Zombies took pop culture by storm and have never looked back.
The above is especially true of the gaming industry over the last several years or more, because developers have done nothing to hide their fascination with the undead. This craze has resulted in some fantastic experiences, as well as some not so great ones. And, from that varied pile, one title that has stood out from the others has been Undead Labs’ State of Decay, which is headed to both PC and Microsoft’s Xbox One in a remastered/definitive package, dubbed State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition.
When it first debuted on the Xbox 360 back in 2013 (prior to making an appearance on PC), State of Decay received a lot of attention despite not being a home run in critics’ collective eyes. Sure, it scored pretty well overall, but the general consensus was that it was a work-in-progress. A good game that could’ve been great if it had been given more time in the oven in order to reduce technical problems, and had included better mission design. With this Year One Survival Edition revamp, the hope was that most of those issues would have been fixed, but that unfortunately isn’t the case.
Like a surprising amount of its re-released peers — such as Saints Row IV: Re-Elected and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! — State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition has advanced a generation in flawed fashion. Instead of taking advantage of the Xbox One’s advanced hardware to fix frame rate problems and visual hiccups, its developers seem to have rushed things. Sure, there’s always the chance that a patch or three will greatly improve what’s broken, but that’s a crutch more-so than anything else.
While I didn’t play the full game on Xbox 360, I did give its trial a shot, though it turned me off due to its ugly visuals, frame rate issues and mediocre combat. Still, the game sat in the back of my mind as something that I wanted to give a second shot, because of the good things I’d heard about it, which is why this re-release piqued my interest when it was first announced. I quickly became excited at the idea of playing a fixed and complete version of a zombie game that quite a few people loved despite its flaws.
Though it definitely looks better now, State of Decay continues to be a visually dated game. However, since it’s an open world experience, lacking visuals are easier to overlook, but not performance issues like a sluggish frame rate that tends to add lag to routine activities like driving. Nor is it easy to look past animation flaws, which make zombies bleed through doors and walls. Thankfully none of this ruins the experience, though it’s something that everyone will have to get used to. It’s worth it, though, because underneath these performance faults lays a pretty decent zombie survival game.
For the uninitiated, State of Decay is a bit of a different take on the zombie apocalypse. Instead of being a fast-paced, kill it when you see it and move on type of ordeal, it’s more methodical and requires thought before action. You’ll play as different survivors who can, and likely will die. And when they do, they won’t return to you, forcing you to either pick a friend or switch to a brand new hero or heroine. Your upgraded skills will be lost and the deceased character’s items will as well, unless you return to the scene of the crime to regain them all.
Needless to say, this isn’t something you’ll want to play when you’re tired, as one wrong move can result in dire consequences. It’s important to be smart with how you move throughout the world (cars make noise, stamina is at a premium and hordes are all over the place), as well as the decisions you make. It’s possible to help others, who will aid you in your goal of protecting your home base and maintaining positive relationships with fellow survivors, but it’s not easy. Something always needs to be done and people tend to get scared and agitated quite often. In fact, there’s too much going on at all times; so much so that the game can feel too overwhelming.
You’ll spend most of your time outside of missions scavenging for supplies, be they edible, medical or constructible, and dealing with the thousands of brain-eating shamblers who try to take a bite out of your cranium. Expect large hordes, daunting combat scenarios and times where you’ll be so outnumbered that the end will seem mere seconds away. It can be easy to get into a situation where upwards of ten to fifteen zombies are trying to kill you at once, and surviving such ordeals can be very tricky. As such, there’s an element of luck to the game, which can lead to frustration.
One of the issues here is that State of Decay‘s combat simply isn’t that great. You have the choice of using explosives (which are tough to aim accurately during intense situations), guns (which have limited ammunition that takes up vital space in your backpack) and melee weapons (which make you go up close and personal, and also wear over time). Combining the three types is always important, but guns and explosives both make noise, so melee is usually the best option. It’s a very basic one, though, and it’s not something you’ll look forward to engaging in. However, it does have its moments, thanks to visceral one-hit stealth kills on unsuspecting foes and some pretty gnarly finishers.
Scavenging and helping (aka micromanaging) others will become your way of giving back to your community in order to make it thrive. Every quest that you complete gives you fame, and so does every item or material that you bring back. Keep abreast of how much fame you have at all times, because you’ll need it in order to hire back-up, talk community members into joining you, and even when you decide to take something out of the item locker. Yes, even taking a jar of Aspirin out will cost you, even if you were the one who gathered it in the first place.
State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition doesn’t just include the core game, but also its two lengthy DLC campaigns, Breakdown and Lifeline.
If you’re new to the game, Breakdown is an expected survival challenge, wherein you choose one character and attempt to make it as far as possible without dying while the game continually gets more challenging over time. Lifeline is a separate campaign that focuses on the the army instead of civilians. Out of the two, Lifeline is definitely the more interesting and immersive offering, and the one that I plan to spend the most time with.
Although the Year One Survival Edition doesn’t fix State of Decay‘s rather mediocre storytelling – which is masked by its flawed but addictive gameplay – it does tout improved textures and lighting effects, as well as 1080p presentation. Though, while it definitely does look better than I remember, it’s still a technical work-in-progress as mentioned above. It’s a shame, too, because they had a lot of time to work on the frame rate and hammer out some of the game’s flaws and failed to take advantage of it.
In the end, though, it comes down to how much you’re interested in a third-person survival experience such as this. If this type of game is right up your alley, then it makes sense to spend thirty dollars on it. However, if you’re on the fence or happen to be a returning fan who’s spent many hours with the original version, State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition is something that you should wait on, or perhaps even pass on altogether. There’s a lot of enjoyable and immersive content here, but it’s flawed and lacking, especially in the polish department.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
Although it's chock full of zombie-based content, State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition hasn't come to Xbox One and PC without many of its original flaws in tow. If you can overlook technical issues though, such as frame rate lag and glitchy animations, then there's a solid game to be found here.