Here is a new game I stumbled across on the Xbox Live marketplace that caught my eye, a zombie survival horror game with survival playing an integral part of the game? Building a commune of survivors to ride out the apocalypse with? Building things out salvage to improve your home base? All things I have looked for in a “Survival” horror game for years.
I first got a decent taste of what a game like that could be thanks to the wonderful Project Zomboid, an early alpha stage isometric exploration and survival game being developed by a small team at The Indie Stone. State of Decay contains many of the core concepts featured in Project Zomboid but here they actually work. Not that I am down talking a game in an early alpha stage but it seems everything they want to do has been done here.
So without getting off track on a diatribe about the comparisons one can make regarding games centered on survival in a post-apocalyptic world, lets just get into this weeks First Five Review.
The First Five Seconds
I have no idea what I am getting into here, but man it seems like its gonna be a good time., this game wasted literally no time before throwing you into combat with several Zeds who were swarming your best friend Ed.
Well, I am glad I managed to survive that first encounter with seemingly no difficulty, but a little explanation would have been nice. Luckily the game begins a quick tutorial regarding movement and the mini-map, how to crouch and hide in bushes etc, all the boring stuff. Strangely I am compelled to smash all the zombie skulls I can find along the path on the way to the ranger station, which was very easy to do without to much difficulty. After making my way to the ranger station I am given my first real mission: scour the cabins for supplies or survivors.
After the ranger station, you get your first survivor named Maya who is or was in the army. She has a sweet rifle which she uses to great effect, often killing zombies before you get a chance to swing. After you rescue her from a horde of zombies, you are tasked with returning to the station where surprise, everyone is dead. Well sort-of, as your partner goes to inspect the body of the park ranger it springs to life and attacks poor dumb Ed. After relieving the ranger of his brains, Ed steals his radio and you hear a not to surprising voice on the other end directing you to your first Home Base.
This is where the game really opens up in terms of game play as you drive into town and meet your new friends who will be trying to exist in a world of shattered dreams. The game shows you the information you need to build a thriving community, like how to add structures to your base, how to make improvements to existing buildings and explaining that you need certain specialist survivors to gain unique benefits like mechanics who can repair cars or chefs who can make large meals for bonuses to survivor stats.
As you explore the town you run into zombies, other survivors and even members of the army who all have unique and pivotal roles to play in the story as it progresses. So you begin combing the houses and stores for food, building materials, ammo, fuel and medicine to keep your clan happy. Sometimes you find “Resources” which are basically large parcels of supplies that require you to carry them back in a big duffel bag at a constant drain to stamina or you can call for a scavenger to come and get them for you. Both methods can be dangerous as while you are losing stamina and cant run very far or fast, your scout is someone from your camp who runs all the way out there and then all the way back under the same conditions.
You can also choose to escort them and try your best to protect them but sometimes it ends poorly for you as hordes of flesh-eating monsters descend upon you and they just keep running with single minded determination, never stopping to help you out. I lost my main survivor this way as one of those assholes just kept running and running as I was literally torn apart. That brings me to the death mechanics in this game which are handled right. If you die, your survivor is dead and you are forced to play as another survivor with inferior stats, though you can jog out to where your corpse is and retrieve their belongings.
Each survivor has stats that are rated in 1-7 stars and can only improve through using the required skills such as fighting, cardio and wits all which improve at a snails pace, but each time you reach the next tier you feel a sense of achievement well earned. After 5+ hours I was still ready to keep trucking and see what more this game could offer me.
I kept trucking through zombie infested fields and streets, helping survivors who radioed for help and eventually earned their trust, convincing them to join my enclave. Once you reach a certain number of survivors you gain access to a new mission where you go and scout for a new home in a new town, which you can take or leave as you see fit. After a lot of searching I settled upon a giant warehouse that was suitable for 24 survivors and I moved them in ASAP.
This new town really invigorated my love for exploration as each street and building presented new opportunities to explore while the game continually ramps up the difficulty by making zombies more plentiful and adding special zombie types like the bloater, who when killed explodes with noxious gas that lasts a long time and can kill you with out much recourse or the terrifying juggernaut, a nearly indestructible beast that you cant even kill easily with the biggest trucks in the game.
After doing a mission for the army, I gained access to an artillery strike which to be honest WAS JUST AS AWESOME AS IT SOUNDS! I gathered up at least 4-5 hordes and a few special zombies in a field and then called in for an artillery strike. Boom, nearly a hundred zombies down in a few seconds and I earned a boat load of influence, which is the currency in this world.
After palying for over 20 hours, I still had not beaten the game though I certainly could have, as the last story mission is just sitting right there on my map. As long as you do not complete it, you can play forever as far as I have been told.
To summarize, this game is really really interesting. I personally found it thrilling and engaging though I could definitely see where others would see its faults as as fatal flaws. I played for over 20 hours and never felt like I was not doing it for the good of my people who often thank you verbally with great conviction. The game play can be and is fairly repetitive but please dont let that stop you from having a great time. This game tries and succeeds in all the right ways though the flaws are there. I will not say this game is perfect, in fact far from it but it lends itself to a fun experience that can really keep you busy for days and days.