Creepy flesh pillars, fireworks, and a heavy focus on survival is just a sprinkling of what’s within Microsoft Studios’ latest produced third-person title, State of Decay 2. Undead Labs showcases the robust survival gameplay in a more significant way than its predecessor and seems to have a lot more to offer. But State of Decay 2 might be trying to do too much.
It has been five years since the Xbox 360 and PC platforms received the original single-player State of Decay. After an exciting wait State of Decay 2 is now here, available as a cross-platform title for Windows 10 and Xbox One, and it’s also available through the Xbox Games Pass service.
State of Decay 2 takes place amongst a barren America, now overrun with flesh loving zombies. A vast open-world intimidates you as it stitches together three huge maps. In fact, each map is the size of the original game’s single map. Players can experience it as a single-player adventure with NPC’s. Alternatively, you can join up with up to three other friends for some co-op.
Just to clarify, I have only experienced this as a single-player experience. However, a fair portion of gamers remain similarly “single-player only” so it is not a fool’s errand. Obviously, any game will always be more fun with friends, regardless of quality.
When you begin, you can choose a tutorial route with two characters, shortly meeting two other NPC’s. Or you can bypass that and get right into it with three characters individually selected before you start. And yes, in case you were wondering, you can have a nudist join your community.
The overall goal of State of Decay 2 is to establish a thriving safehouse. Players accomplish this through looting copious amounts of resources or helping out other NPC’s in the world. You can choose to have a small community or grow it to something larger. However, the size of your community determines whether you need more or less management.
Safehouses are generally your safe place. However, they can still fall under attack from the occasional meat munchers — especially if it’s not wonderfully secure. You’ll be able to build various facilities should your resource count allow you, opening up gameplay options. For instance, gardens to be grown, infirmaries can treat injured or infected members, and you can brew some top quality post-apocalyptic coffee.
While the process of looting is incredibly tedious after a few hours, it’s actually a rather clever system. Loot isn’t just randomly spawned inside areas with searchable items. What you’ll find is that garages might mainly contain fuel, supermarkets for food, and houses might have medicine cabinets.
You can scale outposts and reveal more of the surrounding area in a way usually seen in Ubisoft titles. This unlocks information about what resources may be inside buildings. While it’s an idea that works, the process of having to manually aim at a bunch of question marks to reveal individual areas is a bit weird. Why not just let us climb it and instantly reveal everything?
Inherently the process of going on resource runs tends to feel a bit too daunting. Worse yet when you realize that you don’t have that much inventory space, even with a vehicle in tow. I just tend to drag another member of the community with me. Not for them to help fight off the bone crunchers, but as extra pockets.
Zombies come in a few forms around the world of State of Decay 2. As you may imagine, glowing yellow-eyed zombies are the generic infected ones. Screamers are usually surrounded by generic zombies and able to call over more muscle nibblers. Bloaters have a large belly and will explode engulfing a small radius with toxic gas. Meanwhile, Ferals are basically the Hunter from Left For Dead.
Plague Zombies are the only undead menaces that can infect you and are identified by their red eyes, as well as the fact that they gather around Plague Hearts that spawn around the world. These Plague Hearts are weird supernatural looking pillars of god knows what, and take a fair whacking to destroy. Plague Zombies can drop Plague Samples which can be used to create cures at the infirmary.
State of Decay 2 does a great job at urging players to care for their community for their survival. The simple combat puts players in a position where the needs of the community are more meaningful than killing. You won’t find much enjoyment if you’re here for a slash-‘em-up. Stealth and survival are encouraged rather than the act of mindlessly mashing an attack button.
Because of that, the combat feels slightly arcadey, with the same melee animation taking place all the time. Gunplay packs a punch though and is loaded with enough recoil to make sure that every shot is a reminder that you’re wasting a resource if you miss.
The user interface suffers from being a cluttered mess, with panels hiding away more information than you thought. They’re also difficult to navigate when under stress from zombie attacks, so when you need to switch weapons it feels more terrifying than the initial zombies themselves. Same for switching characters, it’s just a badly thought out process.
A system similar to GTA 5’s character selection would have worked much better rather than the current community tab navigation, or speaking to the character you want to switch to. Admittedly being able to radio in your friends, or join them is a useful feature that’s easily accessible, so there is that.
The HUD gives you all the details you need to know in the top left about the camp’s status. More information can be analyzed back at camp, but it’s a very in-depth system that appears to take a while to grow on you.
It does run the risk of feeling overwhelming when you’ve got several other things to be focusing on. For instance, helping other neighbors to gain reputation, supplies, or so that they don’t turn against you for not helping. You have to do that while clearing Infestation to boost morale, and trying to stop the Nudist from getting angry for example.
One thing that is worth bringing up is the literal darkness of State of Decay 2, which is rather unwelcoming. While it does offer a more horrific experience, I can’t help but feel its visuals are too dark in general. I’ve had to boost my gamma to max on both Windows and Xbox just to see anything at all during night time ventures.
And yes, I know this is a game with zombies. But realism in the world leaves a lot to be desired. As an example, destroyed fences fix themselves up after you’ve been gone a while. Additionally, some zombie bodies vanish right in front of you. State of Decay 2 feels like it has struggled to technologically advance past the 360 edition, and often feels quite dated.
There also appears to be a horrible motion blur that’s unappealing to look at. It doesn’t pair well with graphical bugs flicker around the world as you travel at speed in a vehicle. There are only a few variations of zombies, so you’ll see the same ones very, very frequently. As if Undead Labs copied and pasted a handful of models. The focus certainly wasn’t to scare players with zombies, but just to add them as additional obstacles.
Character dialogue tends to take place with frequent updates from camp over the radio, or random stories told by NPC’s traveling with you. This ends up becoming overdone. Quite frankly, I grew bored of listening to stories about Kate’s dog she had to put down.
Guns, as already said pack a punch, but they’re also incredibly loud concerning the audio from everything else in-game. This is excellent attention to detail given that State of Decay 2 wants the focus to be more on stealth. You must weigh the pros and cons of making noise with certain types of actions.
It feels like there’s much more to explore. Constant threats, such as infestations, hordes, and Plague hearts spawning around the world means State of Decay 2 always has tasks to offer. You can also claim different safehouse’s, and the addition of co-op would make up for the rather dull NPC’s.
Thankfully the gameplay is rich enough to shove most of the negative points to the side. It’s fun when you put the time in, but State of Decay doesn’t present itself all that well.
State of Decay 2’s experience will boil down to how talented you are at surviving. The game challenges you to last for as long as possible. It has its moments where it can drag on, and if you’re after a game where you just want to kill mindlessly, this isn’t for you. Zombie survival simulator though? It does what it set out to achieve.
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