by Christopher Coke, reviewed on
Classic Zombie Fiction
To call the zombie market of 2013 oversaturated would be an understatement. The natural horror of the risen dead seems to have left the genre entirely, leaving settings which would once cause tingles of gooseflesh to shrivel and withdraw before the vacant stares of jaded players. It takes real originality for a game to stand out. State of Decay is that game. Undead Labs has managed to imbue their flagship title with real inspiration and a passion for the setting. They ask the question, “what would it be like to survive during the zombie apocalypse?” and pull back the lens, focusing on individuals, groups, and settlements in turn. Even though State of Decay fails to break new ground with its fiction, its mix of strategy, tight combat, and eminent sense of danger go a long ways to overcome the weight of cliché.
From the outset, it is clear that Unlead Labs enjoy classic zombie fiction. You know the kind I mean: a mystery plague starts and citizens become violent, black helicopters fly overhead, and before you know it people are holed up in houses while the “sick” shamble through the streets. It is classic, iconic even, and when you see your first horde clawing at a boarded up house, it is because -of course- they do. This is what zombies are and have always been. When you hack away an arm, you know it won’t do any good because you have to destroy the head. State of Decay targets that same believable horror that kept us clutching our blankets after seeing Night of the Living Dead for the first time.
The story, like so many zombie stories and films before it, is simply a different shade of the same black we have used for years: a man and his friend go on a camping trip. When they canoe back to the mainland, all hell has broken loose. People are “sick.” Your first introduction to a walker is a “hey buddy, are you alright?” moment before you bash his head in with a log. From there on out, the goal is simple: survive.
Lobbing Arms and Cracking Heads
The third-person combat isn’t flashy but it is gruesome. Swinging a sledgehammer feels weighty and the misty explosion when it connects with a head is satisfyingly final. There are lots of weapons in the game, just where you would expect to find them: a hatchet at a campsite, a baseball bat in a house, a pistol behind a store counter. Each one has a different feel. The only disappointing part of this is that aiming is restricted to guns only. Hacking off an arm of a leg was fun and reminded me a lot of Dead Island but when that happened seemed random.
We should be clear about one thing: if you come to State of Decay just for the zombie bashing, you are in for a let-down. Oh, you will bash, rest assured, but the emphasis here is on avoiding zombies, not engaging them. Weapons wear down quickly – almost too quickly – and once they become damaged, they are almost useless. Zombies are perceptive and picking a fight in the open is almost never advisable. If they hear you, even from a distance, expect to get mauled. Personally, I love that enemies will hear a tussle and come running. It is real and makes getting spotted frightening. You may not, so expect difficulty in numbers.
Tense, frightening atmosphere; great settlement gameplay; character system.
Feels too familiar; not enough options for PC players