A couple of years ago developers Undead Labs released their first game into a market packed with AAA zombie games. State of Decay was buggy, banned in Australia (because you can take aspirin when you get injured), and kind of brilliant. It was as if everyone who worked at Undead Labs wrote a list of all the things they wanted in a zombie videogame, and it all went in.
There are zombies, obviously, and a rag-tag band of survivors. Heaps of weapons to shoot, bash, and burn the hordes of undead. A persistent open world that carries on even if you’re not playing. It’s also an RPG, so you’ll need to upgrade the fighting and weapon skills of all the playable characters. You will need to sneak around, conserving ammo. Search for materials to upgrade your home. Rescue survivors. Gain trust and influence over your growing community. All while trying not to get killed, because once a character is dead, they’re dead.
There is a lot going on in State of Decay. With so many ideas packed into a single game, it wasn’t surprising that when it was first released there were issues. There were camera and control problems, as well as problems with clipping and collision detection. Zombies sometimes just vanished, as well as dinky little cars and painfully generic characters with nothing much to say. But, despite all this State of Decay was one of the most popular Xbox Live Arcade games of 2013.
In the last couple of years there have been patches, a PC version, and two DLCs. Now we get the definitive version for the Xbox One, State of Decay: Year-One Survival Edition. While it still looks and feels a bit dinky, and has not been completely cured of its graphical glitches, State of Decay: Year-One is so packed with good ideas it’s hard not to get caught up in the desperate fight for survival.
You start out as Marcus Campbell returning from a fishing trip with his friend Ed. Without a cut-scene in sight the two lads start bashing zombies’ heads in. Pretty quickly they find their way to a local church with a small group of survivors.
Using the church as home base you search the local town for food, medicine, weapons, people, and building materials. But, it’s not just doing whatever you like, and fighting zombies. Completing missions adds to your character’s stats and also builds up trust and influence within the group. Greater influence allows you access to the community’s supplies, lets you switch between characters, and also enables you to make decisions for the group. After a few successful supply runs you will be setting up outposts, sending out teams for loot, and adding gardens and workshops to the church.
If Marcus spends too much time fighting zombies, he’ll become fatigued. So, you’ll need to switch control to another character while he is resting. The more you use a character, the stronger they become. Health and endurance increase, you can perform special kicks and throws, and you can specialise in a gun and melee weapon.
So, the focus of the game quickly changes from a simple zombie basher to a complex community simulator. You’ll be rescuing people and searching for the resources to keep them safe and healthy. You’ll be deciding how to use your resources – build a garden, or upgrade your defences? Each character will need to be upgraded, as well as given time to rest and recover from injuries. All the while waiting for missions that push the story forward.
State of Decay: Year-One is so packed with good ideas it’s hard not to get caught up in the desperate fight for survival.
On top of everything, the open world keeps going even when you’re not playing. So, when you come back the next day you’ll find that you’re down on food and some members of your group have gone looting, and not returned. Or that some survivors have gotten fed-up with the poor conditions and are planning on leaving. It gives the experience an urgency that is amped up even more knowing that if one of your survivors dies, they’re dead for good. There’s nothing worse than seeing Marcus torn in two, entrails dragging across the ground, and knowing that he’s gone forever.
Added to the core game are two DLCs. From the top menu you can choose to play the original State of Decay, Breakdown, or Lifeline. In Breakdown you have to find and repair an RV to escape from the zombie infestation. If you get your group to safety you go to the next level. Set on the same map, the RV spawns in a different location, and the number, strength, and speed of the zombies increases. By level six there is no point trying to fight the zombies. While searching for the RV, your only hope is to avoid them at all costs.
In Lifeline you control a small group of soldiers in Danforth City. While you still head out on looting missions, with the aim of eventually getting your group to safety, the focus of Lifeline is fighting off increasingly difficult raids by zombies. Essentially it’s horde mode, with a bit of story between each attack wave. Both Breakdown and Lifeline are fun and distracting. They are tough tests of your survival skills, and can be over very quickly.
State of Decay has everything you could ever imagine in a zombie game, and than some. But, it still plays and feels like an Xbox Live Arcade game. Thankfully, at around $30, it’s priced like one too. Running away from the zombies infesting Trumbull Valley I continually got stuck on invisible obstacles, attacked through walls, and had special powerful zombies appear from nowhere, and disappear just as quickly. But, even that didn’t stop me enjoying the game. Despite what you may have heard, shooting zombies in the head and being torn in two by the living dead, never gets old.