As I exit the disheveled building that was once a family's home, a large rucksack of much needed supplies in tow, I notice the once clear path from the house to my base of operations has become littered with the living dead. Like a fool I attempt to overpower the group, but I still manage to come out the other side. I reach the fortified church with so little stamina from my earlier encounter that I can barely swing my almost broken hatchet, only to find my fellow party members struggling to fight off two encroaching hordes of zombies. At the same time, another group of survivors faces the same threat, leaving me to choose whether I fight the war at home, or leave my team to rescue what could become an ally down the road. This is just one example of the unforgiving world that State of Decay immediately drops the player into, setting a tone for the rest of what could be a very short life: No victory comes without loss.
While other titles in the zombie genre, such as Valve's Left 4 Dead franchise and Techland's Dead Island, have put a focus on combating the infected, State of Decay takes a more Walking Dead-esque approach, placing an emphasis on the human element of the undead apocalypse. Dealing with neighboring survivors while rummaging through abandoned camp sites, houses, and businesses to stay stocked on food, water, ammunition, and other necessities makes up a majority of the day-to-day missions.
One of the ways the player interacts with survivors, both at home and abroad, is through Influence. Acting as the game's currency system, Influence is gained through opening new outposts, completing missions, and bringing back fresh supplies to your camp's supply locker. Influence also keeps you from becoming overpowered, as each item has a point value assigned to it. Something small like a bottle of painkillers or a few extra rounds won't put much of a dent in your Influence, but taking out a firearm, let alone many, leaves you with little Influence to spare. As someone in my camp so succinctly put it, "It's all about taking your fair share."
You probably won't survive this encounter.
All of this is not to say there isn't any dealing with the shambling corpses. Clearing out passing hordes that come too close to camp, wiping out infestations of nesting zombies, and saving the occasional survivor from what would be a gruesome end are all part of ensuring the survival of you and your party members. Though you may be eager to go out and bash in some skulls, it's important to not get in over your head. One zombie is bad enough, but two zeds, while manageable, can be dangerous. More than that and you better hope someone's watching your back; otherwise there's a good chance those walkers are walking away well fed.
One of the most refreshing elements of State of Decay's gameplay is the utter lack of hand-holding. In a world where games are plagued by muscle-bound "dude bros" armed to the teeth and equipped with regenerating health and shields, it's refreshing to play as an everyday person for a change. Stamina must be used wisely, health must be recovered with medicine or rest, and the threat of death is not only permanent, but constant as well. Nothing in this game is as heartbreaking or frustrating as when your main character, who you have been leveling stats with for hours, is dead and gone, leaving nothing more than a backpack of possessions to be remembered by.
State of Decay has some definite graphical issues.
While State of Decay has revitalized the zombie genre with its fresh gameplay, there are a myriad of problems plaguing it. Zombies constantly clip through every wall, door, and fence throughout the world, the frames rarely ever hit an acceptable rate, and textures not only pop in, but pop out as well. What story missions are offered in the game aren't as compelling as daily survival and must be activated by what I can only assume is an internal clock, taking control of progress away from the player and artificially upping playtime.
Developer Undead Labs has said how ambitious of a game their State of Decay is, and it is a rare site to see such ambition from a downloadable title. Despite all the problems it suffers from, many who have been playing can't stop singing State of Decay's praises, myself included. It has managed to breathe new life into a genre that has garnered much attention in the last few years, providing an experience usually found in full-priced titles condensed into a $20 price tag. Make sure not to miss out on this great game.
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Undead Labs
Release Date: June 5, 2013
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign)
Platforms: Xbox Live Arcade (Reviewed), PC (Coming Soon)