With the current COVID-19 pandemic occurring at the time of this writing, it seemed appropriate to take a look at some games that prominently feature the end of the world as we know it, or at least the post-apocalyptic landscape of the time after. The second game in this series is the 2015 release State of Decay: Year-One by Undead Labs, now part of Microsoft Studios. This is technically a review of the Survival Edition, which includes the Breakdown and Lifeline downloadable content, as this is the only version still available on Steam.
The apocalypse in this game is that old classic, zombies. State of Decay is a zombie killing action game with some bits of role-playing style skill-leveling and a veneer of base construction. There is also a stealth component, where you can sneak around and murder (or avoid) zombies. but you’ll only use this when you don’t have easy access to a vehicle or cannot drive into an area.
This title was released for both PC and Xbox, and the game does play like it was built with a controller in mind. I personally played using keyboard and mouse, and this worked okay, though occasionally it felt a little clunky when trying to fight off a horde of zombies. But, maybe that is just the fault of the combat system in general; the camera occasionally ends up at a bad angle where you can not see what is going on, which can be a little annoying.
For the main campaign you start off in what is essentially a tutorial, though it is fairly well disguised to feel like being thrown into the action. You begin playing as Marcus, out on a fishing trip in the woods of Trumbull Valley with your friend Ed. As the game opens, you are attacked and forced to beat a couple zombies to death with wooden logs. Apparently the zombie apocalypse happened while you were out of town!
You soon encounter a third character, Maya. While Ed is a non-player character that automatically follows you around and helps fight zombies, you get the option to switch between Marcus and Maya. Eventually you make it out of the woods and into the town proper, which is where the rest of the game takes place.
Upon arriving in town, you get a base of operations. Your group of characters also quickly expands, though most of them are not initially directly controllable. You can switch out who accompanies you, but Marcus and Maya are the only two you may directly control for a little while.
Items in State of Decay have weight and you can only carry a limited amount, but your base comes with a storage location where you can drop items off. One minor annoyance is that melee weapons can become weak and break if not repaired, and repairs can only be done at a work shop, an expansion that you can build onto your base.
There are various others expansions you can build, like extra housing or a garden. These base expansions can give various bonuses, let you do certain actions (like repair weapons), or provide supplies. The initial base location comes with a kitchen, a watch tower, a medical area, and two slots where you can build other add-ons. Later in the game, you can switch base locations to a handful of other buildings around town, each of which has different base rooms and expansion slots.
Aside from weapons, ammo, and healing items that you can use directly, there are also base resources: food, medicine, ammunition, fuel, and construction material. These are used for building base expansions or upgrading base locations. There is also upkeep for your base and group, i.e., people need to eat food or they might get sick and lose stats.
However, this is mainly a distraction from the actual core game. You will initially follow along from one main plot mission to the next during the introduction. Eventually they become less frequent and instead you get radioed from your base about various events going on around town. A lot of missions are randomly generated objectives, like going to kill a special zombie, rescue other survivors, scout an area, etc. A few quests are side plot lines, that can be failed, unlike the main campaign, and usually trigger an achievement upon completion.
All random and side missions will eventually fail if you do not do them, which can result in the death of some characters. Speaking of dying, the character you are controlling can also die without the game ending. You are switched to controlling another character in your base, rather than the game being over.
Long story short (too late), this game has a lot of elements thrown together that almost make a really good game. Almost. There are a few things that can make it very aggravating, particularly if you are a player that likes to try to do everything.
My biggest complaint about the game is that time jumps when you return after exiting the game. Rather than save where you were more accurately, when the game loads you are back at your base – usually with unfinished side quests having failed. A related minor issue is that the game doesn’t pause when you try to read the in-game journal of events. This makes it feel like you don’t have time to actually read journal notes, as you need to hurry along before you run out of time to do missions.
You can turn some buildings into “outposts”. This spawns a storage unit at that location, where you can access the same set of items as in your base, and stops zombies from spawning in the immediate vicinity of that building. However, with the exception of the outposts, zombies do seem to magically spring forth from thin air every time you leave an area. Trying to clear an area is futile. As soon as you walk a short distance away, there is a good chance the game will just spawn zombies again.
Speaking of zombies, the ones in this game are the faster style of zombies. Essentially crazed people that will charge at you rather than the slower shambling undead of the classic George Romero zombie movies or Dungeons & Dragons. The game also features the stock variant types of zombies that seem to have been copied by most zombie games since Left 4 Dead came out back in 2008: a zombie that explodes into poison mist when they get close to you, zombies that scream and call nearby regular zombies, a jumpy zombie that springs around and tries to tackle you, and the big, hard to kill, juggernaut zombie that tries to ram you.
The graphics for the game are what you would expect from a relatively modern zombie shooter. One notable feature is that when you knock a zombie down, you can do a coup de grace move where you smash the zombie’s head in cinematic slow motion. I feel that I should mention here that this game is fairly violent and very inappropriate for younger players.
There is a lot of voice-over work for this title. The performances are fairly solid, though occasionally the writing seemed a bit overly dramatic to me. There were a few good lines, but also a few things seemed a bit off here and there.
The background music isn’t too noticeable; I had to load the game back up to actually see if there was any. Usually you mostly hear other people talking or sound effects, like a car’s motor, gun fire, or the squishy thwack of zombies being pummeled.
Overall the game is okay, but feels like it comes just short of being really good. The additional content in the Steam version does make it a more worthwhile purchase, as it seems a bit more coherent than the base game. I would give it a “C+” rating, or a 6/10 stars. Worth picking up during a sale, if you enjoy lots of zombie themed action.