Undead Labs' Zombie MMO Precursor
Undead Labs was founded on a simple but ambitious goal: to make the best and most comprehensive zombie game ever. Originally, the studio's first game was going to be an MMO version of the end of the world, but this eventually shifted to become a multi-game plan to build up to an MMO zombie game to beat all other MMO zombie games. State of Decay, launching today on the PC via Steam, is the port of an Xbox Live exclusive and easily one of the best games the over-crowded zombie genre has seen. It's also the precursor to the eventual MMO, and therefore we think it's worth taking a spin in to see what might await us when the Labs' "Class4" MMO is launched. State of Decay was XBL's fastest selling original game ever, and we believe there's good reason to pick this one up on day one for the $20 cost, so long as you don't mind work-in-progress controls. Read on for more thoughts.
State of Decay is a single-player zombie survival RPG sandbox. The world is fairly large, dynamic, and reacts to the choices you make as you play through the title's main story. There are tons of locations to forage through, scout, scavenge, barricade, and explore. There are survivors throughout the world, and you can rescue them and rally them to your camp/s to help your small settlement. It's a harrowing world filled with tension, but it's also quite buggy and needing refinement in its PC release.
The PC controls aren't fully finished, even on launch day, though they've come a long way in recent weeks I'm told. The mouse and KB controls are a bit wobbly, and leave your character feeling like he or she is gliding on the landscape rather than walking across it. The camera, as a result, is also fairly poor and you can't remap keys to suit your needs just yet. Admittedly, the PC controls are high on UL's priority list with Community Manager Sanya Weathers saying as much just a few days ago on the forums. But for now, if you're able, I'd plug in a 360 controller or something similar as it handles much better for now. And with how seldom you'll want to use a gun in the wild (they attract hordes like no other), it's not like mouse aiming will be missed all that much. Melee handles perfectly well with the controller or M/KB setup, but for now a dual-joystick controller is the best way to play State of Decay.
I keep in mind that, even with Microsoft Studios publishing the title, Undead Labs is an Indie team who managed to create a very compelling survival RPG without a massive budget. Though the above complaints might seem major, and the controls are annoying, I'm far more impressed with State of Decay than depressed. It's clearly the port of an Xbox game, but UL never intended to bring the game to the PC originally. And considering that it's currently #2 on the Steam Top Sellers, I'm betting they're glad they did. I can only hope they'll plan a PC launch of the MMO when the time comes, and not leave us with ported controls.
The game itself, minus the my kvetching about the controls, is a fabulous experience. Nightime, even with your flashlight handy, is always a tense experience. One zombie can be easily overcome, as can a small group, but roving hordes are another story. Your weapons break, and ammo must be scavenged, so knowing when to fight and when to sneak past the undead is always a welcome skill. You begin the game with an NPC friend, though don't expect that you'll always be partied up. Except during missions that include partners, most of SoD is a solo-affair. You switch between different people in your encampment, but don't go getting too attached... because they can be bitten and they can die.
Like other games in the zombie genre, your characters will grow tired if you spend too much time out in the wilderness, and you'll want to switch between different survivors to keep them all rested (which takes real-world time to accomplish). You'll spend most of the game finding and collecting supplies to keep your camp running and its inhabitants healthy, all while progressing a main story-arc. When you log out, though SoD's not an MMO, the game goes on without you. The camp will eat through supplies and your tired or sick characters will rest or get worse for wear. This isn't explained very well in-game, but I'd advise reading the "How to Play" section at the game's launch menu.
What seems really interesting to me about State of Decay, and Xbox Live players can tell me if I'm right, is that the experience won't ever be the same twice through playthroughs. You'll visit the same locations and travel the same map, but how things happen and progress is all up to what choices you make and the result that comes with them. You might want to get attached to characters, but I wouldn't recommend it. Luckily, though somewhat sadly, there's not a lot of personality in some of them so only a few will become memorable in any way.
So far, though there's still a way to go for my first playthrough (the PC version comes with existing DLC, and the upcoming to-be-released Breakdown DLC that adds a "never-ending" mode where players try to keep an RV operational while fighting off ever-increasing hordes of zombies. In short... State of Decay has a lot to do, and great replay value. For $20, even with spotty PC controls right now, I can't recommend it enough if you're craving a non-MMO with a unique take on zombies and survival.
Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter@thebillmurphy.