Review by GundamFanT
"This is good, right? I mean, it doesn't suck..."
Zombie games, am I right? There seem to be hundreds of them on the market these days with several more to come. And if not directly featuring them, multiple games may include zombies as generic enemies anyway.That's not even taking into account all the other forms of media they appear in. Point being, the undead are here to stay, whether we like it or not.
With so much zed over saturation, it can be hard to find any enjoyable, worthwhile experiences to spend your time on. But they do exist and when little gems do appear, they tend to shine really bright. They pretty much have to, considering all the competition. I'm happy to report that State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition pulls that off.
First, a quick history lesson: State of Decay was a zombie themed survival game originally released on the xbox and pc a few years back to surprise critical acclaim. The game put you in an open world and tasked players with fighting zombies, gathering materials and supplies, bonding with allies and just doing their best to survive. The game apparently scratched plenty of itches and became an instant hit, and not long after it released two excellent additional modes as dlc. Fast forward to a year or so later and Undead Labs (the developers) put the game and all dlc in a single release, fixed some bugs and gave it a much needed coat of paint/ 1080p facelift and released it on xbox one as the "Year One Survival Edition".
There are three modes in SoD: the "main story", or original release contains a story mode that eventually sees you escape the town you're trapped in. In "Breakdown", the story is pushed aside in favor of a never ending endurance mode. You repeatedly find survivors and supplies, build them up then flee the level into the next. Each subsequent level the difficulty increases and supplies become more scarce and you're only allowed to bring a small group of characters with you into each stage. Finally, "Lifeline" changes the location to a new, somewhat smaller map and sees you lead a group of soldiers in military operations. Compared to the other modes, there's more ammo and ranged weaponry and a nice side story about what the military were up to during the main game. Each mode is similar but introduces new characters and concepts to keep things fresh and exciting.
The core gameplay of SoD goes something like this: you'll spawn in the preset open world and then set off finding a place to live. Next, you'll need to find other survivors to join you to help you fight, scavenge and survive. Finally, you'll need to gather food, medicine, ammo and gas, along with weapons and other consumable items. You do all this in a third person view and the game controls similar to many other open world games. You're not limited to one character and can switch to any you've befriended at anytime back at your base, provided they're healthy and not upset with you. Every playable character levels up various survival and combat skills through repeated use and each come with differing unique skills and personality traits that can either help or hinder you. For example, some may be able to carry more loot, some may be skilled in medicine or construction to help your base and others still might be smokers or gossip spreading jerks, thus negatively affecting their combat or social performance. A huge part of the game is managing which characters you're building up and their emotional states.
While physically toughening up in combat and keeping everyone fed is necessary, you also need to keep everyone of your survivors' attitudes high or else they could run away, become depressed and unavailable or even commit suicide. This game also features permanent death. If you're not careful, that person you spent hours building into a highly tuned machine of death can be lost forever, leaving you to build a new survivor from scratch or carry on with what you have. Spend your time and resources carefully.
Upon choosing from several pre determined bases to settle in, you'll need to find supplies to build said home into a well secured fortress. There are watchtowers, medical areas, kitchens and lots more to choose from building. Each safe area only has so much available space so you'll have to decide what's more valuable to add to your base. Maybe you'll decide to keep a low population in order to free up space that would otherwise have to go to beds, also decreasing your need for supplies. Or maybe you want a gym and library to quickly level new characters up before you tear those areas down and put in a garden or more storage. Like much of the game, these choices are yours to decide upon. You're never forced to go down a particular path and that's one of SoD's defining traits. And that's not even including outposts, areas you can set up basically anywhere that both provide protection and give you safe areas to resupply between trips home. Careful consideration of your outpost setup is crucial.
You'll be doing all of these between (or during) missions that advance the story or mode along to its conclusion. There aren't really any time constraints, so you can do all this at your own pace. There are a few exceptions, however; certain missions do have a slight time limit before they fail, but it always seemed I had a generous amount of time to complete them. That's the big thing here. While I often had tons to do, it was offered to me at an easily digestible pace that never felt restrictive.
If you tire of the main story, the next mode, Breakdown, is probably where you'll spend most of your time. In BD, you start with a random survivor and get tasked with quickly finding shelter and surviving until you can secure passage to the next stage. You can bring along up to 6 characters with you between levels and anyone else gets left behind to possibly be encountered later on. Along the way you'll complete challenges to unlock special characters called "Heroes". These heroes are usually unique characters from the other two modes that are much more powerful than a basic, randomly generated survivor. For instance, they may come with rare gear, maxed out stats or useful radio commands to call in an artillery barrage or summon a car for you.
Speaking of the other modes, the third and final, Lifeline, plays more similarly to the main game, but on a different map than said main game or Breakdown. As the story is centered on a group of military personnel, there tend to be more plentiful guns and ammo compared to the other modes. There's also only one base to build and develop, but other than that, the basic premise remains intact. You'll still need to fight, scavenge and survive over a period of time. To keep things fresh, a new event occurs where zombies will attack your base and you'll need to play a sort of defense battle to fight them off.
While all of this sounds great, and it is, there are some negatives to mention. First, despite being upscaled to 1080p, this is still a game with weak graphics and some occasional framerate stuttering. The graphics aren't terrible, they actually do quite well with immersing you into the world. I was having way too much fun to care, but it is something to be aware of. Also my AI controlled survivors would occasionally get stuck in scenery. Another issue is a lot of environmental pop in. Objects and distant locations have to load in around you, though that really only happens when you first start a game session. Again, everything else is so much fun that I hardly cared about the graphics and pop up.
It seems to be a growing trend these days that while all the AAA developers keep releasing their versions of zombie games, another smaller developer releases their version that has weaker graphics and presentation but still manages to do things the big guys don't. If you're tired of just endlessly shooting the undead hordes and want a zombie game that more or less simulates the actual experience of surviving the apocalypse, try State of Decay. Maybe one day the big guys will get it right. For now, we can take solace in the fact that the "underdogs" know what we survivalists really want.
Product Release: State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition (Day One Edition) (US, 04/28/15)
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