Review: State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition

sod-sTORYState of Decay puts you into the shoes of Marcus. Marcus is a store clerk who also happens to be a rather capable athlete. Returning from a fishing trip with his friends, Marcus discovers that the world has become infected with what we can only assume to be a mysterious pathogen. The result? Everybody is a zombie. Eventually meeting up with other survivors, Marcus must successfully lead his group to safety – finding shelter and supplies as well as other survivors wherever possible. But, like all good Zombie dramas, there’s an intriguing conspiracy underneath it all too.

SOD - Screenshot Zombie CityQuite honestly the story in State of Decay is just about as clichéd as you could imagine. Almost every key component of a typical zombie story is fulfilled here to present a story that quite honestly has little to no surprises. But to its credit, State of Decay isn’t necessarily about the story itself but more about the social interactions between its characters. It’s not nearly as successful as, say, the more recent Telltale adventure games but it still does a good job at balancing its characters with its overarching story.

sod-pRESENTATIONThose who might’ve played the original version of State of Decay back when it released on the 360 might be expecting a significant upgrade with this jump to Xbox One. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. To the developers’ credit, the game isn’t necessarily marketed as a remaster, but it’s a bit disappointing to see how poorly it’s presented on the Xbox One. Yes, it runs at an increased resolution of 1080p, but it still looks like and runs like something that you’d expect on the Xbox 360.

Character models are incredibly stylised, but animate awkwardly. Animations glitch here and there to the point where there’s rampant clipping issues throughout the game. Random pop-in and even framerate drops contribute to the game’s disappointing presentation.

SOD - Screenshot OnlookersHonestly, given what the console has run in the past, it’s a stretch to consider this port as anything but poorly optimised. Jump into a car and speed through the game’s vast environment and these problems become even more apparent.

This rather lacklustre visual presentation is bolstered by a strong score composed by Jesper Kyd. Full disclosure: I love almost anything and everything Kyd has done. State of Decay’s soundtrack, while by no means his best work, accents the game’s atmosphere perfectly. The tracks are soft to give the game an abandoned and empty feeling, but also featuring tinges of an ominous undertone. They really lend themselves well to the open setting State of Decay encourages it’s players to explore and pillage.

sod-gAMEPLAYWhat State of Decay does best is encapsulates the entirety of the survival experience. It’s not just about ploughing through endless amounts of zombies in an effort to survive – in fact that approach you’d take in games like Dead Rising or Left 4 Dead is the opposite to what you’d want to take – but it’s more about surviving and managing all the aspects of surviving whether they be logistical or social.

The game opens by dropping you outside of a campground with little to no idea as to how the world has succumbed to a zombie onslaught. It’s bizarrely blunt in its opening tone but also helps to build the atmosphere and explain the story to you as if the characters themselves were experiencing it first-hand.

SOD - Screenshot Zombie CarWithin the first few hours, you’ll learn to do a small amount of things – you can find and recruit other survivors, build your relationship with them and even play as them if you play your cards right. You can also reach high ground to scout for supply drops and other points of interest too. Scouting is a simple method but one that most smart players will have to rely upon if they want to get through State of Decay relatively unharmed.

As mentioned before, State of Decay is almost like the anti-Dead Rising of zombie games. Players will have to think on their feet at all times because almost every aspect of the game is important and has dire consequences if not paid attention to properly. Just the way you move from location to location affects how you’ll carry out your goals – for example driving a car makes noise and attracts the hordes of infected but running will affect your stamina.

SOD - Zombie AttackOf course, throughout your adventures you’ll also come across other survivors who will need your help. You can choose to help them, and eventually build them up as “friends” who then become playable assistants. But they themselves come with their own set of needs and wants – some of them are more prone to being agitated or scared and fleeing and may be more effort to work with. Their demands and the requirements to build them up socially might even make most players want to attempt a run of the game without recruiting everybody.

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But that’s definitely not recommended as State of Decay deals with death in a more permanent fashion than other games. Survivors themselves can be upgraded and develop relationships with other characters in the group – but should they die, they’ll stay dead. You’ll have to change to another survivor related to the one that died or begin again entirely. This works as a double edged sword – it keeps players on their toes but it also might put some players off due to the micromanaging required to get more survivors in your enclave.

SOD - Screenshot SwarmWhen you’re not carrying out missions or recruiting survivors to help band together, you’ll be scavenging the lands for supplies and resources. Some resources will be simple – like food for you and your survivors, medical supplies to heal any combat wounds and other materials to create weapons and other loot for your team. Most of the scavenging is how you’ll build rapport with your survivors and this rapport is how you’ll recruit other survivors or even get them to do favours for you.

On the slight off-chance that you’re dense enough to enter into combat, State of Decay really doesn’t favour players who decide to take such an approach. Between explosives, guns and melee weapons there are quite a few choices on how to take down zombies but none of them feel terribly efficient. Explosives are great to damage enemies but harder to aim properly. Guns are obviously quite powerful too but carrying ammo for them usually takes up more inventory space than it’s worth. Melee weapons are more common but break easily and require you to get up close and personal.

SOD - Screenshot GunThere’s benefits and consequences to whichever weapon type you choose to use to the point where you’ll probably use a combination of all three, but the combat is so cumbersome that it’s almost guaranteed you’ll want to avoid it as much as possible. Whether this is a purposeful design choice or not is left ambiguous – but it does feel like some combat situations, especially those with larger groups, feel like more of a game of luck than skill.

Those who have never played the original game will be happy to hear that the two major downloadable expansions are included in this update too. Breakdown is a “horde style” survival mode where players have to stay on their feet and survive as long as possible without dying as the game gets progressively more difficult. Lifeline follows the military rather than the civilians in an entirely new campaign. As you’d expect, Lifeline is a lot more substantial in terms of its offerings and even offers a brand new area to explore.

SOD - Screenshot LifelineWhen all is said and done, despite the numerous issues with its presentation, State of Decay is still a pretty hefty game content wise. Most players who seek to do at least half of the things the game offers will manage to squeeze a solid fifteen to nineteen hours out of the package. The downloadable content packages (included with the game) will easily extend that beyond thirty or so hours. Considering the price, it’s a great deal, but it’s also rather pointless if you’ve played it already on the Xbox 360.sod-CONCLUSIONState of Decay: Year One Survival Edition is a solid offering and one of the more unique zombie driven games in what has become an undeniably saturated genre. It focuses not only on providing some (cumbersome) ways to take down zombies but also other facets that contribute to the element of survival. It’s also packed to the brim with content, representing excellent value for money as a package.

But that comes with a single caveat – it’s only as good as its original appearance on the Xbox 360. The game itself has been slightly “remastered” but looks almost no different to its predecessor. The visual improvements are barely noticeable, most of the presentation glitches are still here and the only benefit to buying it on Xbox One is the ability to not have to go back to playing it on 360. Yes, it’s reasonably great fun, and given it’s relatively modest asking price, it might be worth it. Just don’t expect anything majorly new.

Good value package
Interesting permadeath mechanic
Very poor presentation
Cumbersome combat
Not an immense upgrade over Xbox 360 version