Good news for anyone who overlooked or didn’t get round to checking out Undead Lab’s neat wee end-of-the-world sim State of Decay first time around: re-issue State of Decay Year One Survival Edition has arrived on Xbox One and PC, ostensibly fancying/tidying some things up a bit and collecting the game’s existing DLC into one convenient package.
State of Decay can loosely be described as The Sims as dropped into the middle of The Walking Dead. Things kick off with pals Marcus and Ed returning from a two-week holiday in the wilderness to discover a well-advanced zombie doomsday scenario. The pair must band together with other survivors to try and survive.
But where many zombie-themed games have gone on to focus on the action of dispatching the brain-hungry antagonists from this sort of a starting point, State of Decay takes a broader approach, with the player not only tasked with hacking and blasting down zombies in the game’s decently-sized small-town-America sandbox, but also with gathering supplies to maintain his or her fellow survivors, as well as upgrade or relocate their cosy home-cum-anti-zombie fortress.
You’ll even be tasked to some extent with keeping everyone’s morale up and trying to prevent in-fighting and grumpy groups splintering off from your community – the last thing humanity needs is to go extinct over an argument about who gets control of the remote.
With its permadeath of characters, ‘always twelve things going on at once’ style of gameplay, and zombie-clubbing/fleeing action, State of Decay is certainly fun – sort of a weird, stressful fun, in which hard choices and life-or-death moments must be lived through constantly. Deciding whether to abandon an enclave of survivors to their fate to save a favourite levelled-up character, which time-critical objective to focus on, or if you should push your luck to look for crucial resources in that last room of a darkened house – these are calls that have to be made without the security blanket of reloading the game from a previous point being available.
This adds plenty of excitement to the frequent skin-of-the-teeth escapes, but also weight to tragic blunders; your game must continue on despite them (ah Marcus, we hardly knew ye). Indeed, it doesn’t even stop when you turn it off – you’ll return to the game after a break to discover your community has greedily continued to chow down on your hard-won food supplies, zombies have wiped out the group of friends down the block you fought furiously to save, and morale is at an all time low. The apocalypse: it’s tough.
It’s a neat wee combination of systems and gameplay loops that hums along nicely, but was marred first time around by some subpar presentation and technical problems. This new polished version should sort these out, right? Ah, well, not so much.
Although the graphics have been buffed up a little bit from the 360 iteration, it’s not to any revelatory degree. Furthermore, clipping problems are still rife, AI characters are happy to stand side-by-side in a door frame and trap you in a kitchen for aeons, and cars (by far the most powerful weapon in your anti-zombie arsenal) plough through a dense mass of human bodies with all the heavy feeling of light travelling through a vacuum (although the odd surprise rag-doll physics result makes up for this with sheer hilarity).
While State of Decay Year One Survival Edition is still a highly enjoyable game, it’s perhaps a surprise how slight the technical improvement is here over the older version. In fact, by far and away the best thing found in the game’s new iteration is the ability to store gear in car boots – beyond making supply runs a lot faster, there’s just a strangely satisfying and properly apocalyptic feeling to the action of running back and forth to empty the contents of an abandoned store into the back of your waiting SUV.
The bundled DLC offers a couple of options. Theoretically infinite hardcore survival mode Breakdown drops the under-resourced player into a zombie-filled map and acts as a simple test of survival with no storyline, while Lifeline looks at the chaos from an armed forces perspective, focussing more on missions and base-defending in an entirely new, much more urban map. Breakdown is for those that like a challenge, while Lifeline can be a fun change of pace to jump into from the main game with its scenery switch-up and easy access to automatic weaponry.
While the innovative State of Decay can easily be recommended to nearly anyone as a rough diamond, Year One Survival Edition has to be considered something of a disappointment as a release, simply because it doesn’t do enough to buff out the technical flaws of the original. That said, if you don’t own the game or even DLC already, it’s value as a training tool for our own surely-inevitable zombie apocalypse probably can’t be overstated.