Creeping slowly through the dark and silent house, Maya Torres takes care to avoid causing the floorboards beneath her feet to creak. She searches for supplies as she goes; anything that will help her community: medicine, food, sometimes even ammunition to better defend the homestead against hordes. Growing impatient, she quickly searches through a cupboard, sending pots and pans cascading onto the floor with a resounding crash that echoes throughout the house. The response to this noise comes immediately. The window behind her shatters as the undead pour into the room. Initially, Maya fights valiantly, decapitating the limbs of several zombies with her machete. Realising she cannot win, she attempts to escape, jumping through a nearby window, the zombies running hastily in pursuit. Succumbing to exhaustion, overwhelmed and poorly equipped, Maya defiantly fires her rifle into the approaching mob, before she is overwhelmed and devoured by the flesh-eating zombies.
State of Decay is a lot of fun, but it’s also terrifying. Now the second fastest selling downloadable game in Xbox Live Arcade history (No State of Decay for PS3 and PC gamers, sorry!) behind Minecraft, it has sold 250,000 copies within two days of release. Simply put, State of Decay is the zombie game I feel I have been waiting for since first seeing 28 Days Later. Rather than putting you in the role of zombie slayer, as games such as Left 4 Dead and Dead Rising have done in the past, State of Decay treats the zombie apocalypse with greater realism. An open world action game with role-playing elements, your characters abilities improve with use as you travel across a post-apocalyptic American state, scavenging supplies for your community while defending it from attacking zombie hordes. Having spent time improving Maya’s skills in hand-to-hand combat and shooting, I was understandably bitter that my favourite character had been dispatched. State of Decay allows no second chances, the game autosaves often, meaning death of characters is permanent. Rather than a GAME OVER screen, you are transported to another survivor and given the option to scavenge the backpack and carcass of your lost comrade.
There’s no longer a need to speculate with friends about how you would plan to survive the zombie apocalypse. State of Decay encourages you to experiment with any survival plan. Perhaps you’ll seek an easily defended homestead first? Or head to the nearest gun shop (this being America) and stock up on as many weapons as you can carry. Or maybe you’ll break into the nearest veterinary clinic, in search of medicines that may stop your closest friends mutating into the undead. The choice is completely up to the player. The game provides an engaging set of missions throughout, though also generates dynamic missions based on how well you’re surviving. These see zombie hordes congregating in houses close to your base, causing infestations which you must clear to make your community safer. Sometimes other survivors contact you through radio, asking for help. Whether you help or not is up to you; it can place characters in greater danger, but can build friendships between survivors, allowing you to take control of other members of your community. This sense of freedom is initially overwhelming, but after spending a few hours with the game, the learning curve levels off and an understanding of how best to survive begins to emerge.
This freedom of choice also extends to the traditional gameplay elements. Characters can sneak through houses and search quietly through containers, killing zombies silently with melee weapons, or drive wildly through towns, stopping only to clear zombie infestations with a shotgun. Every action causes varying degrees of noise: it’s possible to sneak around zombies in order to avoid confrontation – which is especially useful, if terrifying, at night! Yet firing weapons and noisily speeding up your search through containers has the potential to attract large hordes of zombies which can easily crowd and kill you. Sneaking is the safest option, though it often requires patience and planning, two things which are in short-supply during a zombie apocalypse. Furthermore, weapons break during combat, ammo is scarce and characters can tire and suffer debilitating wounds, each of which lowers their chances of survival. It’s often easier to avoid open combat, singling out zombies to dispatch and only fighting groups of zombies if absolutely necessary.
Despite the overwhelming praise bestowed upon State of Decay, the game is far from perfect. It suffers from strange physics effects (cars sometimes flip several feet into the air when driving over a tiny rock) and has an overall glitchy quality; other characters sometimes lock in place, making them easy targets for zombies. The shooting mechanics are often stiff, and cars handle poorly. Despite these technical issues, and in spite of the average graphics, State of Decay can be excused as an extremely fun download-only game.
Undead Labs, the game’s producers, have said they hope to add co-op play if the game proves successful, which it undoubtedly will. Through simulating a zombie apocalypse the game provides a truly exhilarating experience; running through streets and houses being chased by zombie hordes is extremely terrifying, and it’s heartbreaking to watch as a favourite character is lost to a zombie horde. State of Decay is the zombie-survival game we’ve all been waiting for.