De­vel­oper Un­dead Labs Pub­lisher Mi­crosoft Stu­dios For­mat PC, Xbox One Re­lease 2018


Azom­bie game is a hard sell in 2017. But it was a hard sell in 2013 too, when Un­dead Labs launched the first State Of De­cay. Clunky, un­even and ram­shackle, the game nonethe­less at­tracted some 4.5 mil­lion play­ers, its flaws eas­ily over­looked be­cause of the things it did so well. It was not a game about killing zombies – though we cer­tainly killed a lot. In­stead, it was a game about sur­viv­ing the un­dead apoc­a­lypse, a deep sim­u­la­tion of what it takes for peo­ple to stay alive against over­whelm­ing, flesh-eat­ing odds.

The se­quel smooths out the first game’s kinks, broad­ens and deep­ens its sim­u­la­tion, and adds what the stu­dio says was the most-re­quested fea­ture that never made it into the first game: on­line co-op. That comes ei­ther through menu se­lec­tions to join or in­vite friends, or by sim­ply fir­ing a flare gun into the sky, which starts match­mak­ing with play­ers who have of­fered their ser­vices as vol­un­teers. Yet it’s the sim­u­la­tion el­e­ments, rather than the prospect of palling around in the un­dead killing fields, that most al­lures about State Of De­cay 2.

The char­ac­ter-trait sys­tem has been greatly ex­panded. We’re in­tro­duced to Matt, whose past life as a chore­og­ra­pher gives him nat­u­ral strength and speed; he’s been used a lot in com­bat, and has been el­e­vated to the rank of Hero, which con­fers a stat bonus onto the en­tire party. But he also snores, which con­trib­utes to an on­go­ing com­mu­nity-wide prob­lem with sleep de­pri­va­tion, and has strin­gent ex­pec­ta­tions of others, which has put a lit­tle ding in our morale stat.

The com­mu­nity’s big­gest cur­rent prob­lem, how­ever, is food. Un­less it’s ad­dressed star­va­tion will set in within days, af­fect­ing health, stamina and morale, and may lead to de­par­ture or death. Luck­ily Tif­fany, a re­cent re­cruit, used to be a groundskeeper; rather than head out to scav­enge for food and a quick fix, we can in­stead go hunt­ing for seeds, while the rest of the group – in­clud­ing Tif­fany, who’s too im­por­tant to risk and won’t be much use any­way, be­cause of her asthma – stay back to build a farm.

Ex­plo­ration is per­ilous. You can en­ter al­most ev­ery build­ing in the open world, search­ing its cup­boards and crevices quickly or qui­etly. We find some seeds, but are quickly alerted by ra­dio comms that there’s a noise prob­lem back home: con­struct­ing the farm has drawn a horde of zombies, and we race back, keen to stop them from en­ter­ing the base. If they get in, the en­tire com­mu­nity will be drawn into the fight. Af­ter all this, the last thing we want to do is lose Tif­fany. A few dozen hacks and slashes later, the base is clear, the group is safe, our demo ends and we walk away sur­prised. Un­dead Labs, in the year 2017, just sold us a zom­bie game.

The se­quel smooths out the first game’s kinks, and broad­ens and deep­ens its sim­u­la­tion

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