Well, what is there to say about this game that hasn’t already been said? With sales reaching 250,000 within its first 48 hours, a feat comparable with the likes of the uber popular Minecraft, State of Decay, the flagship creation from Undead Labs, has already begun to make its mark on the history of the Xbox Live Marketplace.
When a new title is released, your mind is almost conditioned to find other games that are similar and compare the two together. For example, your friends may ask you what think of that game you just bought so you instantly try to think of a similar game that they’ve played in order to help relate and tailor your explanation to them. With State of Decay I’ve found this increasingly difficult, simply because this game is pretty damn unique (for the time being, anyway). On the one hand, it is unfair to compare it to disc releases due to the compact nature of the rather supple 1.81GB package that State of Decay comes in, yet when you compare it to other arcade titles you struggle to find anything that even bears a slight resemblence. So far, the best attempt at a comparative explanation that I’ve come up with is: The setting of Alan Wake in a sandbox area similar to Grand Theft Auto, character needs and wants reminiscent of The Sims crossed with the quirky charm of Fable plus, erm, zombies. I’ll readily admit that it’s a pretty shocking summary, but it wouldn’t do this game justice if I was comfortable describing it in one sentence.
The gameplay is occasionally unforgiving – let’s just say it starts as it means to go on – and requires quite a lot of dedication in order to maintain the happiness and good vibes from your relatively spineless group of survivors. Because the game world operates in real time, leaving it for a few days will mean that your group of merry men have been denied your wonderful leadership skills, which in turn can have negative consequences if your stockpiles were low when you last said “toodle pip!” You could potentially return to a bitchy, morale sapped group of not-so-merry men that are more focused on infighting than braining zombies.
Admittedly, the game isn’t graphically superb, occasionally suffering from bouts of lag when you drive your pickup through a horde of zombies, but it is impressive considering the scale of the game and how they’ve made it fit into 1.81GB. You have a ridiculous amount of freedom to roam once you reach the main portion of the game, which in turn provides you with one of the best examples of a zombified GTA experience. The non-linear sandbox element means that you can choose to largely focus on playing house – fetching food, ammo, medicine – rather than the plentiful storyline missions that you have available. If you want, you could even create a garden – using the building materials that you’ve pillaged from an abandoned construction site – so you and your survivors can become less reliant on supply runs to your local and potentially zombie infested grocery store.
Keeping your fellow survivors happy by completing side missions for them can help to build friendships that in turn can provide you with new playable characters to switch to – very useful when your favourite character is fatigued or injured. Should you choose to venture much further than your current safe house, perhaps after being encouraged by a recent radio announcement from a settlement in the nearby town, you can readily jump in one of 10 base vehicle types and make your way there. There’s a hell of a lot to explore out in the countryside and, of course, a lot of zombies too to help make your foraging that bit more difficult. Survey points serve as a way of looking out on the distant landscape for points of interest, possibly alerting you to that zombie horde that’s heading your way or making you aware of that nearby pharmacy so you can pick up some medicine.
Like every zombie game, the combat element in State of Decay is a large part of it. Shooting is pretty simple yet somewhat difficult at times, whilst the melee isn’t too adventurous – somewhere nicely between actual skill and button bashing – but is rather pleasing nonetheless. Throw the 30-40 melee weapons and 99 guns at your disposal into the mix and you have quite a lot of the ingredients necessary for a big fun pie. Underneath all of the zombie brain-bashing, though, lies a very enjoyable XP system which allows your characters to develop their own set of skills in a very RPG like fashion. The basic set consists of Cardio, Wits, Fighting and Shooting, but other personal skills can be found on unique characters and feature the likes of Acrobatics, Powerhouse and Leadership, as well as the less obvious Sexting and Reality Show Trivia. There is quite an admirable depth to State of Decay that you may not realise at first glance, but once you actually get into the game you can begin to appreciate it.
It is safe to say that games rich in zombie brutality are currently reaching the pinnacle of their ‘en vogue’ status, meaning that Undead Labs had a fairly challenging task on their hands creating something unique and enjoyable in a vastly oversaturated market. For me, this makes the finished product all the more impressive. This charming, impressive and pretty damn addictive game from Undead Labs should be a welcome addition to anyone’s gaming collection, and is also a brilliant way for the studio to introduce itself to the gaming world. State of Decay – which went by the production name ‘Class3′ – is the first step by Undead Labs to their ultimate goal of releasing one of the first MMO zombie games for both Xbox 360 and PC, currently referred to as ‘Class4′. The proactive way in which the studio has handled the release of State of Decay – for example, beginning work on creating a patch in response to player feedback within days of its launch – shows that they are serious about their goals.
Rating: 4.5/5 - State of Decay is an excellent example of value for money – when you consider how many hours you could potentially sink into it – and should be an instant purchase for anyone who has 1600 Microsoft points floating around in their Xbox Live account. Undead Labs originally set out to make a game that focused on zombie survival, sweet action and an evolving world. I think it’s pretty damn safe to say that they’ve achieved their goal as well as step one of their overall vision. In terms of Xbox Live Arcade games, it is one of the most impressive additions to the online catalogue. Hopefully we can see improvements to more elements of the game, either in the form of upcoming patches or the inevitable sequel, but for now enjoy all that State of Decay has to offer.Toodle pip!