State of Decay Xbox 360 Review
The scale and concept behind State of Decay marks a new standard for the XBLA. I’d been waiting a long time to get my hands on Undead Labs‘ zombie apocalypse, and now that I’ve played for 13+ hours I’m not sure how I feel. My early impressions of the game were solid, but initial impressions change when they’re weighed down. There’s things State of Decay gets right and others fall so short of what I’m used to it’s jarring.
State of Decay offers an enormous world full of randomly generated events, zombies, and loot. Your task is to take your group of survivors and create a safe, easily defended haven to ride out the zombie scourge. I enjoyed upgrading my small piece of asylum, initially at a church and later moved to a larger plot. However, I found the monotony of clearing infestations from the surrounding area very tiresome. They pop up like weeds even when you’ve decided to create a healthy amount of outposts in the area of your domicile. The fact that infestations are so prevalent isn’t what bothered me, it’s the cut/paste style of clearing one that spurred my fatigue.
State of Decay’s graphics are solid for a downloadable title, that is when they’re working properly. I encountered almost as many bugs in SOD as I did in Fallout: New Vegas (yeah that many). Regular screen tearing, textures popping in and out, zombies morphing through floors and walls, and duplicated environments completely broke the tense feeling I had early on.
I found combat to be simplistic in nature, but it did the job considering your group of survivors isn’t Marvels The Avengers. Some environments lent a hand to creative kills, and no matter how many times I stealth killed a zombie, it still felt satisfying. The firearm I was really able to get a feel for was the pistol (and it’s many variations). Popping heads with the lightweight, portable weapon was intuitive and balanced. Shotguns and automatic weapons didn’t quite have the same feel to them. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time with the boomstick, but it just didn’t have the same appeal as the pistol. Alarm clocks, firecrackers, talking dolls, and other means of distraction helped me move about suburbia without attracting too much attention. If you find yourself in a jam there’s firebottles, grenades, and thermite to dispose of large flocks of undead. For the most part I enjoyed all aspects of combat, even if they were frequently repeated.
I found driving a vehicle was hands down the worst tuned aspect of gameplay, in many cases I felt iPad games have been more precise with turns. Also, driving for any amount of time at high speeds causes copious amounts of screen tearing. I understand this isn’t the focus of the game, but if it’s going to be included I’d welcome a smooth experience. Transportation aside I encountered a less than humble sum of other technical foul ups.
What I found the most alarming were the abundant technical difficulties I encountered, one of which was close to game breaking. Without the help of SOD related forums I may have had to restart the game. One of the most jarring instances of procedural error came in the form of zombies actually morphing through the walls of buildings. This causes a litany of undesirable issues. Many missions in SOD require you to guard the perimeter, and a zombie arm that has clipped through the wall in the building your trying to protect halts progress. Another example of this issue causing unwanted frustration was during a simple mission of assisting fellow survivors in boarding up the windows of their home. Progress would suddenly come to a standstill when a few zombies would find their way through a wall and attack myself and the other survivors. These occurrences hampered my enjoyment, but didn’t ruin the experience in any way.
If you recall, earlier I mentioned randomly generated events/side quests. Most of which are completely uninspired courier affairs, (glitch) rescue missions, or assisting with the defense of close proximity neighbors. Nearly nine hours into my playthrough I noticed a pattern developing. Constant infestation and missing person events didn’t allow me to focus on any other available missions. After the fourth time I’d rescued Byron (I thought it was due to him being a drunkard at first) I took note. It seemed that I’d return him safely home, only for him to be reported MIA as soon as I left on another quest. After attempting to deal with the situation for close to two hours, I found myself in need of help, and then I found my answer. I was stuck in a glitch. A glitch that many players were experiencing. In this particular case I felt so frustrated that I nearly set my controller down.
The final technical issue I found particularly trying was in the companion AI development. Many times I found my cover being broken by a companion that refused to sneak, and in turn, inspired the affection of a nearby zombie horde in the process. That lapse in AI transfers to other interactions. Many times throughout SOD you’ll happen upon more resources than you’re able to carry (this could be solved rather simply by allowing the player to load a vehicle full of supplies). Undead Labs inserted what I thought was a great feature to retrieve said supplies. While out on a mission you’re able to radio for additional help in collecting provisions, but the problem once again lies in your companions utter lack of intelligence. The community member that responds to your call will literally run from your home base to the scavenge location, without worrying about the trail of zeds that are tagging along. What’s more they absolutely refuse to hop into a vehicle for safe extraction! After a few bad experiences I found myself simply loading up my rucksack and TCOB myself.
Story missions share the tedium of the aforementioned side missions. Short conversations lead to more of the same, and hardly do more than progress the story. The scale of the game undoubtedly caused plot elements be moved to the back burner. The cookie cutter full of randomly generated community members seemed to have been voice acted by no more than four people. My expectations of zombie narratives have changed since I started reading and watching The Walking Dead, and SOD did little to make me feel for any of the cast. The addition of permadeath was really the only reason I feared for my characters, I didn’t care about them, I just didn’t want to have to go retrieve the items there were carrying.
State of Decay undoubtedly delivers a unique tone and expansive game environment. The tense situations you regularly find yourself in are exactly what I expected, and wanted from SOD. Barely escaping a risky supply run is pretty much one of the necessary pillars in any zombie narrative, and SOD hits that nail right on the head. Character progression was a tight, streamlined process that rewards you with skills that compliment your playstyle, and remodeling your sanctuary added applicable upgrades to your community. After I’d finished my session I found myself wanting more, even with the numerous technical mishaps.
Undead Labs aimed to deliver an enormous game full of content to the XBLA, and they mostly succeeded in that respect. State of Decay offers twice the substance that a run of the mill XBLA game does, but it seems that exact ambition may have been what kept SOD from reaching it’s potential. State of Decay gets a few things very right, but the long list of wrongs keep this title from achieving greatness.
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