As a video game Undead Labs State of Decay, is not the most difficult one you will ever play. In fact, in many ways it is situations that you create for yourself and how you approach the game that will decide how hard – or easy – it is and that is definitely one of the game’s strengths.
With a pretty generous 8 square km of open world at your disposal, filled with numerous homes, shops, restaurants and warehouses to rummage through, you’ll never be at a loss for something to do or places to explore. Many will look at such a hefty slice of a world map, filled with small towns and homesteads and think ‘what’s the point?’, but you’ll quickly discover that the sole point of State of Decay is survival.
The longer you manage that, the more likely you are to actually compete the game and escape Trumball Valley, a fictional region of the United States.
The game begins with you, as Marcus Campbell, returning from an extensive camping trip on Mt Tanner with best friend Ed Jones to discover that the very world as you know it has been overrun by a rampaging zombie horde.
Your first action is to save your friend from the clutches of a couple of murderous Zeds, kicking, punching and stomping them to ‘death’. As you turn you find that the whole camp-site is crawling with moaning, shambling monstrosities and that you certainly have your work cut out for you. After spending an hour or so at the ‘camp-site’ area of the playable map, you will be given the opportunity to see the world open up and this is the point at which the game really gets interesting.
The game is estimated at around 12-14 hours, to play through the main story but depending on your approach, you may find yourself putting a lot more time into your first play-through than that. At present, I have over 10 hours of play-time and I’ve only just made my way to Marshall, the games largest hub area.
The reason for this is that I’ve found each area so far has required a different tactic. The camp-site requires you to be careful but you won’t face any ‘hordes’, so sneaking around isn’t strictly necessary. On the other hand, the small town of Spencer’s Mill contains many homes and shops packed closely together, which requires a lot of sneaking and stealth (at least until you’re reasonably ‘levelled up’) to navigate, meaning that building up enough supplies, survivors and munitions to move to a larger home-base took me a while longer.
That isn’t to suggest that you have to approach the game the same way – that is one of the beautiful things about State of Decay, you really are taking part in a digitized version of a zombie apocalypse and you can either go through it all guns blazing or sneak your way to success.
Of course, shooting and sneaking aren’t the only important aspects of surviving a single run through, you have to take into consideration many other things, including what strengths and weaknesses a particular character has and whether you’ve sufficiently befriended them to be able to ‘control them’.
This is another of the key aspects of successfully surviving in Trumball County: other survivors. Without them, you will find yourself zombie chow in less than a minute, but the more people that join your little community – and the more friendly you become with them – the easier you will find upgrading and defending your new homes.
More importantly though, the more survivors you befriend, the more options you have for ‘party members’ when you go on your little excursions into town. A downside is that you’re only ever able to be accompanied by one other survivor at a time (barring some mission-specific parties), so there is always an element of danger when you’re set upon by a larger group of zombies but you will notice the difference even one extra set of hands (and blunt-force weapon) will make when you’re up against the horde.
The very minimal RPG system in the game allows for your characters to level up their abilities, such as cardio, sharp-shooting, blunt/bladed weapons, and so on, so when you’re selecting your playable survivor for each foray into the wilderness, the most ‘experienced’ will more than likely be your choice.
It is wise to alternate between as many survivors as possible however, as you’ll need as many options available to you so that you’re not entering the end-game with as strong a group as possible, rather than having to enter into the fray with a relative ‘noob’ because you’ve tired out all of your other survivors or gotten your more experienced bunch killed.
The best way to do this is to pick your weapon load-out to suit your specific play-style or situation. For instance, if you fancy being ‘sneaky’ you won’t want to take out your baseball bat and shotgun, with the distinctive ‘ping’ of the bat and deafening roar of the shotgun. Instead, you’ll fair much better with a sharp, bladed weapon and a silenced rifle or pistol, and with the vast array of choices you’ll have to do a fair bit of experimenting to come across the pairing that suits you best.
Along with weapons you’ll also come across various other items that can be added to your, and in turn your home-bases’, inventory such as food, drink, diary pages and children’s toys. Not all of these are useful but you can take what you feel is necessary in order to gain ‘influence’, another vitally important resource that allows you to perform actions such as searching for new survivors, calling in allies to help you out of a jam and establishing outposts around the county.
The other type of resource you’ll come across on your travels is supply ‘caches’. These include things that you can also collect in item form, such as food, ammo, medicine and materials but they are added to your community’s overall inventory, rather than as individual items, and feed into the game’s almost ‘persistent world’ element, allowing your group to survive for a day or two more for each food or medicine cache you return.
This is one of the most impressive (and challenging) aspects of State of Decay, the fact that the game continues while you’re not playing and your survivors consume these supplies while you’re away from your console. Meaning that you’re usually not able to just dive in for a quick session, because you’ll probably notice that your food reserves are dwindling and that you’ll need to head out a couple of times to top up just so they don’t start dying off while you’re at work or in school!
There are just so many startlingly impressive elements to this end-of-times, zombie apocalypse game that are done so well I could go one for another few pages, and it while it does definitely take some of its leads from other successful zombie games such as Left 4 Dead and Dead Island, it adds so much more to the genre that those that came before it could really learn a thing or two from.
In the end though, the hardest aspect of State of Decay is how to categorize it: is it an action game, with RPG elements? Is it a survival horror/RPG with action elements? Is it just a straight RPG with action, survival horror and driving elements? Who can say… you’ll make of it what you will but one thing I can say for certain is that you’ll have a whale of a time playing it and it will likely be one of the best, most rewarding and productive returns you’ll ever get on a measly £13.49.