Game: State of Decay: Year-One Survival Edition
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Undead Labs
Platform reviewed: Xbox One
A review copy from the publisher was provided for the purpose of this review.
State of Decay is one of those games that received high praise when it first came out. Blending survival aspects with zombies and light roleplaying game elements, it seemed Undead Labs were onto a winning formula. The game has been somewhat of an “AA darling” as it stands, joining the likes of Outlast and Ori and the Blind Forest. The praise it received was for good reason too. While the graphics weren’t exactly stellar, and the game overall suffered from some lack of polish, the gameplay was nonetheless addicting and you’d easily get lost just trying make sure you had enough food for the next few hours. Undead Labs have sought this time to recapture that same feeling, creating the State of Decay: Year-One Survival Edition, or YOSE for short. Did they succeed?
Story wise, State of Decay has never been all that amazing either. You start off as Marcus, who is out on a camping trip with his best friend Ed. The game unceremoniously and abruptly drops you in that position. You spawn, and Ed is already being mauled by zombies. You run over to help him, and thus begins your journey. You are trapped in a rural nature park, zombies are everywhere and you are ill-equipped to do anything about it. You head to the park community center and discover other survivors. Climbing a nearby water tower, you can see that there’s not much of civilized society left in your general vicinity, with some abandoned campsites, and rundown old shacks being your only comfort. One of the survivors in the center has a radio, and it may be your only lifeline, but first you need to get your bearings and take stock of everyone’s mental state.
The story of State of Decay: YOSE is told by in-game scenes, generally foregoing cut-scenes altogether and unraveling via various side missions that are mostly optional. You’ll learn quite a few things about each character’s back story as you play, getting to know the sorts of temperaments they are, as well as how to keep them all happy. Some are paranoid, some are angry, some are devious and evil and through the decisions the player makes, the story slowly unfolds. While the story opens up a lot of questions that go somewhat unanswered, it’s not a bad thing. There are subtle nuances here and there as well as the occasional little twist in subplots you won’t see coming.
While the story isn’t anything particular special above your standard zombie survival far, it’s not really lacking either. Everything makes sense for the most part. State of Decay is really about the people, rather than the journey and YOSE is no different in this manner. While decisions can affect plot slightly, the story is linear, for the most part, following the exact same formula as the original release of the game on PC and Xbox 360. While this is by no means a bad thing, it is somewhat disappointing as it would appear that State of Decay as a whole has very little replay value.
As always, the gameplay is where State of Decay and YOSE really shine. There are minor issues with some of the controls, regarding driving and shooting but overall the gameplay feels exactly as it did in the initial release. Once you get a certain part of the way through the game, you can start to utilize different survivors, other than Marcus. Each survivor has their own strengths and weaknesses to start with, though by the end of the game these become less crucial as you’ll have amassed a veritable small army of powerhouses in every single main skill category. As always, shooting is the one that takes the longest to grind with, purely because gunplay in State of Decay is almost never a good idea.
Noise plays a major factor in regards to gameplay. While guns can be quite a boon when used correctly, they can also be a two-edged sword, drawing throngs of the horde from everywhere. While the standard run of the mill undead are of no consequence, they can be a nuisance when having to tackle some of the bigger tougher zombies, like the Juggernaut or the Feral. Fighting these particular unique zombies can be quite taxing on both health and stamina and while stamina is a lesser concern, running out leaves you vulnerable to their instakill abilities. This coupled with the fact that cars are generally far safer leads to an almost suicidal situation when using guns. While the sound can sometimes be mitigated by attaching a silencer (to pistols only), going loud in YOSE is generally just not worth it.
Guns aren’t the only issue when considering the noise factor. Players can stealth their entire way through the game if they choose to, sneaking from hiding spot to hiding spot. Stealth attacks are your friend when going quiet, although you will be spotted at some stage. The zombies are surprisingly crafty at times and may glimpse you even if you give them a wide berth. If you avoid detection, you can usually perform a stealth attack, killing them instantly and save stamina in the process. Noise plays a factor in stealth as well obviously, as while scavenging you make noise. You can choose to scavenge an item faster as well, but that is ill advised as it is often far louder and can be as detrimental as using firearms. Luckily you can always radio for assistance if you get in a bind.
Combat is the same this time round. You can perform heavy and light attacks, as well as finishers when enemies are on the ground. You can train your cardio, combat, powerhouse, shooting and scavenging (wit) skills. Sadly, apart from certain story quests you won’t need to fight all that much. Driving is so much easier, with mowing down zombies and it even works on the bigger ones too. You can honk your horn, make a commotion and clear out infestations, help missing survivors, and complete most missions using just a car. While this is good, as some of the missions with Cleo are really hard, it does make the rest of the game somewhat pointless. Yes, cars take damage when you ram zombies but it’s minimal and ultimately rather inconsequential. Cars are by no means limited and before you reach halfway through YOSE, you’ll have amassed a veritable fortune of supplies you can use to trade, or build new structures and research new avenues of survival.
Where the game really shines in how busy it keeps you. There is so much to do, with story, keeping your survivors sane, keeping them alive, scavenging for food, setting up outposts, setting traps, protecting your outer perimeter and dealing with your party’s personal issue, State of Decay is a massive game. While you can rush through the story somewhat, there are still many non-negotiable maintenance missions that require your attention at all times and it makes the world feel alive. This aspect is truly the heart of State of Decay: Year-One Survival Edition. The hunter-gatherer aspect wears thin fairly quickly, but the sheer volume of things to do, and how the game keeps you busy constantly is what immerses you and keeps you engrossed.
Graphically, State of Decay: YOSE is a fairly small leap. The colors feel lighter than the previous release and the draw distance is far improved. The sky looks better, however, it’s still light-years behind current generation console graphics. The textures are quite a bit more detailed, but the models still leave much to be desired. The characters have an uncanny valley feeling to them, not appearing quite human and still bearing the same really awkward and dorky animations from State of Decay. The zombies are dirtier looking and still clip through the landscape. The game still retains its drab, boring color palette. Foliage still doesn’t look quite right and while more effort has been put into the modeling, with anti-aliasing being greatly improved, there are still plenty of jagged edges everywhere. The road textures look great while driving and the game is generally very pretty while careening down the open road.
The loss of motion blur is noticeable, and the entire game slows to a crawl at the most inopportune times. Areas without much detail still chug like crazy, and despite the game boasting that it runs at 1080 resolution with 60 frames per second as its framerate, the game looks terrible. There is virtually nothing you can do to prevent the insane amount of slowdown and it’s really quite jarring, easily breaking the immersion making even the simplest task an exercise in frustration. It gets even worse, the further you go through the game. Once you get to the big city, the frame rate slows down even further, stretching beyond the point that one is able to ignore them. It’s really sad to see, and this particular aspect more or less ruins every aspect of the State of Decay: YOSE.
The sound design is still an aspect of the game that is great. The voice acting is more than acceptable considering the amount of little known voice actors involved. The voices are all varied enough and while some characters seem a bit too enthusiastic for the zombie apocalypse, it doesn’t seem out of place. It’s always pleasant to come back from a night rummaging around people’s homes and hear Lily’s voice asking you how you’re doing, and warning you when you’re exerting your character’s limits.
The music fits the tone of the game well, with ambient music often playing quietly as you slowly scavenge through the remnants of some poor schmucks past belongings. When engaged in combat, the music picks up, most of it being orchestral-scored and hauntingly poignant. The soundtrack for State of Decay and YOSE puts other horror titles like Dead Island or Dying Light to shame, with the main theme never getting tiresom and always filling you with goosebumps as it hits the chorus.
The crunch of a zombie’s bones, your body hitting the pavement, the Screamer zombie’s shrill shriek, the rumble of a car engine, everything just sounds right. The sound effects aren’t out of place. They all fit their prospective animation or action, and the clean crispness of the audio helps you locate zombies that are lurking in wait. Sound is critical in this game, especially when it comes to avoiding the creation of certain sounds. State of Decay has always done this well and State of Decay: YOSE is no exception in this manner.
State of Decay has previously been more than the sum of its parts. Boasting very strong survival oriented gameplay, it was everything a zombie apocalypse geek like me looked for in a game. It put Walking Dead: Survival Instinct to shame and provided a very strong unique look on zombie post-apocalyptic titles that is still yet to have been matched. It’s easily one of the best games of all time that I have personally played and to see it fall apart under something so monumental as this is heartbreaking. Sure, it was never the most polished game but it had a lot of charm for what it was. If I was asked personally on my opinion of State of Decay: YOSE, I’d tell people to skip it on Xbox One. It still retains a lot of the original charm but overall it’s just too much of a buggy mess as it currently stands. Perhaps the Year-One Survival Edition version coming out on PC will fix all the really glaring issues I had with the Xbox One edition. Perhaps the devs will fix all my issues like an hour or so before it’s released. I really hope so as it commands a remarkable pedigree. To see it this bad when I was so excited for this release is quite heartbreaking. It is playable though and if you’re willing to put the time and effort in, there is a gem in this buggy mess, but I’d recommend the PC release instead. What little this provides is only marginally better than the original.