When will the zombie craze end?
Avid GameRevolution readers know full well that I absolutely loved Telltale's The Walking Dead, but what may not be readily apparent to everyone is that my affinity toward that five-episode game experience had nothing to do with an interest in the zombie apocalypse, despite the fact that I also happen to enjoy the AMC television series. What truly sucked me into that experience was its well-crafted narrative and memorable characters. While Undead Lab's third-person, action-heavy XBLA title State of Decay may feature zombies, it lacks the aforementioned elements that drew me into the first season of TWD.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that State of Decay is a bad game or unworthy of your time; quite the contrary. Its vast open world will have exploratory gamers salivating over the varied environments filled with all sorts of goodies to find. This type of experience, however, wasn't enough to keep me from overlooking the game's technical flaws. In the case of TWD, I was quick to forgive the simplistic mechanics and visual hiccups because I was so engrossed in the story. Those who love open-world, sandbox-esque games (unlike myself) may very well be able to do the same and overlook the flaws found within State of Decay.
It's a downloadable XBLA game, so the expectations for it certainly should not be as high as it is for a modern triple-A blockbuster, but in today's day and age, I expect a certain level of polish from all game experiences, and sadly that is one of this game's greatest shortcomings. From frame-rate issues to poor character animation and laughably bad voice acting and writing, you'll be hard-pressed to find someone who will deny the fact that Undead Labs' first effort is rough around the edges.
That said, there's a whole lot of content crammed into State of Decay, and considering its $20 price of entry, that's a bargain for those who are looking for a solid value. The game has a large map with a wide array of different locales. As you progress throughout the game's zombie-infested landscape, you can climb various vantage points to survey the area and fill out your map, which proves to be quite handy for those that don't have a particularly good sense of direction like myself.
As one might expect from a survival game of this ilk, resources are scarce, so you'll have to scrounge and scavenge if you want to survive. Because all of your weapons will break down over time, you can't rely on any one particular item for very long, which adds much appreciated intensity to the overall experience. As you progress throughout the game, you can recruit new members to join your team and you can switch between any one of them at will. However, you'll want to be mindful of how you choose to level up your characters (yep, there's a progression system, too) because if a character dies, there's no coming back from it.
In addition to the constant fear of perma-death, each character has a health and stamina meter. Health isn't always easy to come by, and thanks to the constant threat of death around every corner, you'll be on the edge of your seat quite often. Hoping to flee from an oncoming horde of undead foes? I hope you haven't wasted all your stamina, because you'll have to wait for the meter to recharge if you hope to make a mad dash to safety.
With all that said, I was left completely underwhelmed by the combat. Due to some atrocious character animations, melee combat feels janky and half-baked. While some may be able to overlook this in light of the rest of the game's ambition, I simply couldn't. Fortunately, you can also find firearms around the game world, so there's at least a bit of variety to putting down the baddies.
I didn't find the AI-controlled characters, be it your fellow party members or other random survivors, to be engaging or all that believable. When I think zombies, I think of terrible circumstances that challenge the very root of one's humanity, and sadly, I didn't find that here. The constant threat that comes from perma-death wasn't enough to keep me emotionally invested in the game's characters. As such, I think this game could benefit from a co-operative option. Seriously, Undead Labs, get on that!
If you enjoy exploring post-apocalyptic open worlds, I suggest you at the very least give the demo of State of Decay a shot. There's plenty of depth for those who appreciate the role-playing genre, and the constant threat of death and limited resources will have adrenaline junkies on the edge of their seats. It may not be my cup of tea, but I certainly can see why others would love to take the plunge into this zombie-infested wasteland.