Nerdview: A good review is hard to find. A good review--that is, a quality review, not a positive review--seems to be even more rare amongst professionals and dedicated reviewers. Fortunately, the Nerdery is helmed by a literary nut. Each review, whether it is a game, movie, book, or television series, will have the four elements: bias, appreciation, personal enjoyment, and general enjoyment. Put in food terms, these are odor, beef, gravy, and cheese.
Expectations 'Odor': State of Decay is an open-world sandbox game in which the player controls a small community of survivors in a world overrun by zombies. The player directs the survivors in scavenging for supplies and building a base from which they hold the zombie infestation at bay. Gameplay involves stealth, vehicles, and straight up combat with the player collecting scores of found weapons from baseball bats to shotguns to fight the shuffling menace.
Yeah, it sounds like State of Decay is kind of a ripoff of Dead State at first. That, and the fact that this game had crept under my radar until a mere three days before it was to be released, had actually muted my enthusiasm for this game, fearing it'd be a cash-in on a heavily populated game genre. And that's not the mention the name, which is so similar to Dead State that it might as well be a senile Yoda trying to recite his game library.
Appreciation 'Beef': Boy, was I thrilled with the differences. While superficially similar to the tactical promise of Dead State, State of Decay is a much more stream-lined and light approach to its themes. At its core, State of Decay feels like a focused Rockstar gameplay experience--the animations, controls, and rendering style all draw from that studio's distinct style. I didn't see Rockstar's name anywhere in the credits for this game, but I call straight-up shenanigans on that--especially after playing Undead Redemption, the zombie DLC for Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption. The games are just too tactilely familiar.
The game has that classic Rockstar/Grand Theft Auto action-style gameplay with lite RPG elements thrown in. You level up your skills in Cardio (the first of many Zombieland references in this game), Powerhouse, Fighting, and more through the regular use of the skills, increasing passive benefits regularly and occasionally getting a new ability or move as well. They also track a few keywords about each character's personality traits, as the clash or harmony of characters back at base mean you might come back from a long day of head-smashing to find your teammates at each other's throats. Sigh... Ed, you silly Idol-watching sluggard, I knew I should have dropped you off in that zombie-infested trailer park.
The open world map is quite spacious. I'd compare it to about the size of one of the states in Red Dead Redemption. The following picture shows about one-fourth of the world map in the game, and it is dense enough with interesting terrain features, lootable buildings and little zombie surprises throughout. It's a well-realized and interesting world, as testified to by how much time I spent in the first town alone before even bothering to explore the second third of the map. I still haven't gotten to the third major region of the map.Personal Enjoyment 'Gravy': Oh, it's been a while since I've played Red Dead Redemption or LA Noire, which are the games I'd compare most directly to this one in terms of primary gameplay dynamics. The zombies are typical video game undead in that their are several special boss forms and the rank and file zombie is given to running when they want to shake off the eerie shuffle of a true zed-head. Head-shots are the only way to take them down, however, and the rather clunky third-person aiming of the game engine means that dropping a zombie with anything but a shotgun blast takes a little practice and a cool head. And not trying to use the alcoholic accountant as a front-line scavenger.
|This is about one quarter of the total real estate in State of Decay|
General Enjoyment 'Cheese': By now you should really know if you'd like this game or not. It's well-crafted and pushes the genre forward in an interesting way, but it also doesn't break the rules or really surprise you, either. Sandbox fan? Get it. Zombie nut? Get it. Enjoy inexpensive games with high replay value? It's a $20 download through Xbox Live, and I find that the combination of base-building choices and character progression gives you a ton of different ways to approach the game. And the brutal way the game makes you lose vital characters and then just press on not only evokes the genre magnificently well, but it also makes you wonder whether it's worth it to restart from the beginning just one more time.