State of Decay is a risky proposition. A $20 downloadable game from the Xbox Live Arcade that gives you an open world “survival game” with a lot of ambitious ideas. Does it hit the mark on all of those ideas? I’ll say yes, but with some noticeable drawbacks.
The game looks and plays like your standard open world, third person shooter, also set in the zombie apocalypse. There is some good driving, some okay shooting, and at the end of the day it looks okay, with some really good shots that occur during the day in game. But looks isn’t where State of Decay tries something new, it’s its very ambitious mechanics.
In the zombie apocalypse, you imagine that there is a lot of panic, lack of resources, and a need for a strong leader. State of Decay shines because it introduces all of those mechanics as interesting aspects of gameplay. You play as a character, which varies as you can play pretty much anyone in your community. You have to look around abandoned houses near your home base (or far away, as the world is pretty expensive) to find resources. They can vary from food resources, to materials, to medicine, each with a different use. Materials can be used to build new structures in your home, like a watch tower, or a training facility. Medicine, on the other hand, is necessary as days go by to treat the wounded.
By gathering resources, you also find items, like guns, food, individual uses of medicine, which can be put in the storage locker for anyone to access, and gives you influence. Influence acts the currency, as you get it by putting things in storage, but need it to take things out. A balance of give and take between the variety of characters you play.
Though there is no “one” main character, each of the ones you can alternate between, which you’ll need to as they get seriously injured or tired as days pass, has different sets of skills or experience in those skills. Some people you pick up may naturally be good runners, while others may be better shots. Those skills increase as you use them, kind of in a Skyrim-type fashion. When one of those character’s dies though, that’s it. That character, and all of their skills, are gone forever.
Managing your community and micromanaging all of those resource is the real appeal for me to State of Decay. It’s just more useful to have an overflow of bullets, materials, fuel, food and medicine, which are the five main resources, so you can go out and fight without the worry of needing to gather necessities. They also gain use in trade with enclaves, other survivors looking out for themselves, which you can eventually convince to join you. Having more people allows you to find larger sites to use as your main base, which allows you to build more outposts, which allows you to have a better, and safer home.
The problems with State of Decay start where it just isn’t strong enough to really support those ambitious ideas. The game has some serious problems with draw-distance pop in, where entire buildings and hordes of zombies will pop in as you drive along the road. The game also struggles with serious framerate problems, as it can barely hold 30 frames per second for longer than a minute. Technically, the game is kind of a mess, although it never crashed for me, which is a small plus. Unfortunately, like a lot of older 3rd person games, State of Decay is plagued by a horrible camera, that will get stuck behind walls, doors, buildings, and completely block your view at the worst possible moments.
Though the game, at times, will run very poorly, it never hindered the survival experience for me. I was so engrossed in going from one building to the next, loading up my backpack, and then turning resources into a rucksack so I could take it home, that the technical problems didn’t ruin the fun for me.
There isn’t much story to be found in State of Decay, but there are story missions, which have you investigating the military around the area, or specific stories that you will come across in certain enclaves that you have to assist. Some of them are actually quite interesting, but the main story really isn’t. You’ll also be given random missions to help out enclaves in the area by barricading a house or asked by one of your own to take down a “special” zombie, which are the more boss-like enemies in the game.
I really had fun with State of Decay, and I think others can, but it has so many technical issues that I can easily see it ruining someone else’s experience with the game. While the ideas are very ambitious and creative, they are held back from greatness by its technical problems. There is still fun to be had, but no immersion because of those issues.