supplies from a communal storage.
The base doesn’t just act like a glorified inventory. It is also an upgradeable fort that can be fitted with different types of facilities to make surviving the apocalypse a bit easier. Influence points be spent to set up things like workshops to create traps to defend the base, a sniper watchtower to increase the safety radius, even a dining room to increase morale, to name a few – all of which may take a few minutes to build. However, each base has a limited amount of space to erect these facilities so, again, it wholly depends on what you believe should be prioritised.
As you explore the world of State of Decay, you’ll also find other potential homes – some with perks over the rest but none that can accommodate all the facilities. Settling within an area that has been cleared out of most infestations may be better in terms of safety but will ulimately be more dangerous for runners who would need to venture farther and farther for fresh supplies.
Travelling far just to salvage maybe a few units of food and medicine has a lot more negative impact on time management than it comes with the risk of getting eaten by zombies. Time is a more valuable asset than all of the supplies combined – spend too much time gathering ammo and you might miss out on helping out an allied runner who got overrun by zombies and died because you were trying to decide which is more important: a bag of potato chips or ibuprofen.
State of Decay incorporates the passing of each day – every in-game day, a certain amount of resources are consumed, daily events may occur, facility construction may take hours (or half an in-game day) to finish. Just as well, the characters are also affected by the passage of time. Spend too long scavenging for supplies outside and your character may grow fatigued causing a temporary decrease in maximum stamina. This is where State of Decay incorporates the character switching feature.
At the start of the game, you are given two characters that can be controlled alternately. So when one gets fatigued or injured, you’ll be able to switch to the other character. Each playable survivor has their own stats that can be levelled up but only by performing actions. For example, using guns to kill zombies will increase your Shooting skill and sprinting a lot will improve your Cardio.
Later on, you’ll be able to control more and more characters allowing more time for injured or fatigued survivors to recover at the base.
While it takes a while longer to have more playable survivors, levelling up their skillls isn’t really much of an issue. The enemy AIs, regardless of zombie type, are not that hard to overcome and the combat is very simple. Surprisingly in a zombie game, crowd control is a no-brainer and combat is comprised mostly of just button mashing. Though fighting with weapons is completely dependent on stamina, I found that even when I ran out while being overcome by a horde I was still able to fight back albeit slowly, sluggishly and tediously.
State of Decay also adds a stealth aspect that ties in with sound. Though very simple, it incorporates all the basics of stealth gameplay ever so subtly. Sneaking around bushes will hide you from the zombies and hastily searching supply caches in buildings will cause plenty of noise that will alert nearby zombies.
If all else fails or if you can’t be assed to hide or button mash for 10 minutes against 20 zombies, you can just hop into a nearby car and run them all over. The only problem with this is that it doesn’t contribute to any skill. This is one of the only issues I have with State of Decay, there doesn’t seem to be any difficulty curve whatsoever – I can get by fine even with unlevelled characters and new areas are simply more overrun than previous areas.
Everyone loves hacking away at the undead just as much as when it is combined with a survival aspect. However, this is the first time I’ve seen, not only a well-balanced survival game, but also one that deals with the inherent drama that comes with dealing with relationships in the midst of a calamity.
Each base is fitted with a radio tower that can be used to ask around for resources and this includes asking around for survivors to be taken in. Though more survivors means a higher daily food intake and bed construction, these requirements are not that hard to fulfill. More people means more characters to use. However, just as you needed to earn the community’s trust in the beginning, so will you have to earn the newcomers’ trust and only then will they become playable characters.
Aside from managing internal relationships, the people of your base must also juggle relationships between different factions scattered throughout the map. There are the suspicious hillybilly rednecks that nobody likes, the power-hungry military and a government without people. While lending a hand to these factions will benefit you one way or the other (for example helping the military will give you an option to call aerial strikes with the radio at any time), you will always end up pissing someone else off.
What disappointed me the most in State of Decay is how convoluted the plot can feel because of the character swapping feature. Whenever you continue the main quest, you won’t necessarily be using the same character but regardless, the dialogue will be exactly the same as if you were using someone else. This takes away any or all personality from the survivors and it made me feel somewhat detached from the story.
State of Decay as a game in alpha still has a ton of problems that I really hope Undead Labs will fix when its time to officially launch. Firstly, the resolution options are all messed up. As mentioned at the beginning, I had to play State of Decay in a nasty graphic setting, 16:9 aspect ratio in 720p, despite having a native resolution of 1680×1050. I tried everything else including 2160p/1080p as well as 4:3 in 1024p but the GUI would always get cut. I’m sure these graphical issues are just a drawback from being a game that is still in its alpha stage but I do hope that Undead Labs addresses this issue.
There are also other technical glitches involving but not limited to AIs getting stuck in objects and loss of texture. There also is no autosave indication and if you load your game you will always start right back at your home base regardless whether you’ve travelled half the map previously.
In many ways, State of Decay is an imperfect game but I am hoping that its port to PC will grab the attention of the modding community. It’s not every day that you come across a open-world zombie survival horror that tries to cram in so much content without sacrificing balanced gameplay. Though State of Decay is still in its early access alpha stage, I am highly impressed by how much freedom you get in such a vast world full of interesting yet pleasantly stressful events. This is one game I will keep playing until after its official release.