I went into the last mission with my favorite character, Joe, I picked out all the items I felt I needed and set off for my final battle in State of Decay. I was doing very well until right near the end of the mission I fell short of my goals to finish the game, as my beloved Joe was being violently torn apart by a zombie, whom I spent most of the game leveling up, outfitting, and interacting with would no longer exist because of the dreaded but brilliant permadeath mechanic of the game. All that work with Joe squandered right near the end of my journey in State of Decay. As I recalled this violent and sad event I couldn’t help but realize that this event was a great analogy for how I felt about State of Decay as a whole. When I did end up finishing the game just like my character Joe, SoD showed so much promise, but fell short of fleshing out its own ambitions.
State of Decay is a audaciously ambitious game from Undead Studios, and is priced at a mere $20 for a game that at times acts like one worth a $60 price tag. It is very similar to the Arma III mod DayZ set in a post-apocalyptic, zombie infested region, which resembles Western America. The region contains four or five small towns, but most of the game is spent in two of them. It’s a surprisingly big world, but a lot of the space has no real use aside from housing resources and zombies, which both can be found more frequently and in more volume in the cities. This is frustrating because it would be nice to explore this vast world, but since there is no incentive, other than mundane side quests, to venture out in it there really is no point in making it so big, following the theme introduced in the previous paragraph.
Although one of the things SoD does well is managing resources and gaining experience with your characters. I say characters because the permadeath, stamina, and health mechanics make it a necessity to have multiple characters that are experienced in dealing with the outer world, its also fun and effective way to play. The health and stamina mechanics work really well because the longer you are outside the more these traits deplete, and the only way to heal your wounds and recover from fatigue is to rest at base. I ended up switching between three different people because I found that to be most efficient. The experience system also works well because your character levels up as you use certain skills, for instance if I decided to focus on shooting with one character, he/she would level up their shooting ability allowing for better skills in that category, and if I kept shooting I could eventually add a new passive or active ability to that skill, making for more variety. There are also other RPG elements when it comes to your home base, where you can add modules to your base to increase certain traits, like a workout facility to increase your group’s stamina. This was one of the highlights of the game for me, because I didn’t expect so many RPG elements to be in this game, and the fact that it had a good amount of depth to go with it was nice to see. These RPG elements add a sense of realism to the game because resource, people, and base management are all believable things that would need to be dealt with after a zombie outbreak. Resource management is where I found most of my time spent in the game, whether it be scavenging for new weapons, ammo, health supplies, or materials for my base, there is a lot of time spent in menus deciding whether to keep that your last few shotgun shells or swap it for that shiny new pistol.
In terms of gameplay your character can wield a variety of weapons from grenade launchers to commemorative hockey sticks. Each melee weapon will break after a certain point, and the amount of use before it breaks depends on the quality of the weapon. I never found that guns could break, but I didn’t mind as it makes sense. The weapons are central to gameplay, because they determine how you go about fighting zombies. Guns are more lethal, but make more noise, melee weapons make less noise, but aren’t as lethal, so there is somewhat of a strategy in how you want to fight them. These choices all add to the game because the zombies are very dangerous in numbers, I found unless I was using one of my fully upgraded characters, at least three zombies would make me want to GTFO real quick. The melee combat is pretty basic, a lot of time is spent mashing X, which at first glance isn’t that bad, but with a short amount of different animations the combat does feel a little bit stale after playing a long time, going along with the theme from the first paragraph. It’s a bit hard to aim, but when I had better guns that it was easier to get one-shot-kills, so maybe the difficulty for entry level guns was made on purpose. The only other complaint about shooting is that it seems the game favors melee weapons, because finding ammo for you guns is a bit hard, I remember one instance, where literally every gun I had was out of ammo, but I suppose that would be an issue found in a zombie apocalypse so it’s a believable problem. Driving is also a big component of gameplay, as it is the best way to get around, and in some ways breaks the game, because you can destroy large quantities of zombies very easily. Although, the driving itself isn’t all that great, I eventually got used to it and enjoyed how different cars acted in different ways.
My biggest problem with the game lies with the story and its characters. There are only about five to ten characters that really move the plot along. All the rest, for the most part, have the ability to be playable by you, as long as they join your base. There are other survivors that live in various locations, who won’t join you, which was perfectly fine, but my problem with all the characters is their lack of substance. Aside from the three characters I played a lot with, I did not feel a connection to any of the other characters. And the only reason I felt fear of losing the three characters I had played in the game was because they had way better stats than anyone else in my base, I found almost no emotional attachment to my characters, which was a big dissapointment. The rest of the characters stay home to rest, protect the base, or go on fetch missions for resources. The fetch missions aren’t a bad idea, but they end up being a huge annoyance, as you’ll have endless, literally infinite, missions pop up where you need to help your allies, whether it be to provide an escort home or defeat a special type of zombie. These reminded me a lot of how Red Dead Redemption had people run out at you while you were traveling asking for help, except for the fact that in SoD you just get told that someone’s in trouble, and would have to go bail them out. I feel the RDR mechanic worked much better as it took less moving from A to B, and more actually playing the fun parts of the game, and the fact that they’d actually run out at you made you feel like the game was alive, in SoD it just feels like another pointless thing you need to do and ended up taking away from my experience rather than strengthening it. Don’t get me wrong these could have worked, but since none of these characters had any real substance both emotionally and functionally, there is really no reason to have them especially in the large quantity they pop up. By the end I probably spent more time on these missions than actually moving the plot along, which might have been my own fault. The story has a similar downfall, where it’s pretty interesting, but lacks the substance to make it extraordinary. There were also multiple times where I thought a cool story arc could take place, but nothing really came of it, and the ending was so lackluster that it made me sad to see the potential of this game’s story get squandered. Again, relaying back to the theme from the initial paragraph.
On a side note, I want to forewarn you that there are a lot of small bugs in the game, whether it be frame rate popping or zombies running through doors, there are a healthy amount of glitches and bugs. I only experience two things that really made a difference in my game, but I didn’t mind so much because of the price point.
Overall, I did enjoy this game, and loved the ambition that the developers showed in making it. If nothing else this game made me wonder what they’d be able to do if they were to embark on a bigger project, which makes me glad I supported them. I have also heard rumors that if SoD does well, they will be making a similar game into an MMO, which I think could solve some of the substance issues I referred to earlier. Like I’ve said before this game for the most part does act like a $40-60 game and that’s maybe why I was so critical of it at times, but the game does so much right that much of it’s missteps can be forgiven, and I would definitely recommend this game if you have $20 to spare and like zombie and RPG games.
Thank you for reading and hope it was helpful!