May 18, 2018

State of Decay 2 - Review

When the first State of Decay game released, it was something fresh in amongst the horde of other zombie-based games and now, many years later, we have the sequel, but has it evolved, or is just decomposing more.

As you begin the game, you will need to select from one team of two people, out of a selection of four and while you might think that you can just pick who looks the coolest. Each person has a specific set of skills, which are not changeable at that point and each person has a skill that will be something that only they have, so the decision is something you will need to make and the impacts of which, might not be felt for some time. Once you have selected your team, the game drops you in as you enter into an abandoned military camp, which has been overrun by the Zeds, what they call Zombies and it is here where you discover the latest danger to the survivors, the Blood Plague. Some people that were still hanging around the camp agree to help you, when one of your party is infected with the disease and together you head out to find someone to set up your first camp.

You can then choose from one of three areas to set up your camp in, once selected the game will take you to it, before your car runs out of gas and you have to go on foot. This is how you will spend a lot of your time in the world, so walking is something you need to get used to, quickly. Like with the first game, every action that you undertake generates noise, create to much or create it to close to a zombie and you will draw them to you. Walking will generate a small amount of noise but running grants more and crouching or walking very slowly, creates even less, so picking the right speed for the right time will be helpful. Once you get to your base and get it set up, you are tasked with first getting supplies to build a clinic, if you want to have any hope of curing your friend.

This is perhaps the games biggest part, the obtaining of supplies, you do this by heading out to the various houses, business and other buildings that surround your base. If you go towards a construction site, or warehouse, you will likely find building materials, where as if you go to a house, food and medicine will be your treasure. Each person that you have in your base, has different limits, so while someone might be good at crafting items, they may suck at fighting and those same restrictions apply to what they can carry. Every item in the world is weighted, carry to much and you get slowed down and if your character at the time can’t carry a lot of items, then their stamina will drop, should it drop to low, they won’t be able to fight back, at least with melee attacks.

Combat is broken down into one of three ways, the stealth takedown, the melee fighting and the ranged fighting, with weapons. Stealth is always going to be your friend at night, and if you want to avoid drawing attention to yourself and if fighting is impossible to avoid, then you can get in and fight with whatever melee weapon you have on you at the time. These actions use up stamina and while it does come back, you only have so much you can use before its all gone, leaving you vulnerable to attacks and should you be carrying an overloaded pack, the amount you can use in combat is limited even more. So right there, you have multiple things to worry about and that is only by the time you head out for some building materials, but when you have to consider that each melee weapon can be broken, you need to keep thinking ahead with everything that you do.

Thinking ahead also comes into play when you consider your base, the space of each is finite, which means that for each plot of land you opt to build something upon, you are missing out on something else. While things like medical and storage are important, the game lets you remove your beds, if you wanted to, and you can then replace them with a crafting station or something else as equally silly. Taking out one type of room, simply to build something else is possible and something I have done, but the problem is the build time is in real time, so if states 15 minutes, then you had best find something else to fill your time. The issue with removing some rooms as well, is that it lowers your morale, if that gets low, people will not want to work, if they don’t work you base becomes a nightmare and when night falls and zombies appear to try and break into your base, they might succeed. Each time you move base, you can only take with you, so many supplies, so it is all a matter of picking and choosing what type of base you want to build.

If you were overwhelmed by the amount of options here, things can get even crazier, once you start to trade with fellow survivors, some of which may choose to join you in time. Trading is a fantastic way to try and get some resources you need, without having to fight through a few dozen zombies to get them, the problem is, the humans are far craftier than the zombies and after a while, one group may start asking for more things, than you can provide. Sure, you can go and gather what they need for them, trading for a few items, but when it comes down to your group or there’s, I always chose my own, which led to other problems. If another group becomes angry at you, wants what you have or any other number of reasons, they will attack you and they do so at range, which means weapons, but as they are not zombies, but humans, they move faster and smarter and can take you down with ease and when your character dies, they are gone for good.

It is possible to finish the game with the same character that you start as, I did not manage it, but theoretically, it is possible. As each character in your base levels up the more you use them, you will want to keep swapping them around, something you need to do anyway, thanks to the stamina problem, but when your most levelled up person is killed, by a human or zombie, it can set you back a bit. Fighting humans is a risk, not just because of the danger they pose, but the noise you create, might bring the zombies in as well and no matter how good you might think you are, you can’t fight a battle on two sides. If you wanted to, you can throw loud noise making items towards the other humans, to help draw any nearby zombies in, but if you do, you run the risk of getting not only the normal ones, but some of the stronger and scarier ones.

If you break the zombies down into classes, there are three distinct groups, there are your average ones, which range from crawling across the ground, to the ones from any other zombie movie or game. There are the ones that are covered in blood plague, which still fall into the basic group, but their attacks can cause you to develop the blood plague itself, which is not good and then there are the horrible ones. These four can range from annoying to down right terrifying, depending on how you encounter them, the first one you will encounter is the Screamer, these guys will hang around other zombies, the basic ones, but if they spot you, or you trigger them in some way, they will scream, thus the name, and when they do, they will call in more zombies than you can possibly handle, but he is not the worst.

The most frightening is the Feral zombie, it moves with the speed of a car and can deal out some considerable damage against you, should you find yourself in its sights, seeing it keep up with cars is something that becomes the thing of nightmares. The Juggernaut though, is slow for the most part and can be defeated, if you stay away from it, but get to close and just like the E3 trailer from 2017, bye-bye survivor. The most harmless of them though is the bloater, a zombie that is filled with a poisonous gas that explodes upon contact, while distance is key to taking it out, it has had moments where it falls onto the road you are driving on and while easy to avoid in the sunlight, at night, not so much. Each of these zombies helps keep things fresh, even if they are not, because you never know when one might show up, while taking out a plague heart or raiding a gallery for supplies.

Perhaps the most terrifying part about the game are the bugs and controls, there were times when I would be stuck behind a door, unable to move properly, because if I tried a fast move, I would get stuck on the door and slow movements, in tight spots, just confuse the game. There was an instance of where I was returning to the base with a loaded backpack and a supply kit, only to find the gates wide open, but when I went to walk through them, the game would not let me. After waiting for a few moments, the prompt to open the gate appeared, which then caused them to slam shut and open after I pressed it. There were times when the tutorial would tell me to do something, only for the game to give me a different prompt on what was required, so after breaking open multiple timber supply kits, I was able to work out to ignore them.

State of Decay 2 is a fun game, but it does not look it, the world is bland and yes I get that a zombie apocalypse has happened, but no single location looks interesting to explore. The world, at least the section that I played it, was flat and boring, with only a fill hills surrounding my base and due to the flatness of the world, I was able to notice fresh zombies popping in. Characters look fine, but they won’t win any awards, thankfully, due to the random nature of creation, you will never really know who you might get, which is fun. Voice work is a mixed bag as well, sometimes the voice work is on point, other times it feels like it was phoned in from another country, the music is much of the same, its atmospheric enough that it helps build the mood at times, but once you stop playing, no single part of the score will stay with you.

Overall, my time with the game was enjoyed, there were a number of issues that I wish were fixed, I would have liked the ability to expand my bases, adding more defences and such as I went, but that was not possible. The game offers co-op from the outset and people can join in at random as well, which can help keep things fresh, but finding someone to play with, before release was a hassle. If you enjoyed the first game, you are going to get a lot more of the same here, but if you did not enjoy it, then you best zombie shuffle on by.

Review copy provided by Microsoft

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