As we are all quite aware, zombie games are a rare breed in modern times. Even rarer than a zombie game is a truly great zombie game. In that latter category we’ve recently had Day Z, The Walking Dead – the good adventure one, not the shitty action one, Project Zomboid and a newcomer in State of Decay. Does that give away my impressions? Possibly so, but it’s not all freshly reincarnated roses.
But how could it be? This is, after all, an early access. We can’t expect everything to be shambling along as expected. Although I would have hoped, even at this early stage, that some of the expected things would have risen up to take a munch out of the brains of PC gaming. The two main things I’m a bit sad to have missing are quite key and will most likely get sorted pretty quickly. The first is the most essential, keyboard and mouse support. I’m fine using my wired Xbox 360 controller. I’ve used it for countless games in the past, usually when I’ve had no choice because they were actually on the Xbox 360 or were more suited to it, Super Meat Boy is a good example.
Of course the guys (and gals) at Undead Labs are working on this, which is a good thing, I’m just a little surprised it wasn’t the first thing to sort out when porting over to the PC. Although much can be said as the same for graphical choices. When entering the options you’re fixed to two aspect ratios, 4:3 and 16:9 with limited options therein. I ended up having to settle on 16:9-720p because any higher would put part of the diary, menus and subtitles off of the screen.
For all sense and purpose this is still a work in progress. This will account for those two omissions, as well as some of the bugs and other minor irritations I found going through. The major one being that my Y key for general selecting would stop working and require a restart of the game. No idea if this was a problem on the 360 version or not, but it is here and can be attributed to it being early days on a new version.
What can’t be attributed to this is the godawful pathfinding when it gets to the fairground home. It’s strange that none of the others had this problem, but when sending out runners for supplies they would be fine until they got back, then they’d run into anything outside the gate entrance of the fairground, taking absolutely ages to get back in. I had one guy who’d been out to grab some food, he spent about thirty-forty seconds sticking to the wall, popping back about five meters instantly and repeating until the game decided it was time to simply teleport him past the wall. This happened nearly every time.
Sure, these minor things put a slight damper on events, but for the whole this is an great and thrilling experience. The use of a world that carries on, to an extent, even when you’re not there is a great choice. It means that you have added incentive to take a day or two off (as if you’ll stop playing!) only after making sure your base is in good condition and stocked up well.
This permanence also contributes to the thrill of State of Decay as it also applies to death. If you die, that’s it. It also means that you have to have a host of people to choose from, because death is inevitable. What also lends to the feeling is the fact that the people you can control, they are you and me. Just average people with little to no military training, with exceptions of course. As soon as you forget that the zombies will be ready to pounce.
Not only that, you will eventually be required to move your home base because supplies are finite. The starting small town is sufficient for a while but you will have quickly plundered it. This also has to come into consideration when picking a new home to occupy. Will you take something nice and safe like a farmhouse, but is quite far away from other areas that may contain vital supplies, or do you move into a big truck depot on the edge of a big city, risking more attacks but being closer to the supplies that may be essential later on.
The only major problem with the permanence working on everything is that, due to the limited size of the valley you inhabit, it runs out quicker than it feels it should. My feelings on state of decay can be summarised simply by repeating what I said to a friend:
“SoD would probably be my favorite game ever if it was 5x bigger, with a few more interesting home sites and either more NPCs or it being multiplayer”
Very few games really grasp the tension that should be the highlight of any zombie apocalypse. In this, life is fleeting and a constant struggle. This is something State of Decay captures better than most to have come before it, the only one I can think of better is Project Zomboid, and something that can be applauded no matter the circumstances.
Even with the irritations mentioned earlier, this is excellent and offers a decent length off time in a strong setting. 27 hours was the length of my first playthrough. By no means was I rushing, but at the same time I wasn’t lagging behind and ignoring the main missions. I would imagine it can be done in as quick as 8-12 hours playing through the story, but the real fun comes in building up your band of survivors and if you felt like it, you could probably get a good 40 hours exploring all of the map and doing everything.
Eventually, your enjoyment will come down to how much you like to faff about with no real goal. I love to, so I enjoy State of Decay quite a lot already. It has a large room for improvements and the world could do with being a bit more interesting, but it’s still worth the entrance fee.