|System: Xbox One, PC|
|Dev: Undead Labs|
|Pub: Microsoft Studios|
|Release: May 22, 2018|
|Players: 1-4 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language|
by Sean Engemann
The surge of zombie fueled games may have subsided somewhat from its hyped heydays a few years ago, but that hasn’t stopped developer Undead Labs from doubling down on the Microsoft exclusive success of State of Decay a blend of open world survival horror base management action-adventure RPG that has yet to be emulated. State of Decay 2 doesn’t mess with the original concepts, instead beefing up the management options while stripping down the linear narrative.
The story is almost completely player driven, with progression based on the needs of the survivors within your community and resources needed to keep everyone alive. Food, medical supplies, weapons, and repair parts are just a few necessities scattered around three large zombie infested maps. Each venture could result in the permanent death of your character, keeping the stakes high. The game wastes little time in thrusting tough decisions in your face. Do you ration food when it’s low to stave off starvation at the cost of morale? Do you kick one person out of the enclave to make room for someone with more useful skills? Do you trade with a neutral faction or attack them and steal their supplies?
Every destination I set out towards had a purpose, none felt frivolous or casual, and all carried the dread of failure. One memorable outing had me leave my safe house in the dead of night in search of food for my starving survivors. And in State of Decay 2, when it’s dark, it’s dark, with only the eerie moans and possessed eyes indicating the presence of nearby undead. The food supplies were quite a distance away, my van was getting low on gas, and a zombie infestation lay between me and my target. My machete broke during a melee with a faster, stronger Feral zombie, my health dropped dangerously low, my van ran out of gas on the trip home, and the weight of the supplies made it a slow and cumbersome trudge back to safety. These consistent moments of survival and necessity had me pondering my next steps, even when away from the game, and yearning to get back to my survivors.
But they are a fickle bunch, each prone to their own needs and personalities, some practical and others annoying. You’ll never satisfy everyone’s needs, again setting up tough choices that makes each player’s experience a unique one, and each playthrough different. Different “bases” have different built-in amenities and other slots to dedicate to utilities of your choosing, such as a workshop, garden, infirmary, watch tower, and more. These workable slots allow you to craft various items, apply buffs, and can be upgraded and modded, all at the cost of specific resources, with some needing prerequisites or specialized skills to access. State of Decay 2‘s focus is by far more on the survival aspect than simply slaying zombies.
Of course, the zombies still manage to add some zest to the grand adventure, with an unhealthy variety of walking dead types, such as the previously mentioned Ferals, the crowd alerting Screamers, the miasma filled Bloaters, and the tank-like Juggernauts, each requiring special care to minimize health loss and permadeath. The newest and most hazardous zombie variant are the Blood Plague zombies. These red-skinned, red-eyed walking corpses will fill a plague meter on a successfully hit character. When full, the unfortunate soul contracts the Blood Plague, turning into a zombie unless given a cure, or euthanized. Taking out a Plague Heart, a mound of flesh and organs that attracts Blood Plague zombies, can supply you with the samples required to fashion the remedy, but it’s no easy feat, getting harder with each one destroyed.
The three State of Decay 2 maps offer stunning but foreboding vistas to explore in any way you wish. It's an open world, and follows the tradition of being littered with glitches. Most seem minor, such as doors not opening and closing properly, vehicles and characters getting stuck in walls, zombies dropping from the sky, and not being able to dismiss an exhausted partner. However, in a game where survival is key and death is permanent, the thought of these minor bugs causing major damage is something the devs better fix sooner rather than later. One thing that probably won’t get fixed are the unwieldy controls. Though dodging is a useful tactic and the game has decent targeting for ranged combat, melee can cause issues if your character isn’t lined up just right with an enemy. The same applies outside of combat, where dancing around ladders and doors, finding the miniscule mark to refuel a vehicle, and dealing with a wonky camera in tight spaces are issues you’d rather not worry about while foul moans creep closer.