State of Decay was a god send for fans of both open world games and zombies in general. I remember the excitement surrounding it at the time of its announcement, amongst me and my zombie loving peers. Developers Undead Labs in conjunction with Microsoft Studios released their offering in the summer of 2013 receiving many positive reviews from critics and players alike. But man, was I to be in for a personal let down, I was a victim of my own internal irrational hype machine with hope for the peak open world zombie experience in my heart. I couldn’t wait to play this game with my friends and this was the main reason I pre-ordered it, to play it with them.
Well as always with most things in life, the proof was in the pudding and it left a bitter taste in my mouth. I’m not going to say it was a bad game, objectively it’s a good game and to many it was even greater than, it just left me wanting more and I feel had so much more missed potential.
However I’m not exactly fully qualified to give a proper critique, as I gave up on it early on owing to how 2D it felt to me. It was a good enough game, ran well, looked nice and was pretty damn smooth, with some good mechanics. Where it was lacking meant it was not enough to hold me there as a player, I didn’t feel the urge to invest my time into it. The campaign seemed short as from what I know I’d almost finished it even with my lacklustre playing. What progression there was, felt almost pointless to me beyond my own personal progression I hadn’t seen any real fruits of my labour. Despite my fading memories of my 2013 gameplay I’ll try and explain what it did well but why that wasn’t enough for me personally.
The concept and story was all there and done extremely well. The zombie apocalypse survival fantasy was the best aspect of it, creating homesteads for survivor companions you rescue. Scavenging to feed and equip yourself and all those extra mouths you accumulate, even down to keeping the group happy with a morale system as well as upgrading your base to help raise their skill levels. That was pretty neat and something I liked very much, but to me it felt like it had little bearing on my game except for having an AI squad which could and should have been some of my human pals. I’ve been told if you died as your character it meant perma-death and you have to choose from one of the survivors for who you will play as next. I like that aspect of it thinking about it retrospectively, the problem was I never died. I played it long enough to know I wasn’t fully enjoying it despite it being decent but I didn’t play long enough to die, even though I completed quite a few missions.
The map was quite small and the game therefore felt quite limited in scope, it wasn’t very big for an open world map, although big enough for what the game was I suppose. It was overall so limited that it almost made the great selection of vehicles seem a tad overkill when you consider the wastelands of say for example, Fallout, with their vastness and varied areas all traversed on foot. Take a look at the map below and you’ll see what I mean. Well if you agree with me that is…
There was some great horde mechanics although sometimes at the beginning they would be already forming at areas you needed to go, which made it quite difficult at low levels. The special enemies were varied and fun to fight. Such as the Feral zombie and the Juggernaut pictured below. I think you can guess which is which, the feral was the highest threat in the game if you fell foul of their ambushes. The Juggernaut relies on brute strength and high health, naturally, slow but powerful. Some good variation there. Adding some nice variety in fighting style and tactics.
To get to the point my humble opinions is, it was a good game with an even better concept that was squandered owing to not being wider in scope and depth, failing to deliver on its’ potential as well as one major promise. The promise of multiplayer and co-op was the very reason I had purchased this game so eagerly. Now I understand nothing about game development except it’s costly and difficult so I can forgive the developers, of course. However when I read the news that they had scrapped the multiplayer we were told would be a part of the game, it became terribly apparent there wasn’t enough to hold me there to play on alone. I had other multiplayer games to play and frankly far more engrossing solo campaigns. I personally enjoy living out a games experience with friends and it all felt a bit hollow from that point forward. It was just a few brains short of a zombie picnic without my friends and co-op mode in general.
That’s where state of Decay 2 comes in, set to be released on Xbox and Microsoft this coming May the 22nd. It really looks as if Undead Labs have set out to fix the issues I took with the original. To put things back on track (in my eyes) for the series, in a way that fulfils more of its’ potential and redeems itself for the hurdles its’ predecessor fell at. It’s a game where the survival horror fantasy aspect is once again key but most importantly, it’s going to be multiplayer, for real this time! Check out the video below, this game is all about co-operation with the games host controlling their own base and those who join their game having the incentive to help build up this hosts world as they get to keep items and resources that they scavenge. Meaning this game will have a mutually beneficial community focus and just add more dimensions to the experience of gameplay with a team of humans, as well as the option to solo play of course.
In the words of Doug Williams, Art Director at Undead Labs speaking on the upgrade in platforms and engines says this meant they could achieve more with this game overall as compared to the first;
“new maps, more characters, more cars, more zombies, more simulation everything was a huge bump up.”
Jeff Strain who is the Studio Head added;
“it does give us the ability to create a smoother richer more graphically pleasing world for the players to play in.”
Overall from what I’ve researched this is true, it is definitely going to be bigger, better and more of what State of Decay could have and should have been! There are three more areas than before all the same size as the original, widening it in scope and giving more to the exploration, scavenging and base building aspects. You can build outposts that work in tandem with your main base in the area, base upgrading now requires you defend it from hordes as the noise of the building work attracts the wandering undead. So it seems there are some cool development in mechanics that add to the survival simulation aspect of it all which was already pretty decent before although there was definite room for improvement. There are also enclaves of other survivors that you can meet, trade and garner influence with, which allows you to get access to drones and other such aid by radioing them. Further developing the necessity for interacting with the world around you where before you felt able to skirt around that aspect, now it seems too rewarding to ignore. Also the new night mode looks pretty damn terrifying and will surely add more to the horror side of things, something I welcome as it seems to have been done so well that perhaps I won’t even be able to go out from my base at night without a human companion, the big scaredy that I am.
If you’d like to see a more in-depth look at these mechanics check out these videos below on the base-building and new survivor system aspects;
It seems like it’s going to be an all-around improvement this time round so if you were a fan, you’re going to be a bigger fan. If you weren’t a massive fan like me, then perhaps this will satiate your ungrateful and unquenchable thirst for more to fulfil the hype in your head. Here’s hoping, as they have stated they are aiming for a less canned experience and more of a unique one chosen by the player and moulded by them and their peers. Something I believe the original would have benefited from massively.
Undead Labs have really taken on board a lot of feedback from fans on what has worked well and what hasn’t worked or was missing all together. It really feels like they’ve listened and are going to bring out a game that will be an even bigger hit, although I’m going to refrain from over hyping it until I get my first bites of game play. We’ll see if I gobble it up or spit it out and I’ll get back to you all on that one come its’ release. I’m definitely looking forward to it albeit in hesitant anticipation.