Back from the Dead
Can too much ambition be a bad thing? This was a question I continually asked myself during my 20 hours in Trumbull Valley. Developer Undead Labs tries to cram a lot into this little package. Some of it sticks, while some of it falls flat. At its best, State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition is a unique zombie survival game with dozens of hours of content. At its worst, it’s a buggy, convoluted, and repetitive game that’s reminiscent of something out of the PlayStation 2 and Xbox generation. Fortunately, once you learn to accept its problems, State of Decay is a vastly rewarding and incredibly addictive experience someone could easily sink hours into.
The game is about surviving and building a community. There is a story, but most players will treat it as background noise while they scavenge buildings, clear infestations, and rescue survivors. Your main goal in State of Decay is to keep you and your survivors alive by finding food, medicine, and building supplies for your group. The game does feed you various missions along the way, but most of your time will be occupied with maintaining your shelter. While this does get repetitive after awhile, it takes some time before this exhaustion finally kicks in. On top of this, you can switch between multiple characters with different traits as you go. Each character basically plays the same, but due to the game’s light RPG elements, you can level up different characters in various ways to experiment with slightly differing playstyles.
The combat in State of Decay isn’t anything to write home about. It’s functional and it can be very satisfying at times, but it does feel a bit stiff. Fighting anything more than a couple zombies can be frustrating, but once you get into a routine it can be blast. Taking out zombies with firearms, blunt weapons, and other various tools while monitoring your stamina, health, and supplies feels like a gory chess match that is replicated in very few games. The game also dabbles with stealth, which can prove to be a nice change of pace. In order to succeed in Undead Lab’s zombie apocalypse, players must pick their battles and know when to return home.
One of the most interesting features of State of Decay is the inclusion of perma-death. When a character dies, he or she is gone for good. This makes every excursion, supply run, and mission feel tense. I was constantly checking my supplies, car, and weapon durability as I ventured out. While perma-death can be a harsh mechanic, the game doesn’t punish you all that much in the end. If all your playable survivors die, a new one will spawn at your base. Call me a masochist, but I would have much preferred it if running out of playable characters meant game over.
State of Decay introduces a variety of new ideas and mechanics. Unfortunately, most don’t work as well as perma-death, and the ones that do will start to feel repetitive after a while. For example, survivors will struggle with fear, anger, and sadness. In order to mend their fragile hearts you must complete a loyalty mission for them. On paper, this sounds like a great way to build characters and relationships. Instead, you take the NPC for a drive, clear an area of zombies, and return back to the base. The locations differ, but the dialogue does not. If you are a perfectionist, be prepared to listen to the same conversations over and over again. Near the end, I started to ignore my fellow survivors’ loyalty missions and other side-quests because of the repetitive nature of these quests.
The game does start to get a bit too overwhelming later on. The bigger the group you have, the more supplies you need, side-quests begin to stack up, and it becomes nearly impossible to maintain the well being of your group. Characters will die and it will feel as though there wasn’t much you could do to save them. Some players may enjoy this as it does make for a more dynamic game, but I found it to be frustrating.
Apart from some tacked on mechanics, State of Decay’s gravest offense is its technical issues. The game is plagued with pop in, framerate stutters, and clipping. These issues were forgivable when it came to the Xbox 360 back in 2013, but it’s now 2015. You’d think with two more years and with the power of the Xbox One, these kinks would have been worked out by now. Without fail, the game’s framerate will take a hit every time you get into a car or approach a larger hoard. It’s a shame that Microsoft and Undead Labs didn’t take the extra time to polish State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition, because it could have easily been one of the console’s best exclusives.
Skipping out on any form of multiplayer and co-op also feels like a missed opportunity. When State of Decay originally launched, Undead Labs intended to release a co-op mode later down the road if it proved to be successful. Despite the game’s success, this didn’t happen. Many fans were hoping that this time around Undead Labs would include a co-op feature, but they did not.
In 2013, Undead Labs laid out the framework for a fantastic zombie survival game. It had its problems, but due to the game’s high ambitions, limited resources, and unique ideas, it was easy to forgive all the technical hiccups and its half-baked mechanics. Two years later and it’s hard to give Undead Labs that same pass. State of Decay: Year One Survivor Edition is a disappointing port of a great game. If you missed the game on Xbox 360 I can’t recommend this game enough, but if you already got your fill of State of Decay, there isn’t much of a reason to return to Trumbull Valley.
The Verdict: 6.7 out of 10
State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition is an ambitious game that lacks the level of polish fans expected in this re-release. While the game is still great, all of the bugs and technical issues are much harder to ignore this time around.
Jacob Dekker is a Senior Writer for MONG. This could be the last thing he ever writes for MONG. If you want to see where he goes next, follow him on Twitter.