State of Decay is an indie game with big ambitions, chief of which is to deliver the ultimate zombie apocalypse simulator. Dropped into a huge sandbox world overrun with the undead, a handful of other survivors and limited resources, you and your (hopefully) growing group of battlers must strive to survive – and even thrive – through a series of story and randomly generated missions.
Survive and thrive
State of Decay melds GTA-style open world roaming and story-progressing missions with survival horror. So while you can simply play the missions to advance towards the endgame, you’re going to struggle to keep enough members of your group alive if you don’t take care of the requirements for day-to-day survival. You need to go out into the world to scavenge for various supplies (or trade with other groups for them), clear out infested buildings and rescue team members who’ve encountered trouble, or morale will drop and people will begin leaving your group.
You also need to establish a home base, which can be improved with new types of building (a gym, for instance, allows team members to train and improve their RPG-style stats more quickly) – and ensure that it can survive the occasional attack by a zombie horde.
Zombies. Thousands of ‘em. State of Decay depicts a world where uninfected humans are a very small minority, and instead the world is populated by shambling, half-rotten corpses with a hankering for the brains of the living. The “regular” zombies are pitched just right: come across one or two and there’s little reason to be scared, but get caught in the middle of a horde and things can quickly escalate into a breathless life or death struggle – or force you to leg it in an effort to keep your intestines intact.
There are other, more deadly varieties roaming around too: armoured, bullet-proof SWAT zombies, hulking zeds that can take a lot more punishment and worst of all the fast-moving ferals, which should never be faced alone if you can avoid it.
One thing zombie apocalypse films and TV shows have taught us is that humans are even more dangerous than the undead – but sadly that doesn’t translate into State of Decay. Despite some threatening behaviour from the army and other survivors, they never actually end up attacking you.
The game takes place in the confines of a remote valley in what looks to be the southwest USA, and the landscape consists mainly of rocky deserts, prairie, farmland and forests – with three towns and a number of isolated buildings and points of interest thrown in. Almost all buildings, and some outdoor areas, can be looted for supplies by your group members, and a small selection of buildings can be built up into your home base.
It’s not as huge or as beautifully made a world as we’ve seen in the likes of Skyrim or Red Dead Redemption, but for an XBLA game under 2GB in size…? Well, let’s say we’re impressed with what Undead Labs has achieved. There’s a real sense, too, that this is a world that has just experienced a zombie outbreak; little touches like burnt-out cars and the eerie abandoned houses help pull that off.
The independent XBLA nature of this game also means that, visually, it’s a long way from AAA titles when it comes to graphics, audio and general polish. The visuals are functional rather than inspiring, and the game often suffers from frame rate drops, slowdown, tearing, glitches and other irritations – but it’s never enough to spoil the experience. The writing and voice acting is also somewhat subpar, but again, not to the degree that it’ll put you off playing.
The beauty of a game like State of Decay is that, essentially, you’re writing your own story. The characters (you can control most of the members of your group, but only one at a time) aren’t particularly interesting and the story progression missions are fairly bland, but it’s the things that happen outside of that – a random encounter with a zombie horde when you’re low on ammo and health and miles from home that you barely escape from alive, for instance – that linger longest in the memory. You will become attached to characters – and it will hurt when you lose them.
State of Decay delivers the most compelling experience of living through a zombie apocalypse we’ve ever encountered in a video game. It’s not the most polished, and the random missions can occasionally feel repetitive, but the core gameplay of struggling to survive, keep your group together and improve your home base is strongly addictive. A fantastic indie game at a great price.