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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Review: State of Decay

State of Decay (2013)
Developer: Undead Labs
Platforms: Personal Computer (Reviewed), X-Box 360
Induction Date: 11/04/2013

We made it? My forever dwindling number of survivor group is still alive? Oh yes, we survived the zombie apocalypse! Well, at least we survived the entirety of the game's story line after having to go through a progressively torturous time trying to ensure that those darn zombies would not be able to kill me and my crew. For sure, this game was so tension-filled, especially with the way things unfolded for me, that towards the end, I just wanted to escape it all by any means necessary. It's a bit unfortunate however that my burning desire to find closure in the game was not only fueled by the genuine sense of fear but also by some of the game's frustrating elements that I am just not a fan of.

Don't be fooled. There are always zombies lurking about. Always.

So what is State of Decay exactly? It's basically a zombie apocalypse survival game that combines open world exploration, character progression, and of course, relentless zombie killing. You are in control of a group of survivors, at least one of them at a time, and you must ensure everyone's well-being by collecting resources needed for daily consumption like ration and ammo in addition to making strategic decisions over quest selections as well as character/base upgrades. It's a clever little gameplay design that will have you obsessing over the basics while having to worry about random situations thrown your way. It is pretty clear however from the beginning that the game does follow a main narrative thread and pursuing related goals will propel the story further but the brilliance in this game is that you are never compelled to participate in them until you want to. This means that despite not having access to the entirety of the game's huge map of Trumbull Valley where the game takes place, you are given the freedom to live the situation at hand any way you want.

Those runners are not very trustworthy.

Speaking of which, it is quite easy to get swept up in that freedom since there are always something for you to do in the game. There are zombie infestation areas to clean up, special zombies to hunt, people to save, supply to retrieve, and so on and so forth. Your journal is always filled up with these tasks so it's a matter of what you think may be beneficial to your group at any given moment. Things do get repetitive after a while but it is the zombie apocalypse after all and these people are just trying to get by on a day to day basis. I personally took a passive approach to playing this game mainly because I am not the bravest guy out there when it comes to playing horror games and this game offers plenty of scary moments, especially at nighttime - glowing red eyes from the pitch black darkness in a random room of abandoned houses makes me cry. The creepy zombie moaning and the sometimes melancholic soundtrack made things a bit too atmospheric too. So the group stayed at just one home base and I took as little risk as possible. My survival philosophy was simple: Let's stay away from the zombies! It seemed like a good idea at the moment but sadly, this backfired on me as the zombie threat continued to grow when I thought things were under control and soon, death came in waves - mind you, it is permadeath - and after that point, maintaining a stable, effective group was a living hell until the end.

Smashing zombie heads into the ground is highly satisfying and it never gets old.

I will take some responsibility over my failure to protect the group effectively but I have no doubt some of the blame lies with the game design as well. There are some things that don't add up, like the randomized events that happen at the home base itself. At one point, someone was close to dying from the zombie infection and he was supposedly being separated from the rest of the group even though I actually saw him interacting with everyone - the game does strange things like that too. When I continued the game the next day, the journal mentioned that the person turned into a zombie and actually killed off two of my group members. Yes, it is indeed a cool feature to have a game that actually does thing while you are away from it but this, obviously not the news I wanted to hear before I started another session with the game, failed to resonate with me because one of the characters killed was one of my advanced level characters. Surely she deserved more credit than being killed off by someone who was already suspected to turn at any given moment. If anything, she would have shot him before he turned. Here's another example that had me pulling out my hair like a zombie in heat: to get the extra supplies you found that you cannot carry with you back to the home base, you can call in for someone to pick it up. If you look at your map, you will be able to see the assigned individual, no matter how advanced their character progression is, do something so illogical like running into a group of zombies. They also tend to get into trouble, asking you to save them only to later die right in front of your eyes. Also, what's the use of providing the player the option between a silent but slow supply search and a noisy but fast supply search when just initializing either search to begin with would send out a large shock wave of sound on your map, attracting at least five zombies your way, even though you are on the second floor of a house opening someone's underwear drawer?

Why bother hiding when the zombies have sixth sense?

I can commend the game for its harsh take on survival, that it is not a given, but something that you have to have to work hard to earn but sometimes, it's easy to see that the zombies get an unfair amount of help in eliminating your existence. While there are a limited amount of supplies on the map, the zombie count is infinitely larger than the amount of people who ever lived on or visited the valley. It would have been nice to be able to actually clear an entire area of zombies. Sure, having several of them spawn here and there should be fine and that includes the special zombie types but those infestation zones, which bring with them a huge number of zombies, keep popping up everywhere without any sign of ever stopping. I think it would have been rewarding to be able to secure an ever expanding safe zone and it would still balance out the game because one would still have to venture out to uncharted territories to hunt for supplies. Still, State of Decay can definitely be an enjoyable experience that can be tailored in many different ways. Once you have completed the story missions, you can even go back to the game  to play around with what you have missed, and if you dare, push yourself to the very brink of total annihilation. There is plenty of content here for those dedicated enough to visit every single abandoned building and there are also enough zombies in this game for the zombie fans to last several zombie apocalypses if you can survive long enough to count them all.

RATING: 3 out of 5

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