STATE OF DECAY Review - Patience Is Important in the Zombie Apocolypse
Zombies have become a trope in gaming industry, so much so that the vast majority of creatively deficient games use zombies as antagonists to cover the lack of a proper story. State of Decay, like a plethora of others, is a zombie survival game. It claims to provide a unique survival experience, but does it manage to separate itself from the hordes of competition?
State of Decay is a third person action survival game where resource management is key as the world organically evolves (or crumbles) around you. You begin the game as Marcus Campbell, who is camping with his friend when the outbreak begins. Marcus quickly becomes quite proficient at smashing zombies and finds a group of survivors to join. Once you get settled in with the survivors, the narrative begins to wander. You can jump between multiple characters, and once you befriend more survivors you can take control of them as well. Oddly enough, whenever you talk to someone they seem to think you are Marcus, regardless of whether you are controlling him at that moment or not. This confused me at first, but in the end I just learned to deal with it.
The advantage of being able to jump between characters is that as you make supply runs and fight zombies your character becomes fatigued and their maximum stamina decreases, which is bad. Stamina is used for fighting, sprinting, and jumping, two of which you will be doing quite often. Running out of stamina mid fight, or more likely, during a panicked retreat, can lead to your untimely demise or at least a severe thrashing which can put that character out of commission for a few days, if they don’t die entirely. Managing your character’s health and stamina becomes the driving factor to befriend more people because getting stuck with a character who is beaten up and tired really, really sucks. On top of everything else, if you character has been “injured” or “sick” then they stumble around coughing and are absolutely worthless in a fight. So make friends fast and keep your crew healthy.
Since State of Decay was originally released for the Xbox 360, all of the tooltips and tutorials are in Xbox Controller language, so if you are dedicated to playing the game with mouse and keyboard, figuring out the controls might take some trial and error. I tried to give the mouse and keyboard a spin, since I am a PC gamer at heart, but everything was better with a gamepad, including the aiming. That’s not saying the console aiming is particularly good, but the mouse aiming is wretched. It’s like aiming in chunky peanut butter; sometimes the aiming is smooth but then occasionally you’ll hit a chunk and the aiming will jump and skip. This only happens with mouse aiming, so it must be something with how the game handles mouse input.
Besides the horrible mouse aiming, the rest of the controls work alright. Melee fighting can be difficult because your character doesn’t always hit the one zombie out of the group you want or even hit them at all. If they are farther than just a few steps away your character would rather just swing at air rather than take one step towards the enemy. If you try to do this manually you will usually end up running right into the zombie and losing a bunch of precious health. But don’t think you can just swing your weapons willy-nilly; each character only has about 2 and a half swings before they are bushed (okay, more realistically 15-20 but in frantic combat it seems like a lot less). This encourages you to keep fights short and tactical because long, drawn out fights can quickly turn desperate. Besides aiming issues, the only guns that are of any use are shotguns because of their area-of-effect attack. Single-target weapons like pistols and rifles just take too much time to aim effectively. If you are on top of a building they are fine, but on the ground you usually only get one or two shots off before you get swarmed, which is reminiscent of a high school fight: tons of people, very loud, incredibly chaotic, and I almost never won.
In combat, the game has an unsettling tendency to take away control of your character, either by recoiling when you get hit or at “tap a button” events. You can be fighting a group of zombies like a champ then, suddenly the game yells at you to mash the B button to escape a hold, but I haven’t been touching that button all fight. It’s not “jump,” it’s not “fight,” heck, it’s not even “open door.” It’s a completely random button they want you to press suddenly, right now in the middle of combat or else you will die. That little prompt gets annoying very, very quickly. If you don’t end up in a zombie’s choke-hold, you may end up getting batted around by zombies so much you won’t be able to fight back, let alone escape. All told, combat is something you will want to avoid at all costs, unless you have substantial back-up. Taking on large groups by yourself is almost impossible and many situations can get out of hand quickly. But is it a bad thing? The game spends a lot of energy focusing on being realistic, with characters having recovering times, long day/night cycles, and finite resources. Maybe the difficult combat is completely intentional to show how dangerous it would be to fight zombies? Regardless, it can cause the game to go from fun to stressful pretty quickly.
The combat quirks are hardly the only frustrations in this game. The car physics are also rather hit and miss. Cars are incredibly useful and are easily the best way to kill large numbers of zombies, but you have to be careful. All of the cars in State of Decay are simultaneously filled with helium and constructed of aluminum foil. Brushing against wooden fences or small trees will cause bumpers to fall off and cars to start smoking or even spitting fire. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve been in my fair share of fender-benders and my car has never started to shoot fire from under the hood. Maybe I’m just lucky. If you manage to drive the cars around for any extended period of time without accidentally destroying them, make sure not to hit any bumps or rocks, even tiny ones. If you do, your car might just hurl itself into the air, flip end over end, dumping you out in the process, and then explode. This might seem like a rare occurrence, but worry not! After a few hours of play, flying cars and other automobile acrobatics will become mundane. Unfortunately, cars are easily the best way to kill zombies and get around, so you have to learn to drive safely really quickly, or else you’ll be spending a lot of time scrounging for cars.
I’m not saying there isn’t anything fun about State of Decay. Building and upgrading your base is really fun, especially since you can move your base to almost any other building as you gather survivors and nurture your little band into a slightly larger band! Also, there is plenty to do. There are a set of story missions, but there are also tons of random events that only you can do, and no one else. Discovering new survivors, helping people out, trading resources, find lost people and plenty others will keep you very, very, busy. Occasionally the game can feel like babysitting since you are constantly getting called on the radio to fix this or find this person or even, my personal favorite, “Talk to this guy, he is sad.” Yes, you heard that right, not only do you have to provide resources for your camp, but also emotional support. Is it any wonder that I could only play for short amounts of time before getting too exhausted and switching to something mindless?
All in all, I enjoyed my time with State of Decay. It is a very in-depth zombie survival simulator. Scrounging for resources is surprisingly entertaining, and expanding your camp is very rewarding. The stressful combat and constant babysitting can get old really fast, so I would recommend that those of you who are interested in playing be prepared to pick up after other people a lot. Apparently, patience will be just as much of a virtue in the zombie apocalypse.