State of Decay (XBLA) Review

State of Decay (XBLA) Review

What we liked:

+ Dynamic, interesting world
+ Unique mechanics
+ Persistent world
+ Consequences mean something

What we didn't like:

- Severe technical issues
- Voice acting is flat

DEVELOPER: Undead Labs   |   PUBLISHER: Microsoft Studios   |   RELEASE: 06/05/2013


Your choices stick with you.

Rarely does a game come along that is so inherently broken by traditional standards that most would scoff at the idea of even playing it. State of Decay is an experience that, on the surface, feels like a complete mess. Characters clip through walls, get stuck in animations and even fail to perform simple tasks such as following the player on important missions. These are the kinds of issues that would plague most titles, but then again most titles don’t have the ambition and engagement that Undead Labs’ unique creation has.

I wanted to hate State of Decay, but after a dozen hours refining my tactics, I simply cannot stop playing it.

This is not a typical zombie slashing title. I never once felt safe or secure, and any encounter could easily be my current character’s last. This is the type of tension and consequence that the developers sell so well. State of Decay is an open world game set during a zombie apocalypse, but it also takes that notion into account. Supplies are mandatory, keeping other survivors sane and happy is imperative, and if I ever wanted to get any sense of comfort, I had to boot up and play every day. The world never stops, even when I wasn’t physically playing.

I will discuss that aspect more in a bit, but first, let’s break down exactly what this game is. State of Decay thrusts players into a world where they have complete control over the outcome of this zombie apocalypse. What that means is any survivors, food, decisions and defense are all handled manually. The game opened up once I reached the church, and from there the game really begins. This home base serves as the main command center. Food, ammo and medicine are the main supplies, and each set I collected could only be delivered here.

Friends can become enemies.

The game starts off with one playable character, but as I developed relationships and rescued other survivors, I could take control of any one of them just by asking them to take over. It is worth noting that everything in this world wears out, including the player character. Forcing one person to handle everything makes them tired, and more prone to injury, or worse, death. The upgrade system is based on how much an action is performed. For example, the more I sprinted, the better my stamina got. This is character-based, meaning if I leveled up one particular survivor to max, it doesn’t carry over to everyone else. This is another reason death is such a devastating blow.

Everything that I came across became a possible weapon or item that I would need. Snacks help refill stamina, while pills refill health. I became a pack rat, collecting anything and everything I could get my hands on to survive. Weapons work in the same fashion. Ammo is limited so most of the time I resorted to melee combat with a bevy of weapons like golf clubs, baseball bats and machetes. Melee weapons only work so long before they break, same with vehicles, but like anything else in the game I eventually found ways to repair my items. At least until the zombie horde overran my garage.

As I gained more of a community and leadership points, I could request runners to come and pick up extra supplies, or even establish other outposts in houses I had cleared. Think of it more as a survival simulator and it makes sense. Every action has consequence, and missions crop up constantly, with some requiring immediate action or else that goal can never be achieved. Death is also permanent, and it kept me constantly acquiring new recruits, as well as taking care of the ones I had.

Everything can be upgraded, including the player’s home base. The church starts off as just a building, but as I earned more points, I was able to add infirmaries, sniper posts and more. The constant world building had me coming back for days on end, especially considering that shutting down the machine never actually stopped events from unfolding.

Your world continues, even when you are not playing.

This is where not everyone will appreciate what State of Decay offers. Even when not playing, my world was always in jeopardy. I understand this mechanic, I respect this mechanic, but it never stopped me from getting frustrated when I didn’t play for a day only to come back to dead survivors, low morale and more. It felt like those sessions were spent rebuilding what I had worked so hard to achieve, and that can be defeating. Maybe that is the purpose. It really immerses players into the harsh reality of an event like this, but as a mechanic in a game, I can see how it would turn some players off.

There is a story here, and it actually delivers a compelling, if not poorly acted narrative. The constant missions that cropped up furthering the tale always had me interested to see how things panned out. I just wish that the voice acting had been better. The world is so engaging, and hearing lines ripped out of a straight-to-video horror movie are really out of place.

While I love the ideas behind State of Decay, everyone should know before going in that this is one buggy mess of a game. Visually it isn’t all that impressive, and when I saw textures randomly disappear and characters get stuck in animations (see video above for several examples) it is really jarring. This is easily the most concerning part of the game. Watching someone play it will likely spark inquiries about how broken it truly is. The voice acting isn’t much better, delivering some truly ridiculous and repetitive lines. I wish the presentation was as polished as the ideas behind it.

State of Decay is one of the weirdest games I have ever had to review. Watching our Fondling video you would begin to believe that I hated it to its very core. Still after resetting and digging into the world, I couldn’t stop playing it. Undead Labs has created what I truly wanted out of something like The Walking Dead as a video game, and anyone who is a fan of that type of drama should definitely check it out. Be aware of the technical issues going in though, they will be the one thing that can truly hold this title back.

Review copy of game provided by publisher.

Ken McKown
Ken is the Editor-in-Chief of this hole in the wall and he loves to troll for the fun of it. He also enjoys long walks through Arkham Asylum and the cool air of Shadow Moses Island. His turn-ons include Mortal Kombat, Metal Gear Solid and StarCraft.

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