STAFF REVIEW of State of Decay 2 (Xbox One)

Thursday, May 17, 2018.
by Brent Roberts

State of Decay 2 Box art For decades now, we as a society have been entranced by monsters, but probably none have garnered such a special place in our hearts as zombies. Countless books, TV shows, and movies clearly demonstrate that we love us some zombie action. Utilizing the Unreal 4 engine, developer Undead Labs has attempted to deliver a zombie survival horror game that feels like it should have its own A&E timeslot. Priced at $29.99, State of Decay 2 has a lot to live up to, but thankfully has a tremendous amount of content to source from, so let's see just how dead is undead. Now as you read this, know that I'm writing this as my communities are ongoing as we speak, and I'll fill you in on how they are holding up as the retail launch hits.

State of Decay 2 is setup in a manner that allows you to take control of a pair of people and each one has his/her own special abilities and traits. While some may specialize in mechanical work, others may be proficient in gardening, so who you choose to play as will ultimately help shape your experience. From there you will go through a tutorial where you will come to grips with the gameplay mechanics. This is quite simple as it's very similar to what we have experienced before (A for jump, B for dodge (hold crouch), X for attack and Y to interact/search). For a game of this nature, the overall feel of the controls varies between sluggish at times to oversensitive.

For example, if you're trying to dodge an attack and turn to strike your enemy, the controls feel like they hesitate, thus making the control feel sluggish. Now, let's say you want to refuel a car, you will have to position yourself in just the right spot, so you can fill it up. If you should stray, even a hair away in a different direction, you will either get an option to open the trunk of the car or ride in the back seat. This is when the game almost gives you too many choices and not enough room to make a decision accurately given the sluggish feeling. Once you get through the tutorial though, you're on your own. Just like popular TV zombie shows like The Walking Dead, State of Decay 2 forces you to make tough choices and ensure that not only do you survive, but that you do everything possible to rid the world of the blood plague by destroying what are called Plague Hearts. Sorry, but I won't spoil what it is or any details as they need to be experienced.

I just talked about making tough choices, and in one of my camps I thought I would do the noble thing and start bringing in everyone I could save as I thought there were strength in numbers. However, I was unaware as to the consequences of my choices till I realized the resource drain these members had on my outpost. State of Decay 2 essentially demands that you hunt through these massive sandbox levels for various resources such as food, medicine, ammo, construction materials and gas. These are the lifeblood resources that will either make or break you, and you can see a little display of a simple smiley face that can go from cheerful to hopeless and that will let you know something went went wrong.

So, for my first community I ended up not stockpiling enough resources as I just focused on people, and soon my food was in the negative, so even rationing it wouldn't work, and even with two level-2 gardens and two more food outposts, I still was running a negative food production. I chose to ignore this as I was interested in watching what the game did to my survivors. Well, I would get pop up messages that said that one of my camp members was starving, or that another member felt sick due to starvation. That is when I had a hard choice, I could go out and look for resources, or I could kick out people until I was back to a positive food production. Well, I didn't do either, as I let the people die from starvation and figured that the weak would die off while the strong held on to feast. While inhumane to the logical person, it worked. While people did mourn the passing of fellow members of the community, 20 min later the mourning ended and I was at a positive food production number and the morale was on the climb like nothing ever happened. Just goes to show you how fickle your community can be.

Outside of resources you also must maintain a relationship with the people. Other factions will ask for your help and you can decide to help them or not, but that will determine if they are friendly to you or hate you with upmost passion. I found that if you wait long enough, you can watch as the people in these other factions leave. While this prevents you from trading with them, it also prevents them from taking resources, so I was just fine with letting them go. I just talked about how fickle people can be in the game and my 2nd community had a guy who literally did nothing but complain about zombie infestations. Constantly on the radio about how no one respects him and that no one takes him seriously or cares about him, blah blah blah.

So, I say fine, I bring him along as a follower and select his quest to make him happy. I'm on my way walking and I clear out 2 other infestations, so I figured that would make him happy, nope. Instead, after the 2nd one was cleared out, he turns to me and says that he will go find others who really care about him and that I could go f*** off, and he abandoned my group. This is also a valuable time to tell you that if you equip items and weapons to your followers, and they leave you, then you will lose all those items forever.

Infestations are designated areas on your map where a congregation of zombies are present along with at least one screamer. A screamer is an armless zombie that doesn't walk fast, but it screams at such a high pitch that not only will it call in more zombies from nearby areas, but it can also resurrect fallen ones that haven't been executed. It goes without saying that these screamers are the primary targets and should be executed as quick as possible, but screamers aren't the only zombies to worry about. Bloaters are zombies that are naked overweight gas bags that run to as you and once close they explode in a poisonous cloud that can kill you. Should you hit one with your vehicle, stop the car immediately (B is handbrake) and get out as the car will fill with the gas and kill both you and your follower(s), should you have any. Feral zombies move lightning fast, hit like a brick and are savage on a primordial level. Put one of these down quick because if you're not careful, one of these can put you down in a matter of seconds. Last, but not least, is the Juggernaut. This colossus of a zombie is easily 8-9 feet high, about 500lbs and could be described as a pissed off freight train that won't stop until it breaks you in half. Even with a follower, I strongly recommend both of you hitting it with tremendous firepower and then swarm it from both sides with melee attacks until it drops.

To put things into perspective of just how powerful one of these beasts are, I was driving a military SUV at full speed and slammed head on into one and bounced off while the Juggernaut just said "ooof" and staggered a bit. I got another running start and the same thing happened only this time my SUV started to smoke because of the damage. That was precisely the same moment I heard a Feral zombie and it lunges at the driver’s side door and ends up ripping it off the car. What happened next? Ever see Monty Python and The Holy Grail? All that was missing were the coconuts.

To make sure you have all the equipment you need to fight off these gargantuan zombies you should make sure you have weapons that aren't broken. Just like managing your resources are important, so is making sure your weaponry won't let you down when you are out scavenging. Blades will dull over time and break, handguns will jam and not fire, but there is one trait to consider, the bolt action weapons. Guns such as bolt action rifles or revolvers will NOT, and I can't stress this enough, NOT break...ever. I found this out while one of my camps had my character trying to fight off a Juggernaut; not fun. This tidbit of knowledge will become invaluable as you progress, so please retain this tidbit of information. To fix and repair your broken and damaged items you will need to allocate one of your available spaces at your camp to a workbench. From there you will unlock the ability to repair items with the use of screw materials that you pick up throughout your searching.

As you progress and develop more of a reputation, you will earn star points that can be used in a multiple of ways. You can use these points that you earn to establish other outposts that provide things such as medical supplies, food, gas, ammunition and more which can be added to your base to bring in more resources. These can also be used to purchase new bases to move your growing community to that can provide room for expansion and growth. These reputation stars can also be utilized to call in favors on the radio such as support from online members to finding where certain resources are etc. These stars also can be used as currency when trading with other enclaves for various items they may have (pending they are friendly to you).

Now, you may think that with all these uses that you gain a ton of stars rapidly throughout your gameplay, but it's quite the opposite. For instance, in my 2nd community I am now sitting at 10 members which is WELL over my allotment for my home base, so I need to move; however, I managed to save up 1,000 points, so I can spend them on buying a water tower which will provide my base with water, but the largest encampment I've found so far is a mini-mall which can support 8 people (still 2 under my amount, but I can manage that) and that comes at the low cost of 3,500 points. While that is a lot when you only get +5 points for taking out a zombie or two, and +25 for taking down a Feral, Screamer, and/or Juggernaut, you will quickly come to the conclusion that doing quests will be the way to rapidly acquire the points you need.

This means you have to now manage your time as well, because your quest list is forever changing. When factions fall in and out of favor with you, so will their missions available to you and should they leave after being ignored for a while, then those missions are gone permanently and you're left with whatever you can find. This is where isolationism may or may not be the best thing for your group, so this will be a decision you will have to make on your own. I managed to find some of these camps by pressing the back button (next to the start button) whenever a request came in and I marked the targets. To reach these people I made sure I grabbed as many gas cans as I could carry, loaded them into the car along with repair kits (I learned from the Juggernaut), and I drove around, stopped at surveying points to unlock more of the map and went on a sort of "meet the neighbors" tour.

Now for a brief recap to sum things up as to what you will be required to manage:

1) Resources - Food, medicine, building supplies, ammo, gas.

2) Relationships - Foth with the members of your group and the community.

3) Time - People won't wait because they also must survive. Whether or not you're a part of that is up to you.

4) Storage - You can't carry everything all at once, so you will have to prioritize and come back for what you can't carry or pack in your vehicle.

Phew. State of Decay 2 does have a weak point that, in my opinion, kind of takes away from the majesty of the game, and that is the graphics. Sure, the developers use the Unreal 4 engine; however, the character models and environment are underwhelming and something that we can expect to see from an earlier generation Xbox game. I can understand that loading all those environmental assets takes a long time (thus long loading screens) at a higher resolution, so I'm guessing that this was a deliberate play to save on resources for the game management? Either way, the real winner for me though has to involve the sound effects and the music. While you hear the traditional guitar strumming and melodic atmospheric music, State of Decay 2 is made for a surround sound system.

For instance, when I slammed my vehicle into a Juggernaut and did nothing to it but piss it off, my damaged vehicle ran as fast as it's tires could carry it. However, there was smoke billowing out from under the wrecked hood, you heard the engine actually knocking and pinging like it was about to die. Then as I headed home one of the zombies attacked the vehicle and ripped my door off which caused a small fire to form under the hood because my car was getting destroyed. It's instances like this that highlight the attention to detail. I said sound effects were a treat, but not the voice acting, and that's because the voice acting is marginal at best and doesn't stand out even though the voices are unique. But go creeping through the woods at night with your tiny little flashlight and listen to all the zombies moaning and walking all around you and you'll see what I mean.

There are other little tweaks that sort of got to me as I was playing. For instance, when driving there seemed to be a constant thin horizontal line that would flash and flicker about halfway up the screen. While it did nothing but distract me, it was annoying as can be. Other quirks that set this game back were the raining zombies, yes raining zombies. When you set off driving sometimes you move faster than the game can process the nearby enemies, so they literally drop in from the sky like rain. I personally didn't mind so much until the game dropped a bloater very close that required me to drop it with some pistol fire, which then drew the attention of many other zombies in the area so my stealthy approach to scavenging just turned into a makeshift Rambo movie. I've chosen to guess this is because of the resource allocation limitations within the game itself.

Another gripe I have is the inability to pause the game. I never played the first version of State of Decay, but there apparently isn't any way to pause the game. I understand this is because you're loading yourself into a fluid environment that is constantly evolving, but with everything to manage, plus navigating to help others, having the ability to pause the game to go over what to do next would be helpful. To combat this I found that I didn't do any planning in the field and instead focused all my planning in the base. I do this because I've lost count how many times I've called up my map to see where I'm at and my resources are and was attacked by a zombie. This is one of many reasons it helps to bring a partner, especially if playing cooperatively with another person online, with you when you venture out.

While there are some aspects of State of Decay 2 that are subpar, it goes without saying that you get a phenomenal amount of content for only $29.99. I never got around to playing the original State of Decay, but I have to say this game has me hooked. While it can seem a bit overwhelming at times with everything to manage, there are games that cost twice as much and deliver half as much content. State of Decay 2 is now, in my honest opinion, the undisputed king of zombie survival horror games and the rest of the industry better take notice because Undead Labs didn't just raise the bar, they took it, caved in a zombie's head, then used the bar to lock the door and force the rest of the companies to fight for survival. While yes there are some faults to be found, the scales are overwhelmingly tipped in its favor. If you're a fan of The Walking Dead, zombies, survival horror games, open world action adventure games, then without question State of Decay 2 is a day one purchase.

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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