State of Decay Preview: Putting Back the Survival in Survival-Horror

State of Decay Header

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege to get a hands on demo with State of Decay, a new Xbox Live Arcade game from the talented developers over at Undead Labs during Pax East. Only a couple of trailers had been shown off prior to its demo at the convention and I knew this was my opportunity to find out more. From the 15 minutes I got to play, State of Decay could become one of the most ambitious survival games in a long time. In most zombie survival games, you are usually surviving on your own whether that means you are foraging for supplies, food, or shelter. Some games like Dead Rising have you interacting with NPC’s on an escort level while a game like ZombiU has you lose all the gear you have collected up to that point when you die, forcing you to come back as a new character and hunt down your old self to get your stuff back. While in those games you make some choices on how you want to survive, you don’t actually do any surviving. State of Decay is looking to reinvent how its done.

The first 5 minutes of the demo was a guided tour from one of the developers showing off the home base mechanics to the game. What I saw impressed me. State of Decay has multiple home base areas which are more or less safe zones from the attacking zombies. You may start with a small house but by doing good deeds and helping other survivors, you earn influence which is the currency in the game that lets you do anything from buying supplies and guns or help upgrade your base. There is a small simulation part of the game that lets you use resources you find in the wild to make your base better protected. Have enough lumber and want to build a watch tower? You can do that. How about building a second bedroom so you can accommodate more survivors? That’s there too. While you only start with one safe zone, it is possible to branch out and take other safe zones on the map by wiping out the hordes around it first. You do that with the help of other survivors.

The other survivors are your key to keep playing both figuratively and literally. You will find other people in the wild that you can convince to come back and help with your base. Each survivor has their own sets of perks and traits. The demo I saw showed a guy who used to be a chef. While he wasn’t very good at fighting after looking at his stats, he was the best cook out of our group. The developer giving the tour decided to use some resources and influence to develop a kitchen. As soon as the kitchen was complete, our chef walked right over and started making food for the other people so that they would survive longer. The survivor I played as was a bigger heavy weight man and his traits let him carry more supplies in his backpack as compared to the others. I really like this mechanic, and from the menus I flipped through there are a lot of parameters and traits these characters will have. Some may be better at fighting, some like our chef was good at cooking, or you might run into people who are great at building. State of Decay is looking to combine both the other survivors and base mechanics together. An example of this would be to use some influence to buy a sniper rifle, use some resources to build a watch tower, and task an old military vet to stand watch on top with the gun. They will defend the house from any zombies that may be getting too close to the location. This is probably the most exciting part of the game to me, and I really want to dig into the game deeper to see how much you can grow your community and base.

State of Decay Watchtower

Give a survivor a rifle and they will perch up top to help take out zombies. Or do it yourself.

After being shown the tour of the building mode, I got handed the controller and was told to go explore. The controls are much like any third person action adventure game. You can aim and shoot, jump run and interact with environment. There is a stamina system, so running depletes that meter and it looks like eating and drinking water will help make sure that meter stays at 100%. I opened up my map to take a look at the size of the game and it is quite large. One of the developers says it takes a little more than 5 minutes to drive from one end of the map to the other and the map is dense with locations to check out. State of Decay offers dynamic side missions that will pop up while playing and during my demo, a character was calling for help in the woods a couple of miles away from where I was. I ran over to a car and hopped in and headed toward the location I marked on my map. Cars in the game can and will be destroyed if you do not take care of them. While they are good at driving through a large horde, you need to be careful as they can latch on to the car, break windows and even rip doors off to get to their meaty prize. One of the developers told me that you can build a garage bay at your base and by leaving your car there, it will heal over time.

I drove over to the survivor and pulled out my pistol and unloaded several rounds into the undead surrounding the man. I quickly found out this was a bad decision. Much like any good zombie survival game, sight and sound are key features that will alert any zombie around you. The minimap in the corner shows a smaller circle that shows how much sound you are making, as crouch walking is a very tiny circle, firing a weapon is a very large circle and can get you killed quickly if not careful. Melee weapons are much more silent although if you have enough influence you can equip your guns with silencers if you so choose. I saved the man, but quickly noticed a large number of zombies were now heading towards us and ran back towards the car. We took off and the mission changed as our new friend asked to help us with defeating an armored zombie out in an abandoned  house. I was told doing these small objectives for the survivors is key to winning their loyalty. Winning their loyalty not only helps you gain influence to spend on other parts of your base, it opens up the option to play as that survivor if you do well enough. This is incredibly important as State of Decay features permadeath, meaning once that character is dead they are dead forever and nothing will bring them back. The game also features a finite amount of survivors as well, so by gaining the ability to play as a new character you gain an additional life per se. If all the playable character die, its game over. Much like ZombieU you can fight your way back to where the last person you played as perished to grab their supplies and bring back to camp.

State of Decay Influence

Use Influence to help equip your character with guns and supplies.

After marking the new house on the map, my new friend and I drove over to the small cabin and noticed large hordes around the area. Without thinking I jumped the fence and fought my way into the cabin to take out the armored zombie. I killed him but it was at great cost, as the hordes were now descending on the cabin and I jumped out the window and bolted down the street. I turned back and noticed my friend was not with me. He didn’t make it, and it was my fault. I ran back to the base and that’s where my demo ended. Thankfully it was just a demo so his death while sad wasn’t that important.

The game felt great but I did notice a couple of bugs here and there. The game had quite a bit of pop-in as I was driving and some of the zombie AI was a little flaky. An example of that was the armored zombie I was tasked to kill, was first found standing in a window sill where he clearly was not supposed to be. I will give the game the benefit of the doubt as it is still in development however talking with the developers they said it is in pre-certification right now and will be launching very shortly. I hope some of these little issues are ironed out before release but I am very impressed with what I was shown. I just hope it all comes together and all the base management features are as deep as they talked about. The game will feature a full campaign along with this “sandbox” mode that was being shown on the demo floor.

Before I left I had to ask one last question. Will the game offer coop? The idea of running around looking for survivors and building a base together would be fantastic feature to have. Unfortunately it will not have one. When I asked why, the guys at Undead Labs said they experimented with some of the ideas but as the project got more ambitious the system could not keep up. Maybe bring that feature in for the sequel on the Next Xbox as it will be much more powerful?

State of Decay will be out shortly on Xbox Live for an unknown price at this time. If I had to guess, this game looks like it will be a fantastic addition to the Summer of Arcade lineup Microsoft does every year and the game being  nearly done would fit the bill. t3chniq will have more on the game when the final version releases.