STATE OF DECAY 2
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