State of Decay
Developer: Undead Labs Release Date: June 5, 2013
Publisher: Microsoft Stuidos
ESRB Rating: N/A
Platforms: Xbox 360, PC
MSRP: US$20.00

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Zombies have become more famous in society than just about anything, and ever since George A. Romero introduced us to his particular brand of undead zombies back in 1968, these fierce creatures have been forever ingrained in our culture. From there, the next logical step was to create video games based on zombies, and we’ve seen our fair share of them over the years. Now Undead Labs, an indie game developer from Seattle, Washington, brings us State of Decay, an open-world, survival zombie game. What supposedly sets this game apart from others are its vast survival system, encouragement of stealth, and killable main characters. So how well does State of Decay actually achieve these admirable goals? Read on below to find out.

You begin the game as Marcus, an athletic hiker who works at a local store. Things devolve very quickly, and soon you’ll find yourself in the midst of your first zombie fight. As you progress through the game, you’ll eventually end up at your first home site, the Church of the Ascension. A lot of what happens is fairly predictable, and the game follows a lot of common zombie horror themes and tropes, though it does capture that atmosphere almost perfectly. Really, though, if you’re interested in a vast storyline with hundreds of unique lines of dialogue and an intricate plot, look elsewhere because Decay really isn’t your game. The ending, without giving away any spoilers, was a little disappointing, and felt rushed and overall anti-climactic. Still, it’s hard to nitpick when the game offers so many different choices to get to that ending.

The visuals are really nothing all that special, though Undead Labs uses the dreary coloring effectively to create its dreadful atmosphere. There were times, however, when I found myself laughing during certain cut scenes that were supposed to be scary, simply because the graphics didn’t invoke any sense of terror, feeling more so hokey than anything else. This game is really a matter of substance over style, though, because it’s clear that a lot of the budget went into gameplay mechanics rather than top-of-the-line graphics, which makes sense for a company this size.

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Which was money well-spent, because gameplay is probably the strongest area of the game. As a survivor, you’re forced to find other survivors as you explore the zombie-infested map and gather supplies necessary to keep going. Your supplies, such as ammo and food, are used up daily and if you don’t continue building these necessities by searching through buildings and houses, you’ll find your shelter losing occupants. Your playable character also gets tired over time, and you’re encouraged to switch from Marcus to other survivors, who you can find and bring in as you explore the vast hostile environments. This allows the exhausted character to get some much-needed rest for use later. As was mentioned earlier, these characters can be killed, and if they die, you will never see them again in that particular play through, so if running gung-ho into a horde of zombies is your thing, there may be undesired consequences.

As you kill zombies or explore abandoned houses, you’ll gain levels in certain areas, depending on your methods. If you use a gun, then your gun level will increase, but if you use melee, then that level increases, instead. It’s really all about player preference, though it’s not recommended to use firearms near large groups of the undead, because the noise does draw the creatures to your position. It’s clear that the people at Undead Labs intended for stealth and avoiding the zombies altogether to be the smart and popular strategy to use, though you certainly don’t have to play that way. This system is mostly successful, though there are certain situations where being stealthy doesn’t really matter all that much, and it can become a little frustrating.

The difficulty level depends entirely on your play style, though if you find yourself coming up on a zombie horde with little to no chance of escape, things can get a little dicey. Zombies by themselves are easy to kill, but in a large group, death is almost certain if you charge in with only a melee weapon on your character. It’s situations like this where a firearm is recommended, but make sure you aim for the head, because ammo can be a rare commodity. Sometimes the difficulty of the game is rage-inducing, especially when a playable character dies that you’ve put a lot of time and effort into, not to mention leveling up their skills. And with no way to change the difficulty settings, this may frustrate some of the more casual gamers. This appears to be Undead Labs’ goal, however, creating an environment much like a real-life zombie outbreak that would have no regard for difficulty settings.

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The voice acting is decent enough, and the actors have obvious talent, but there’s just not enough uniqueness to the dialogue. For instance, when you bring back supplies to the safe house, you’re often repeating the same lines over and over about what you’ve found, and NPC replies are usually the same, too. Plus, when you switch characters, they often use the same lines of speech, and character diversity and development gets lost in the shuffle because of it. Once again, this appears to be a budgetary concern, and it’s clear that the studio didn’t spend all of their money on a next-level script. Still, there are moments when depth can be found, such as with Lilly, who suffers from Lupus and really brings a sense of individuality, despite her overly repeated lines of dialogue.

The musical score is eerie, but never really that present throughout the game. This makes it much more effective when it is used in large doses. In fact, there are some areas that are only remotely creepy because of the soundtrack, and it was well done overall. The sound effects, especially those of zombies groaning or growling, are nice, but a little cliché in overall delivery, even if I was constantly looking behind me whenever I heard the faintest hint of a zombie closing in. It’s effective as a gameplay mechanic, but not terribly original or creative.

The biggest fault found throughout is the game’s bug problem, which can become major annoyances during gameplay. There are moments when you’ll find yourself sneaking past a horde of zombies, making little to no noise, and it won’t matter. The zombies will still see you and charge. There are also times when the game doesn’t register that you’re hiding in a bush, and the undead will attack anyway. These are extremely aggravating bugs and glitches, but by no means the only ones you’ll experience. It’s clear that State of Decay is far from a finished product, though I will say that Undead Labs is constantly updating, and eliminating bugs as they become aware of them.

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State of Decay is ambitious, well thought-out, and extremely fun overall, even with an unfathomable amount of bugs. Supposedly, the game is a prelude to a full-blown, open-world zombie MMO game where players can survive and kill the undead together in groups. If that’s the case, then I’m even more excited about State of Decay, because it’s so obviously built to be inhabited by many players, all trying to survive. Although, at this point and time, it has no co-operative mode, which was reportedly cancelled, though future games in the series will have multiplayer. Still, the game is not a masterpiece in any sense of the word, and it would have been nice if the studio had finished the game a little more before releasing it. Having said that, I still highly recommend the game to any fan of horror zombie survival games, simply because of the involving mechanics, unpredictability, and its high replay value.

Story: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Graphics: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Gameplay: ★★★★★★★★★☆
Audio: ★★★★★★★½☆☆
Balance/Difficulty: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Intangibles: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆
Overall: ★★★★★★★½☆☆

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