State of Decay Review: The ultimate Zombie survival experience

Undead Labs formed by ex-Blizzard (World of Warcraft) and Arena Net (Guild Wars) developer Jeff Strain on the basis of building games about zombies in 2009. In 2011 they announced a deal with Microsoft to publish their games “Class 3″(which became State of Decay) and “Class 4” (an MMO).

Last month State of Decay released on Xbox Live Arcade at 1600pts, the only other (non-episodic) game to launch at that price to my knowledge is Minecraft: Xbox 360 edition which has gone on to break records and generally earn everyone involved an incredible amount of money. State of Decay didn’t disappoint in breaking records selling over 700,000 units in June alone and becoming the fastest selling new IP on Xbox Live Arcade.

State of Decay by Undead Labs/Microsoft Studios

So what is State of Decay about? As survivors of a zombie apocalypse you have to survive in Trumbull County against the Zombie hoards, building a community, scavenging for food, medicine, building materials, ammo (etc) to provide for your fellow survivors, go on missions to help neighbours, kill hordes, protect people and so on. You can also upgrade your home site with materials found to make it a better places for your survivors to live and help people recover quicker from tiredness and injuries they have sustained.

It has a very deep morale and fame system, survivors can lose hope, become scared and requires you to take them out and slay some “Zeds” (a term actually used in the game), scavenged items like guns, snacks, medicine, ammo, melee weapons all help build your fame and allow you to reach out to other survivors, trade with them and even ask them to join your community.

The game has a light story, I have spent so much scavenging and killing that I didn’t notice the story missions were fairly light and there aren’t that many of them. It’s clear it wasn’t the main aim of the game but there to give you some background with what happened and how people are dealing to the situation as well as giving you other activities to complete.

It’s hard to recommend the game enough, I have recently finished all the story missions as I felt I had gotten a lot out of the game, earned all the achievements and wanted to take a break from it. I put in a lot of hours to it, and loved every second, only losing 3 of my survivors outside of story missions in the process; 2 eaten by Feral Zed’s and a third I sacrificed for an achievement, but its ok because my other survivors found him to be annoying!

Part of the reason I wanted to take a break from it is due to impending Sandbox DLC that is due (TBA) which will remove all the story elements in a separate mode and truly focus on the idea of surviving:

“Could I survive the zombie apocalypse?” — we’re not just talking about five minutes of pulse-pounding horror. The question is, could I build a community in the aftermath and survive for years?

 

That is the context of our upcoming Sandbox DLC. We want to create a setting where players can answer that question, not just until the story is exhausted, but indefinitely. (More information via Undeadlabs.com)

 

Sandbox mode will hopefully deliver a slightly more varied game of than the story mode version, with no related missions it’ll be about moving around and just surviving. I am hoping that along with new achievements it will add a little more complexity in trading with other survivors and offering them the chance to join the player controlled group, another new feature of asking people to go with you on missions is a welcome addition when facing lots of zombies or trying to collect a lot of resources.

The games main issues are technical, it’s a bit “janky” and the developers themselves put it; the framerate suffers at times, there’s a lot of pop-in and its buggy in places but with the title updates that have happened so far these issues have improved and hopefully they will continue to improve these issues. It’s a shame, but the development team is very small and have still created an extremely ambitious game that is certainly best in class for zombie games and should not deter people from playing it, having put in as many hours I have I found that it did not affect my enjoyment at all.

The last mission hints at where the series might go; to a bigger city. A sequel set in a full on city on Xbox One could be incredible if given the right amount of time to develop it, the team as mentioned earlier also want to make an MMO which could merge with the idea of the city setting. Co-op was not possible in State of Decay but hopefully Undead Labs are able to produce another single player (with co-op) game before moving to the MMO game they have planned.

Microsoft’s Phil Spencer has even said he’s in for the plans the studio has for the game on twitter:

This is great news, rumours of an Xbox One port soon surfaced and as Microsoft own the IP  its (obviously) important they are behind the game. I do think its much more likely a sequel will be the priority once they have completed the PC version for Steam due for release later this year and any other DLC they want to do for it.

The game sold over 700,000 units in June alone (nearly 400,000 in its first week making it the second highest selling Xbox Live Arcade) and the fastest selling new IP on the entirety of the platform. The game is getting the sales it deserves and got very good reviews and also helps to show where the game needs to improve in the future.

State of Decay Xbox.com (Xbox Live Arcade, 1600pts)