Undead Labs is coming out swinging, or lurching out moaning, as the case may be, for State of Decay 2. At this year's E3 executive producer Mark Coates opened a presentation on the sequel to 2013's State of Decay by saying 'Our goal is really to create the ultimate zombie survival fantasy game. We want the game to allow you to live out your idea of the best way to survive a zombie apocalypse.'
The argument is that what with all the zombie stories these days, from World War Z and the Zombie Survival Guide, to Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later, The Walking Dead and beyond, everyone has their own plan in the event of the outbreak (some of us have two, actually, one for super fast and aggressive rage virus type zombies, and another for the Romero style shamblers). State of Decay 2 aims to provide you with the framework to put your plans to the test. How sturdy it is remains to be seen.
You play as a community of survivors, with the goal being to stay as survivors as long as possible. A big part of the game is working on your survivor base, fortifying and kitting out somewhere you can all stay. The formula hasn't changed too much from the original State of Decay, but it's become more detailed.
The survivors you meet are generated from a pool of over a thousand different traits — procedurally, not randomly, so they make sense. A character with asthma, for example, would not be able to have great cardio. I asked if it was possible to encounter a character with no positive traits, who would be nothing but a detriment to your community, and was told yes. Yes you can. It might be you have to take someone like that as part of gaining access to an area or resources you want. And kicking that asshole out of your community will make everyone else unhappy for a while. You might favour playing as one survivor, especially one who has good combat skills who can go out scavenging relatively safely, who becomes a hero for the community, a key member who buffs stats for your base.
Some of the detail in this system is really cool, especially as character traits interact more finely with the base now. Matt, the community hero in the presentation we saw, snored, which reduced the amount of sleep everyone got, but his hero status meant that the labour score was increased. Labour is a resource affected by traits too — if a survivor is lazy, your labour will be lower. You need labour to build more facilities on your base, like a garden for regular food supplies, but for that you need a base with an outdoor plot and a survivor with the gardener skill… and so on.
While there have been updates to the combat and scavenging systems, for the sequel Undead Labs has been focusing more on these character and base systems. They're ones that create more of the RPG elements, though the mix of third person zombie killing next to detailed menu screens does seem to weirdly blur the line between surviving the apocalypse and micromanaging the apocalypse, between RPG and city building sim -- though some of the complexities are mitigated by menu systems that look more streamlined and organised than before.The base menu in particular is described as a 'one stop shop.'
Unfortunately, you'll have to leave the safety of the base sometimes, but a big addition for State of Decay 2 is co-op multiplayer. While the game doesn't specifically let you start a base and play through as a shared game, you can jump into other games to help out (and vice versa). Alongside this is a new system for on-the-spot matchmaking: send up a flare and the game will pull in a player who's happy to help out a random stranger.
Though all the new and updated 'dynamic systems' and 'emergent behaviour' is still in development, what they're happy to show so far indicates player feedback has been listened to. Undead Labs still has a good half a year and then some to polish the looks and tweak issues with their systems, so if your specific jam is a really detailed zombie survival simulations were you can mack people with the door of a moving car, mark the first half of next year in your calendar.