State of Decay is a third person open world zombie survival game. It began life as an Xbox Arcade title before recently being ported to PC. It’s certainly an ambitious title with a lot of cool ideas packed into it. Unfortunately, the execution of a lot of those ideas is slightly flawed in one way or another, which sullies the overall experience.
The game is set in a fairly decently sized sandbox. There are small
towns, farms and industrial sites to explore. Nearly every building
can be entered seamlessly without any loading screens as you scavenge
for supplies. There’s a great attention to detail throughout the
environments, and there’s a decent little selection of vehicles to
get about in.
It’s not entirely a free-form sandbox game, as there is a central
storyline to follow and an ending, but there’s a large degree of
player choice in how they want to reach that final goal. There’s
also no central character as such, as you switch between different
members of your community – and you’ll have to, at times, as
people grow tired and need to rest. This idea is interesting, but a little flawed in practice. Playable
characters can level up their abilities, so you generally only want
to stick with one or two of them in order to max out their skills,
and as a result, there’s very little incentive to keep switching to
new people as you’ll find yourself at a disadvantage.
After moving beyond the opening tutorial section, the game really
opens up. You have a home base which is where you’ll gather other
survivors and store your supplies. You start small, but as the game
progresses you’ll gain the option to relocate your home base to a
variety of other locations. This base can be customised and upgraded
over time by acquiring the necessary materials. But the base also
consumes a daily amount of resources depending on how many other
survivors you are attempting to support. The more people, the more
mouths to feed.
This should raise the interesting dilemma of whether you should allow
more survivors into your community, as they will drain your limited
resources. And certainly, as some survivors have ‘key’ skills
over others (chef, mechanic, etc), who you choose to let in should be
a tough call. But unfortunately there’s no real reason not to
invite anyone and everyone to join you, as resources are plentiful
and easy to come by. Providing you keep your home base stocked up
with a couple of regular supply runs, running low on supplies is
never an issue.
I really liked the choice of various bases, and the customisation
options they support. It lends a good degree of replayability to the
title. Although the main ‘quest’ can be beaten in around 15 hours, there’s scope to replay it in a different manner, at a
different base with different survivors. The bulk of the game, however, is taken up by the near constant
stream of side missions to complete.
There’s a decent variety –
rescue a survivor, clear out an infestation, deal with a horde, find
a resource, hunt a special zombie etc, but due to the frequency with
which they crop up (sometimes 2-3 every ten minutes) they quickly
grow repetitive. You can ignore most of them without any serious
penalty, but some of them are time based and a failure to act on your
part can result in the deaths of other survivors.
There’s nothing wrong with that at all in concept, but once again
the execution is off, as you may suddenly get a flurry of two or even
three calls for help at once, in addition to the main quest mission
you’re trying to complete. It all gets a little irritating as you
find yourself racing from one side mission location to the next in
order to stay on top of things. It’s not hard to do, it just gets very annoying and you feel like
you’re spending more time babysitting your community members than
you should be. It would have been great to assign other people to
deal with certain missions in a similar way to how you can call them
to pick up supplies you’ve discovered.
This issue really was my biggest irritation with the game. You can’t
even stop at your base for five minutes to plan your next move
without another couple of bonus missions appearing, and ignoring them
isn’t always an option if you want to keep everyone alive.
My other major concern which ties into this, is the persistent world
feature. Even when you’re not playing SoD, things continue to
happen in your absence, so when you return, you may find a flurry of
messages and new missions to undertake. Now, I do like this idea
(although I think it should also be an option) but again, the
execution is a little flawed.
Even leaving my base in good order, stocked with supplies and
everyone healthy, I may return to the game the next day to find
someone sick, or someone missing, and then whereas I was planning on
hunting down a certain resource or continuing one of the main
missions, I find myself dealing with all the drama I missed while I
wasn’t even playing. To make matters worse, even more side objectives will then crop up,
and you find yourself forced into what feels like an endless series
of repetitive ‘bonus’ missions. I say ‘bonus’ but when they
sometimes have penalties if you simply ignore them, that’s not
really the case.
Combat in the game is fine. You have a nice variety of melee based
attacks. Guns are a little slow and clunky, but okay. It’s a bit
easy at times, especially if you take other survivors with you, but
travelling alone certainly requires more thought and care on behalf
of the player, as getting swarmed with zombies can happen quicker
than you might think.
The real fun, of course, comes from the sandbox experience. A small
example – scavenging for supplies in a house at dusk, I stumble
across a zed. It surprises me and I let out a shot. I wasn’t using
a suppressor and the sound alerts other zeds outside. They begin to
swarm towards the house. I barricade the windows, but they force
their way inside. I try to kill them as they come in, but more sound
attracts more zeds, and I’m quickly being overrun. I’m out of
ammo and the doorways are blocked, so I dash towards a nearby window,
smashing through it and rolling away to safety.
The zeds follow and I run, heading for home base. I’m nearly out of
stamina and I’m stumbling along, the zeds close behind me now.
Suddenly, gunshots ring out and the zeds behind me fall. The guy on
the watchtower I constructed at home base is covering me as I
approach. I get inside and drop off the supplies.
It’s moments like this which really make SoD a supremely enjoyable and compelling experience. It’s such a shame the player isn’t given the time to really explore and experience the sandbox, as the game seems intent on ramming a constant stream of ‘bonus’ objectives down their throat.
Overall, SoD is a really solid, enjoyable title. It’s a title with a lot of good ideas, but sadly all of them are slightly flawed in one way or another. I’m not opposed to the story based missions at all, or even the side objectives, as they give the player a degree of direction in a world that would otherwise descend into a repetitive scavenger hunt. But they seriously needed to reduce their frequency as they quickly overwhelm the player, becoming repetitive chores to complete in order to clear out the constantly updating journal.
I’ve talked for longer than I expected to about State of Decay, but even so, there’s a lot of cool little features I haven’t touched upon. It’s a game I really enjoyed to play, but was also incredibly frustrated by. With just a few tweaks here and there, this really could have been one of the best titles I’d played this year. As it is, it comes close, but not quite close enough.
Tuesday, 1 October 2013
I haven’t said anything about my writing for a bit, not since I released the Zero Sample series. As you may have guessed, I took a small break to enjoy the release of Rome 2, but I haven’t been entirely idle. I’ve been doing another edit of a book that will be going out to publishers in the near future (TLDK). That’s done now, so I guess it’s time to focus on a new project.
I think I said at the start of this year I wanted to overhaul a couple of my existing projects – AO & NI. That’s still the plan, but I need to think more about it. Both require fairly substantial changes, and I don’t want to rush into it without being sure.
I’ve still got another book (WFTD) which is sort of in limbo at the moment. I’ll decide what to do with that later, once we see how TLDK fares. I’m certainly not short on material, that’s for sure. I have some ideas for more Zero Sample novellas too, maybe an entire ‘second series’. But we’ll see how it goes. I definitely like the idea of writing more novellas alongside my full length stuff. It allows me to experiment a little more, mixing up different tones, styles and characters.
So I certainly want to get at least one more project out before the end of the year. It’s just a question of what it will be.