At first glance, State of Decay could be easily dismissed as a cheap cash-in on the zombie zeitgeist, particularly if you take note of how ugly it is in parts (dated visuals, graphics-popping issues, etc). But if you give State of Decay the benefit of the doubt and play more than the first somewhat clunky hour, you’ll soon discover that this is more than just an undead clone. In fact, there’s some impressive layering at play that, in many ways, raises the bar for the genre. (Please note, this review is based on the US version of the game and not the version that was recently resubmitted for classification in Australia, vitamins included.)
The first hour acts as a tutorial for coming to grips with the combat, stealth and looting components of the game. Melee weapons are a must, and considering they tend to break at the most inconvenient times, you’ll definitely want to pack at least one spare alongside a firearm. The catch, though, is everything you collect takes precious storage space in your backpack. You can upgrade to a larger backpack, but that comes at the expense of mobility.
Initially, unarmed combat seems tedious and repetitive, but soon enough you’ll find yourself swarmed, and choosing fight over flight usually means you’re selecting death over life. There are instakill stealth attacks, which reward careful map traversal, while there are also a variety of melee moves that can be unlocked by bashing in zombie heads. There’s no need to risk breaking your golf club when you can access wrestling moves to knock a zed off its feet for easy head-crushing results.
Better still, much like Skyrim, the more you perform certain tasks, the faster that skill levels up. Even running away from zombie hordes will improve your cardio fitness, in a nice nod to the Zombieland film. The risk/reward of choosing fight over flight, though, comes into play when you move into towns. Houses are rich with materials that can be scavenged and windows can be boarded up for extra security, while certain locations offer materials that are important for keeping morale high in your community and your base supplied with the necessary goods for upgrading and survival.
This is where State of Decay comes into its own, as you perform various missions and tasks that help keep your community happy and alive. By doing this, you earn Influence, which is a big part of State of Decay’s currency system. Influence allows you to call in other survivors to scavenge valuable resources, or it can be spent on converting a choice structure into an outpost, which helps to keep the zombie hordes at bay.
All of this plays out in real-time, though, which means you may be choosing to create outposts and scavenge buildings at the expense of time-sensitive missions. These missions aren’t always flagged as such, so you’ll feel as though you’re constantly choosing missions over building/protecting your base, or vice-versa. Considering the size of the playable map and the time investment required to travel between areas (even by car), there’s often a feeling of tension, even if you’re not surrounded by dozens of fast-moving zombie foes.
As you start to bring more survivors into your community, you’ll need to be able to provide them with adequate bedding and food to keep them happy. Certain survivors can be befriended, which gives you the opportunity to switch between playable characters, resting your primary characters so they can rejuvenate health and stamina. One of the coolest and ever-threatening features of State of Decay, though, is perma-death for all characters. Sometimes this is a scavenger you’ve sent out to secure supplies, other times it may be the character you’re playing. Either way, when they die, they’re gone for good.
This is particularly heartbreaking when you’ve invested time and specialised upgrades into a main character: some are great at melee combat, others at ranged, and so on. It’s a fantastic inclusion that forces you to think before you engage, and to be willing to run and hide if you’re surrounded. At 1600 Microsoft Points, State of Decay may seem expensive for an Arcade title. When you realise there are dozens of addictive hours to enjoy, State of Decay proves itself a tempting purchase for zombie lovers and fans of survival-horror alike. That is, of course, assuming the Classification Board doesn’t have any issues with the modified resubmitted version of the game.