Last Friday I traveled to Seattle and entered the lab that has been hard at work making a zombie-survival simulator. Undead Labs has worked on the title that is stretching the term “arcade”, this is probably teetering on the line of a full-fledged retail title, State of Decay.
The depth of State of Decay is much more than you would find almost anywhere else in the XBLA, and until you can get your hands on it personally, I don’t think you will truly understand.
Until then though, I may be able to satisfy your blood lust. I wrote about my first hands-on experience at PAX East last month, and instead of boring you with another essay of what I did, I have decided to delve into the cool things I experienced that I think truly make the game.
So without further ado:
1. PLAY AT YOUR OWN PACE
How you play the game is completely up to you. As I was playing through it, I was in the first starter area and was able to leave the first area within about ten minutes after rescuing a group of survivors and meeting them at their safe house.
I could investigate distant gunshots, explore every cabin, campsite, bathroom, and garage I came across and spend nearly an hour or two just searching around.
It was completely up to me how much time I wasted. Other than being alerted on radio about potential opportunities to save/help people, nothing else is restricted by time.
2. ALLIES ARE NOT USELESS
This recent trend of making NPC allies valuable, has been a blessing. Having to help, ask for help, or even the dreaded escort is not an issue in State of Decay. Your allies can hold their own, and I actually found them saving me more than anything.
When one of my boys would grab zombies for me from behind and let me chop their heads off I was sold. At one point I had two allies with me for a mission and it had some great similarities of early episodes of the Walking Dead.
We would walk into a room full of zombies and it was a group effort to bash in every single brain, and they didn’t step back and let me be a hero, the kills were definitely distributed evenly.
Trust me, when you get overran by zombies, and can handle maybe 4-6 tops at one time, you will be thanking God these NPCs have the mental capacity to crack skulls.
Weapons, bullets, cars, supplies, and food – all of these are finite.
If you scavenge a convenient store and fill a rucksack full of food, don’t expect to be able to go back there and find the shelves restocked. Those revolver rounds you are cratering zombie heads with might be the last ones in the area. That car you crashed into the telephone post might be your last, and now you have to hoof it for the remainder of your experience, having to run past the trail of cars you destroyed as a reminder of your inability behind the wheel.
Welcome to the real world. Nothing is guaranteed and some mismanagement can be very costly. Knowing that I can come across a cabin in the woods and find that everything I search is already cleaned out because someone was there ahead of me is exciting and scary.
4. OPEN WORLD
I can’t tell you the last game I played that was open world and didn’t involve me killing hookers or beating people up with a dildo bat. State of Decay is completely open world and you will survive, explore, and manage inside of it.
Two of the biggest things I noticed was that almost every building can be entered and with the vehicles being left right where you put them, you can round up all the vehicles and create a fleet outside your base if you wanted.
How you utilize this world is up to you, combine this with managing your base by adding facilities like infirmaries, watch towers, gardens, et cetera, and you can find yourself creating a settlers colony in a whole new world – full of shining, shimmering, splendor.
5. FATE EVENTS
One of the features that we really didn’t get to dig enough into was also one of my favorite. Fate events are essentially random events. These random events are affected by your management tactics.
We were given a pretty harmless example that could escalate rather quickly. Let’s say a portion of your food goes bad:
A) If you have someone in your group who is an experienced cook he/she could point out that this food is bad and then throw it away. Sure you lost some food supply, but it was for the best.
B) Now, let’s say you don’t have an experienced cook. One of your survivors doesn’t notice something went bad, they cook the food, and serve it. A few of your survivors come down with food poisoning, making them sick and possibly causing some anger from them. What if you don’t have an infirmary set up with a doctor/surgeon? These people could get sicker, morale can take a major blow, and you could find chaos in your camp pretty quickly.
Realize that situation is just if a few potatoes go bad, can you imagine having people with serious injuries and no doctor? You could find yourself in some sticky situations pretty quickly.
6. NO HAND-HOLDING
Guess what, if the zombie apocalypse hit tomorrow, no one is going to be there to tell you how to survive. Undead Labs does a great job of giving you pop-ups to show you basic game mechanics, but other than showing you how to use your character, you are pretty much on your own.
It isn’t that hard to pick up, but at the same time it is great to get thrown into a world and have to figure things out for yourself.
State of Decay has a nice balance of not letting you feel lost, but also letting you feel hardcore because you realized that you could emote and scream to zombies to lead them towards you as you let one of your fellow survivors escape.
7. PEOPLE ARE TERRIBLE – JUST LIKE IN REAL LIFE
Talk about realistic. You will find yourself dealing with all sorts of personality types and unlucky for you some of them can really ruin your colony.
They are awful in a variety of ways, but the favorites I learned about all had to do with certain survivors getting fed up and leaving.
That doesn’t mean they just high-five you and leave though. These people could steal shit and leave, steal shit and injure someone and leave, or even steal shit and kill someone and leave.
Really examining who you are letting in your group is a huge deal if you didn’t notice. Let’s just hope it is a doctor when it happens to you.
8. DECISION MAKING
This feature seemed pretty hidden when I played it. Rest assured it exists, as I played I had a few opportunities to make choices. These choices unlike an RPG like Mass Effect, tend to impact much faster.
When I played I had two instances of decision making. One of our survivors wanted to initiate trade with another group that involved us giving bullets for food rations. I had the choice to go with him and do the trade, I had the choice to turn down the trade and possibly hurt our relationship, and I had the choice of waiting and it could happen without my input at all.
The other instance I had of this was when I saved a group of survivors who set up shop in a house. They asked if they could join and I had to determine if they were worth bringing in. They were very eager to join us and had cooking skills, so I let them in. They even looted their base for me before they left and brought their supplies in like a dowry.
I had the ability to reject them or wait on that choice as well, during that time they could have been eaten or anything else, and I have a heart – no matter the size.
9. YOGA PANTS AND OFF-BRAND TWINKIES SURVIVE THE APOCALYPSE
I don’t feel like I really need to explain this one.
For the first title from a small studio of about 23 people, this is pretty damn ambitious. If you factor in that their ultimate goal is to create a console MMO based in this same universe, it is hard not to like this game. Just playing it for the few hours I have now, you could see how this concept and all the systems they put into it, could really transfer over with minimal tweaks into an MMO environment.
While talking with the founder of the company Jeff Strain, he made it abundantly clear that the XBLA game just screams for multiplayer and they want it in there just as bad as we do.
That could mean their ability to add it in later will depend on the success of the initial launch. So the hardcore fans of this game who actually read this should realize that they have until June now to get people excited.