I think many of us might agree that the zombie phase of entertainment is hobbling on its last leg. The undead bubble from the mid 2000′s has just about reached its bursting point. With all of the refuse that has tried to capitalize on its popularity only a few intellectual properties have really done the genre justice, and been able to capture the feel of how zombies have been famously portrayed throughout the years.
Left 4 Dead is a top contender for best zombie game, and the Red Dead Redemption Undead Nightmare expansion was a very generous and well done supplement to the already famous title. Since then we haven’t really had a lauded zombie game from a major developer. Dead Island started off well, but wasn’t able to capitalize on the hype it generated in its execution. It seemed as if the genre was dead, with its brains destroyed, never to be re-risen.
Enter State of Decay. This modest title from Undead Labs was a $20 buy from Xbox Live arcade. With that low of a price and distribution funnel I wasn’t sure how much I would really enjoy this game. Then I started playing it. The game was infectious, and that pun is completely intended.
Instead of focusing on ridiculous weapons and scenarios given to you in games like Dead Rising, State of Decay focuses on the one aspect that most people seem to forget about. That aspect is “survival.” Not survival in the ideation of not being infected, but survival in how will you eat, who do you save, and where do you set up your fortress. This open-world title gives many zombie survival fans exactly what they’ve always wanted in a zombie survival game, and that’s choices. Those choices aren’t always fun ones either. It isn’t just about what gun you want to shoot a reanimated corpse with, or what melee weapon you use to bash in their brains. Often times they require sacrifice.
For example, one of my survivors was helping me with a supply run. I asked him to go and pick up some supplies that my limited inventory couldn’t hold at a local diner I had just cleared. Just as I was confident that he had made off with our MUCH needed materials I hear a growl and a scream. I turned to see him fly out from behind a fence, and then gazed upon the largest zombie I’d seen all game. Having never engaged with a monster of such gargantuan proportions I started off hesitant, until I realized that I was being surrounded by a myriad of undead assailants. Panic kicked in, and my wild swings with my sledgehammer served only to tire out my quickly diminishing stamina bar. At this point I had two choices. I could either fight to get to my friend, or save myself and the supplies I’d managed to scavenge. There is no respawn in State of Decay. Once you are dead, you are dead. You then get to play as one of the other survivors that you’ve managed to accrue through your travels. However, all of the leveling and customization that you’ve given to your specific person are gone. Forever.
Needless to say, I ran, but not before I heard a terrified scream from my friend. I turned my in-game camera around just in time to see him get ripped in half by this “big-un.” It was brutal. Not because of the violence of the action, but because I’d played as that guy before. He had a fleshed out personality and specific traits that the game had given him, and he was fighting with the weapons I’d gathered for him over an extended time period. Ed was dead, and I was now running through the streets alone. At this moment I knew I was hooked.
There are some issues with the game that definitely need to be addressed. The frame rates can get very choppy if too much is loading at one time. If you’re driving a car through a populated area then some of the obstructions in the road won’t appear until you’ve already hit them. Your teammates can be ridiculously stupid at times, and saving them becomes an exercise in adult babysitting. Normally those are game-killers for me. However, I can say with absolute honesty that I couldn’t care less.
The game’s focus on survival and stealth, as well as using smart tactics in order to infiltrate something as simple as a storage shed are a welcome breath of fresh air in a medium that had grown stale and predictable. Undead Labs has already stated that they’ll be updating the game as time goes on; hopefully with a co-op integration and some bug fixes. Until then, this game is absolutely worth the 20 bucks, and will provide you with plenty of gameplay that will both terrify and entertain you for hours to come.