State of Decay Review

State of Decay screenshot
State of Decay screenshot

It’s ugly. The frame rate is terrible. It routinely stutters. The clipping is appalling. The cars handle like bars of soap. And it’s one of the most expensive games on all of Xbox Live. Guess what, though. State Of Decay might just be your favourite game of all time.

In some ways it feels like the realisation of a dream – one that’s no doubt been shared by a good chunk of the gaming population. A fully-realised, open-world, zombie survival simulation; one that’s expertly blended with RPG systems, interpersonal relationships and resource management. It’s hardcore, unique, and – in a rarity for these days – single player.

Not that it gets off to the best start. The action begins midway through a scrap with a group of Zeds, as they’re called, with player character Marcus helping another pair of survivors smash in the rotting brains of a handful of windmilling undead. During this opening skirmish, the framerate routinely drops into single figures, the camera sputters as you try to rotate it into position, and the combat appears to have as much subtlety as Joe Pasquale.

After that, State Of Decay bombards you with an overwhelming battering of information, all of which appears to have no bearing on what you’re actually doing (ransacking a house and walking along a river) and only serves to baffle you into near submission. If I hadn’t been contractually required to continue, there’s every chance I’d have turned the thing off.

I'm thankful I didn’t. After a couple of hours, State Of Decay actually begins. You and your group of survivors move into a church in the center of the sizeable open world of Trumball Valley, and begin about filling it with resources, food, and other survivors.

State of Decay screenshot

You see, as much as State Of Decay is a game about hitting zombies in the face, it’s also a kind of management sim. Your home camp has an overall morale which you must work to maintain, by scavenging for ammo, fuel, materials and grub, as well as building medical facilities and sleeping areas for your ever-expanding crew to use.

At first, all this entails are simple recce missions. Still playing as Marcus, you scout out the local houses and search them for gear, bringing back anything you find. The combat is fine – melee heavy and satisfying, with little finesse. Quickly, though, you can start assigning other teammates to run out and pick up the stuff themselves, as long as you’ve located it first. You’ll build relationships with these people as you help them out on missions, and once they become a ‘friend’, you can actually swap over and take control of them.

Eventually, the idea is to rotate through a crop of leveled-up characters, taking on missions, helping new survivors out, improving your base and generally having as much of a chance as possible against the relentless undead horde. Any danger of monotony is eradicated by State Of Decay’s steady turnover of missions. And this is where the magic really starts to happen.

Like Dead Rising, many missions are time-sensitive, so they’ll appear on your map, but it’s up to you whether or not you take them on. The way the game’s structured, too, means that it’ll be impossible to cover everything. If you’re the anal type who needs to clear every last thing off a quest log – you’re out of luck. You’ll be dead by dawn.

Every time you head out of camp to take on a narrative mission (there is a story, but most of State Of Decay’s best survival tales happen naturally), you’ll inevitably be interrupted by something else and embark on a sprawling misadventure of death, destruction and hurried, terrified escapism, and you’ll end up back home having completely forgotten why you left in the first place.

There’s real consequence to your actions, too. Death is permanent, and while your player character has the ability to take damage and revive him or herself, cohorts can die. Cohorts that may well have been a player character just a few minutes ago – someone you’ve spent hours with, who you’ve leveled-up and geared up. One wrong move, and they’re gone for good.

It’s not just binary life and death you need to worry about either. As morale drops – which it inevitably will do (especially if you turn the game off with your home base in a poor state – State Of Decay keeps going without you) – survivors in your camp start to bicker. If you don’t stay on top of things, your whole camp could fall apart, leaving you without the teammates you need to survive.

State of Decay screenshot

The whole game’s a delicious, threatening balancing act. You become attached to your characters and protective of your base. Play it too safe, and you’ll soon run out of supplies. Stretch your resources too thin, and everyone’s going to die. It’s a shifting, malleable world, and in so many ways, the ultimate zombie game.

It’s funny: before State Of Decay, the last title I played was the startling, generation-defining The Last Of Us. Compared side by side, there’s no contest – State Of Decay looks like it was drawn in Crayola by a three-year-old compared to Naughty Dog’s game. Weirdly, though, State Of Decay is in many ways more impressive . It’s certainly more ambitious..

And while I’d hesitate to recommend it above The Last Of Us – which is infinitely more immediate and broad-reaching – there will be a decent-sized section of the gaming community who’ll play this game for hours and hours. Also – it may not be pretty, but credit must go to the solid dialogue, decent voice acting and excellent musical score. Undead Labs have concentrated all efforts and budgetary concerns where it matters.

State Of Decay is an amazing videogame, albeit one hiding beneath one of the ugliest, creakiest engines we’ve seen in some time. It’s a complex, inaccessible beast, but one of the most rewarding and compelling open-world games in years. This is The Walking Dead: The Simulator. And it’s every bit as good as that sounds.


Version Tested: Xbox 360

Played for 15 hours

9 / 10

  • Complex, rewarding simulation
  • Emergent storytelling, high drama
  • Looks like ass

Click above for enlarged State of Decay Screenshots

11 Comments

To add your comment, please login or register

User Comments

StoneKeeper's Avatar

StoneKeeper

I really enjoyed this game. I'm on my second playthrough now but i don't think it is a 9/10 game. Apart from the frame rate problem and its uglyness, I have another problem with the game.

I don't think the games characters where very engaging. The only reason you gain a bond with the characters is because you play as them and as you play as them they get better at fighting, running etc. I think the game suffered from this. In the main story, I found characters seemed to just roll with what was happening, without giving much thought into what they were doing and didn't really react to events or people in a way that fitted the situation they were in. I just found the characters very robotic. There were little scripted scenes where the characters show a little human emotion but they were still quite wooden performances.

I would definitely recommend it though. The gameplay is very good and there is much room for replayability.
Posted 13:52 on 21 June 2013
Whitewolf's Avatar

Whitewolf

ahhh dammit no ps3 version :(
Posted 15:48 on 19 June 2013
Arhke's Avatar

Arhke

I'll wait for the PC version in hope that it's better technically.
Posted 13:17 on 19 June 2013
dudester's Avatar

dudester

Good shall wait for that version.
Posted 09:41 on 19 June 2013
Bloodstorm's Avatar

Bloodstorm@ dudester

Yea, it is now. Wasn't originally.
Posted 00:16 on 19 June 2013
dudester's Avatar

dudester

Am I right in thinking this is coming to pc?
Posted 19:45 on 18 June 2013
KamSage's Avatar

KamSage

Admittedly, it's one of those games that charms your pants off because it's in the gameplay and your actions that really affect things.
Fair enough the game is buggy, and as grubby as a launch title for the original Xbox, but if I spent a week of gaming to play an arcade game, it really means it's good fun, ha.
Posted 19:25 on 18 June 2013
Krime's Avatar

Krime@ Bloodstorm

Say thx to DayZ, this game brought new life to this genre
Posted 17:29 on 18 June 2013
Bloodstorm's Avatar

Bloodstorm

You forgot the cross to "it's another zombie game, WHEN WILL THEY STOP???"
Posted 17:19 on 18 June 2013
FantasyMeister's Avatar

FantasyMeister

The demo indicated to me that the 1600 MSP price was roughly double what I'd be happy paying for it.

And that someone, somewhere, needs to create a new enemy type, although admittedly zombies tick all the right boxes. It's a shame you can't make them semi-intelligent just for added thrills because they'd end up being about as fun as the enemy AI in Crysis 2.
Posted 16:26 on 18 June 2013
dazzadavie's Avatar

dazzadavie

Heard so many good things that a 9 here confirms I must try this out.
Also hearing about the sandbox mode and maybe co-op being added as dlc helps too.
Posted 15:54 on 18 June 2013

Game Stats

State of Decay
9
Out of 10
State of Decay
  • Complex, rewarding simulation
  • Emergent storytelling, high drama
  • Looks like ass
Agree? Disagree? Get Involved!
Release Date: 05/06/2013
Platforms: Xbox 360 , PC
Developer: Undead Labs
Publisher: Microsoft
Genre: Action
Rating: TBC
Site Rank: 275 2
View Full Site