State of Decay Review

  • Platform: Xbox 360
  • Developer: Undead Labs
  • Publisher:  Microsoft Game Studios
  • Release Date: June 5th, 2013
  • Price: $19.99
  • Official: Undead Labs

“A real zombie apocalypse”

Zombie games, most of them offer you a typical first-person shooter experience consisting of holding down the trigger and taking out hundreds upon hundreds of brain dead enemies. From Left 4 Dead to Call of Duty and Dead Island, there’s nothing truly interesting happening behind the scenes to keep you that invested besides being able to do it all with a few friends. Resident Evil may have been a chilling experience at one point for gamers, but nowadays its just as basic as everything else on the market, only slower paced. The games that have come closest to offering gamers a real zombie apocalypse have been Capcom’s Dead Rising, Bohemia’s DayZ, and Rockstar’s Undead Nightmare.

Capcom took the comedic path with Dead Rising, Rockstar went with a B movie style, and DayZ offered gamers a tense multiplayer experience. Finally, thanks to fresh faced indie studio Undead Labs, I have finally gotten to play my dream zombie title, one that provides a realistic and immersive experience unlike any other, and while it does have its drawbacks, this is one that belongs in every zombie lovers collection.

State of Decay is a third person survival game and it begins much like many other zombie thrillers do, your character is seemingly out of the loop and it is not long before you are dealing with hordes of the undead and questioning how this all came to be. Luckily, your character wasn’t unconscious throughout the whole ordeal, but simply on a camping trip with a buddy away from civilization, that is until the infestation reaches the campgrounds and your jungle paradise turns to a woodland hell.

As far as first impressions go, State of Decay doesn’t exactly blow you away. The graphics are average and the linear tutorial sections can be seen as rather dull, but as you continue to push on the game will soon open up to you and you may be surprised at just how overwhelmed you have become in such a short amount of time.

State of Decay is a truly open world experience, allowing you to go wherever you like and do whatever you like. The region of Trumbull Valley feels like a once proud and lived in location, from gas stations to diners to miles upon miles of rich farmland; the world of State of Decay is peppered with realistic touches of a once proud humanity. Once you are out of the isolated campgrounds and make your way to a church turned fortification State of Decay turns into a completely different experience.

It is not long before you have several missions heaped upon your shoulders and dozens of lives to save. Similar to Dead Rising time passes continuously within the world of State of Decay, making you make the tough call of which missions to take on and which lives to go after. If you push an optional objective to the side for too long, it may go away and you may get a call informing you that a survivor is no longer with the living. The optional objectives blend seamlessly with those of the main story as well, sometimes making it difficult to tell which is which, but luckily the main story tasks never have a time limit assigned to them, making sure you never miss out and you always have somewhere to go.

As you complete goals and begin to make yourself useful to the group you will accrue Influence. Influence is the currency in which everything within the game is tied to. By making supply runs, saving lives, and defeating the larger more deadly zombie breeds, you will constantly be earning Influence with your group of survivors. If you wish to take supplies out of your home stash, or if you wish to build structures such as a garden or watchtower, that will cost you Influence. This system makes sense and offers up a great balance of constant give and take with those in your group.

This is the brilliance with State of Decay. Undead Labs has made sure that every task, from the mundane to the exhilarating, tie together into a seamless ecosystem. Every risk has a reward and every excursion into the undead wastes can help the group in some way. Whether it’s finding a supply cache of food or medical supplies, coming upon a new group of survivors, or just claiming an abandoned house as an extra outpost; there is a constant feeling of making progress and a constant fear that you may make a fatal error.

The world of State of Decay is also permanent, from the death of characters to the state you leave it in as you turn off your system; it is all cohesive and unending. This means you cannot load a saved game when you lose your favorite survivor to a freak accident, and that if you leave your group frightened and without supplies for several realtime days, when you return they may be in even worse shape than when you last left them.

As you explore the world around you, from clearing out houses of crucial supplies to hopping into vehicles and driving them around town, everything stays as it is. Days later you may come across a vehicle smashed through a store window and remember the event that lead to that crash, or you may eventually run out of houses to clear out and have to start venturing out further into the world to grab precious materials, upping the time and risk factor immensely.

Another factor that increases the tension and desperation of the game are the characters. Every person you come across has their own set of skills, their own personality, and their own precious backpack full of supplies. As your group at home grows, so too do the feuds and potential outbursts. Not to mention each set of helping hands need to be fed and relied upon to do their part. It is impressive the amount of different voice actors at work here, as is the programming required to create such intricate AI routines.

Much like Skyrim every act you do in Decay increases your current characters set of skills. From increasing your fighting prowess to upping your cardio and improving your wits. Every character you control is an ever evolving specimen, making the times when you have found yourself over your head that much more frightening. You don’t want to lose a valuable member of your team, especially when it was a rookie mistake that lead them to that predicament in the first place. When you have been pushing a character too hard they will become fatigued, lowering their maximum supply of stamina and health. When this happens you will have to get them home safely and change out into another well rested character, this constant change of who is in charge keeps the game fresh and exciting, as well as allows you to become familiar and attached to every one of your survivors.

With so many great systems in place, and all working brilliantly together, it is a true shame that State of Decay features some troublesome issues on the technical side of things. For starters, as I mentioned earlier, the game just isn’t that great looking with muddy textures and an overall simplistic look partnered with rather generic animations. What’s truly disappointing however is the fact that the visuals are still fine and would be easily acceptable were it not for the atrocious pop in and texture load times partnered with a chugging framerate when things get moving.

When you hop into a vehicle to get around this massive world, what should be an exhilarating experience, is instead the time when all of the problems with the teams experience and time come into play. As you drive the framerate will stutter erratically and the world in front of you will quickly pop into existence, from trees and bushes to vehicles and zombies, and when you stop completely it can take quite a bit of time for the textures themselves to load up. These faults take you right out of the experience and it is heartbreaking to see these problems arise, and theres no way NOT to see them. It makes you wish that the folks at Undead Labs had just a little more extra time to polish these blemishes away. Its easy to ignore pop up, its in every open world title, but when there is an inconsistent framerate hindering your mobility, thats a problem.

Even with these issues however, State of Decay does so much right and combines it all into such a great open adventure, that it is still a game you will find yourself coming back to time and time again. Featuring a long campaign, great character growth, satisfying group dynamics, a huge open world, and realistic tasks and objectives unique to the setting; State of Decay marks itself as one of the best zombie titles available on any platform. It is surprising this one wasn’t saved for Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade promotion, as it is one of the hallmarks of the Xbox Live Arcade service. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up and experience what a zombie apocalypse should be, a constant battle for survival, not a non stop shooting spree. – Chuck

The Rundown

  • + Great amount of content
  • + Deep role playing elements
  • + Always a sense of danger
  • – Framerate and texture pop in
  • – Some elements not explained

Final Score

8.5 / 10

“Great”

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