Have You Played… State Of Decay?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

State of Decay didn’t impress me when I played it last September. Originally released on the 360, Undead Labs’ debut is an open world survival game with a structure remarkably close to my ideal zombie game. It’s about scavenging, gathering survivors, barricading, running out of supplies, collecting vehicles and avoiding enormous hordes of the living dead. Great ingredients that didn’t quite make for a fine banquet, but it’s a much better game now than it was a year ago.

A janky engine and obtrusive story missions were the main sources of disappointment for me, and the Breakdown DLC fixes the latter issue in fine style. Stripping out the story, it converts the game into a sandbox sim, dumping the player character in town and providing two simple objectives. The first? Survive. The second? Organise a means of escape.

Everything that happens is driven by the need of the player and other survivors, and the movement of zombies around the map. There are memorable moments in every hour of play and they feel as if they’re your moments.

A disastrous trip to gather food from a supermarket far from the group’s secure base can turn into a massacre, the remnants of the hunting party leaving their fallen friends behind as they scramble to the relative safety of an abandoned car. Surveying the town from on high and seeing an enormous horde heading straight for your friends, who have been sent to gather supplies and are now cut off from home.

The engine still feels unsuited to the task at times and it’s a disappointment to find the same map – with increasing difficulty – recycled over and over again. Escape and you end up back in the same town, with more zombies, less supplies and certain features randomly scattered.

Returning to State of Decay with expectations adjusted and the Breakdown DLC in place, I’ve been sucked in by its rough and rugged charms.

You can read more Survival Week articles over here.

20 Comments

  1. kevmscotland says:

    I liked State of Decay. A big reason I supported it frankly was because the studio had bigger plans and State of Decay was the first part in that road.

    Sadly, they’ve struck a deal with Microsoft so I won’t ever see the next phase as I don’t own and have no intention of owning a Xbox One.

    All that said, I still recommend SoD. Just don’t go into it expecting a polished experience.

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      Harlander says:

      I enjoyed State of Decay a lot. A useful way of calibrating your expectations re: polish would be to play an earlier iteration of the same premise, Fort Zombie. Go in expecting about the same, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well-made SoD is!

      • Toadsmash says:

        Adam pretty much hit the nail on the head — State of Decay comes so close to being my ideal zombie game. It feels more like a proof of concept than a fully featured game in its own right, and I’m amazed someone hasn’t blown the idea out into a fully featured AAA release by now. DayZ is selling like crazy, but it puts way too much focus on an outrageously hardcore PVP model and just never felt like it was very good at truly varied and immersive emergent gameplay compared to the genre greats.

        I’m so ridiculously spoiled on emergent gameplay after Shadow of Mordor. If someone can make a zombie game that does it remotely as well as that game does, I swear it’ll be the next Grand Theft Auto.

        …And while I’m dreaming, I might as well ask for a pony.

  2. Bobka says:

    This is actually a really fun game, at least for me. I finally started playing just a week ago, and I think it’s the only game I’ve played so far that actually succeeds at recreating the feel of being a survivor in a zombie apocalypse, rather than an action hero in a zombie apocalypse. (To be fair, Project Zomboid might also fall into this category, but I haven’t played it.)

    It’s worth noting that there’s also a Lifeline DLC that features an entirely new map as well as new items, abilities, and weapons. I haven’t started playing that yet, though.

    • jonahcutter says:

      “To be fair, Project Zomboid might also fall into this category, but I haven’t played it.”

      It does. You are distinctly not an action hero in PZ. You will spend a lot of your time skulking around, or running away when you fail at skulking around.

    • Martel says:

      If you like that style you should definitely snag Project Zomboid. It’s obviously not an FPS but man does it hit that feeling of being a survivor.

  3. Batolemaeus says:

    This is one of those games which I installed, launched, laughed, and threw away again.

    Not only is it a terrible console port, it was literally unplayable. The sepia filter made everything look hilariously cartoonish and drowned out everything resembling detail, I had tons of graphical artifacts and unresponsive menus.

    Also, the developers need to learn what a pointing device is.

    • beowolfschaefer says:

      They made a lot of improvements since launch. It’s really worth going back and trying it again but tbh I still think it just plays best with a gamepad.

  4. suibhne says:

    I played about 30 minutes of this. I was seriously turned off by the terrible controls, janky animations, and incredibly dumb writing, and I bounced right off the whole thing. I keep telling myself I’ll give it another shot…but the reality is that it’ll probably end up being a total waste of money. Thank goodness for Steam sales, but alas for the lack of a demo.

    I honestly don’t get how people love this game. Maybe there’s a fantastic set of systems in there somewhere, but the parts that the player has to directly touch are pretty dreadful.

    • SomeDuder says:

      The main campaign is kinda wonky. Breakdown is a “cleaner” experience, where you dont bother with a story and just focus on surviving and gathering components.

      But I definately had the best experience with Lifeline, which was a fun campaign with a decent pace, but still provided a fun sandbox. You might wanna just skip the main campaign, ending is bullshit anyway.

      • suibhne says:

        Good to hear re. the DLC. Sunk cost fallacy being what it is, I might just grab those on the next sale and give it another try.

        I’ll admit, my decision to give up on SoD was also colored by my disgust with Deadlight, another console migrant. I thought it had gorgeous art direction, clunky level design, and embarrassingly shoddy storytelling, despite receiving mountains of praise. I seriously regretted my decision to purchase the game near release, just shy of full price. There seems to be a disconnect between my expectations and those of console-centric reviewers.

    • noodlecake says:

      I assume that you tried to play it with a keyboard, and then decided it was a bad game because it doesn’t play well with a keyboard. This is a mistake a lot of people make with a lot of games. I would never try and play an RTS with a gamepad and then say the game was terrible because it doesn’t work very well. I would just use a keyboard and mouse…

      • suibhne says:

        It’s like you didn’t read my message at all – or at least ignored the parts that didn’t support your intended polemic.

  5. bowl of snakes says:

    When I first played it, man, that tutorial that kinda turned me off of it with one of the clunkier areas of the game, went back later after the DLC and really dug the whole experience. It’s rough losing a character that you’ve put a lot of time in, but it’s a cool system that gives you those hardcore-mode/roguelike moments but still lets you keep going. Good music too. I hate to hear they are going straight for an MMO, would love to have seen more of an iteration with some procedurally generated maps and co-op.

    Edit: Really appreciate this ‘Have you Played’ series too!

  6. Monggerel says:

    Zombies. Pah.
    *picks nose in indignation*

  7. caff says:

    I enjoyed this game at first. But then I realised the game didn’t care about me – it cared about itself.

    It cares about its systems, and regenerating the world around you. But you’re not really in control of anything. You’re just topping up bar graphs here and there. It’s like a 3rd-person zombie simulator spreadsheet.

  8. Erithtotl says:

    I played this on the Xbox. I liked it except that once you get a handle on the mechanics, its super-easy. Really needed difficulty settings. I guess Breakdown gets harder as you go, but I’d rather not have to ‘grind’ my way up.

    I have not played the 2nd expansion. I will probably see what they come out with on the XBox One. It’s the sort of game that doesn’t gain much by being on a PC.

  9. noodlecake says:

    I found it quite fun. It was way too easy and I got kinda bored and had a similar issue with the story. I should get the DLC at some point.

    It was fairly rickety and buggy, but charmingly so, I thought. Still much more fun than Project Zomboid, which I wasted countless hours on expecting it to suddenly click and become enjoyable.

  10. Sacarathe says:

    I expected at least one comment already, saying that this is cryengine.

    However they had to cut it down to file sizes for xbox, but if you get it to crash, as I did, you get the crytek error messages.

  11. satan says:

    Got 50 or so great hours out of this game, I did hear about the game cooking people’s video cards though, glad I was one of the lucky ones.