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State Of Decay Pre-Review Notes: The Best Zombie Simulation To Date?
Well, at the very, very least, State Of Decay is a game to tide you over until The Last Of Us arrives.
But at the very most, from the eight or so hours I’ve put into the game, State Of Decay may be the zombie experience to last you for many months, if not a year or more, to come.
This is an incredibly complete package. A complete package which frankly seems to be one of the more innovative zombie games out there.
Rather than tack on a forced narrative to introduce you to the world, or give a slow introduction to its systems, UndeadLabs’ new zombie title State of Decay plunges straight into its survival gameplay from the get-go. There’s no cutscene to introduce it. There’s no long or detailed tutorial (though perhaps there should be.) The game isn’t about narrative or schlocky action- this is a game about survival gameplay and simulation.
What we’ve played so far is ambitious. Thrillingly so. Rather than tell you exactly where to go and what to do, State Of Decay pretty clearly gives you absolute freedom immediately. If you want to start a new game and just screw you partner, go explore the open world, you’re absolutely free to do so. As it is, starting as a new player, you’ll generally do what the game tells you to. Which is still a compelling case of meeting other survivors to increase your chances and to help scavenge for supplies.
It is the little things which make this title seem special. As I said, there is no intro cutscene. Even better, you’re not forced into dialogue or scenes with characters you meet. Indeed, when you meet the first other survivor aside from your starting duo, he simply says a couple of words to you about finding others, then says “see you later.” Ignore him if you want. Help him if you want. Dialogue is never more than about thirty seconds to a minute long. Then you’re sent off to find vantage points, find survivors, find supplies or weapons, and kill zombies.
And more importantly- it feels liberating.
I haven’t felt freedom handed to me on a plate in a game like this in ages. I didn’t even feel it with titles like Skyrim or Sleeping Dogs. Sure, Skyrim throws you a whole world at your fingertips, but in reality that world is a cardboard frontage with relatively pre-set enemies wandering it. The world is there already, you’re just walking through it. State Of Decay’s world is a mystery. A huge mystery- you don’t know what is ahead, as the map is only a minimally useful roadmap. Zombies could be anywhere and could bunch up on you.
The five classes of resources that you need to keep your community going (and happy) are generally randomized and could be anywhere. They are Food, Medicine, Materials, Ammo and Fuel. These could be in any of the buildings or settlements in the game- any of them. You really have to stock up and go for scavengeng trips to find them, which feels emergent. The game never tells you to, although NPC survivors suggest things to look for or that are needed.
Unlike other games where resources are in clearly defined places, or aren’t present at all, scavenging in State Of Decay is risky, thrilling, and necessary. If you drive into a town, crash into a house, and speed-scavenge the rooms (by holding Lb while you scavenge), you’ll attract more and more zombies, who will probably kill you. Attract one of the random, wandering hordes (ten or more zombies in a group), and you better source a car and run.
Sneaking really, appears to be the name of the game, and State Of Decay’s stealth system is surprisingly robust. As many might know, I’m something of a stealth game fanatic. Indeed, the thing which has caught me off guard the most about State Of Decay is it’s excellent stealth gameplay.
Suffice to say, it feels a lot like how The Last Of Us looks like it’ll play. You hold B to crouch down and lower you profile- and often find yourself hiding in bushes while zombies saunter past, or crouching behind garden walls surveying the area for dangers.
Like FarCry 3 earlier this year, open world stealth works really well in this game’s favour. It adds tension and a sense of believability to the survivalist proceedings.
But mainly: it’s necessity. You need to survive. You need to build a community who can take care of each other (with cooks, leaders, scavenging specialists, fighting specialists, medical specialists.) And to do this you don’t want to waste necessary weaponry or health items; so sneaking past zombies is required.
State Of Decay is the closest thing I’ve played to a full-blown zombie simulation. It captures the fun of living in a post-apocalyptic open world, and the freedom that comes with it, but it has also captured the tough decision-making and survival challenge that comes with this world.
The first settlement you come to if you follow the story is in a church just off a small town- every building in the town is explorable and unique, every vehicle drivable, every house capable of being made into an outpost. Woodland is lush- easily competing with Red Dead Redemption or a Fable game. Real time shadows look great, and I’m not usually bothered by that sort of thing. Interiors look realistically scavenged and slapdash. Even the characters look excellent.
This does not look like a download-only game which takes 1.89GB of HDD space. This looks like a retail game on a 6GB disc.
Though there are quite a few crazy graphical hitches. If a car gets flipped in any way, the physics totally wonk out and usually fling your character(s) out of the car. And zombies have a bizarre predisposition towards spawning inside walls, and clipping into stuff everywhere. One time I walked out into a wide street in the South-Westermost town, and all the way down the street were zombies stood impotently half-inside cement walls.
Your Home residence is initially this church- but as you progress you can choose your own next residence. Well-walled houses or other large buildings can be used, and this is where the game becomes your own. As long as you have enough people, you can move to another location, I chose a Walking Dead and “Influence”can be upgraded with sleeping quarters, cooking areas, medical rooms, training rooms, and more.
- To build these you need the Materials resource.
- To keep people fed you need the Food resource.
- To stop people from dying from illness you need medicine.
- In order to keep fighting off zombies, you need Ammo.
- To keep making molotov cocktails, and to keep electric generators going, you need Fuel.
And all of these resources decrease on a daily basis. For example, you lose the amount of food per day equal to your population. So for your community to survive, you have to keep scavenging for food goods. This leads the game to procedurally create scenarios similar to those found in Telltale’s incredible The Walking Dead series.
If you’re looking for something to tide you over until The Last Of Us, State Of Decay is your game. The way you crouch into cover, hide from zombies, sneak around, and then when the action kicks off it’s deadly and pretty violent.
But anyway- we’ll save our views to that alone. Expect the full review in coming days.