I had planned to review State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition, but I’m not going to, for two reasons: firstly, the game is huge and I wouldn’t currently be able to get through everything and give a fair assessment in any timely fashion – and that’s convenient, because secondly, I don’t feel I can attach a rating to it.
Despite having to battle those horrors (as well as many, many more), I love State of Decay, and I’m going to share a story to illustrate why. It all started with a strange automated message broadcast over the radio, containing coordinates as to its origin. Hopping into the worse-for-wear pickup truck I’d, uh, ‘borrowed’ from a neighbouring group of survivors, I set off to investigate.
There I discovered a mysterious supply drop stranded in the middle of a barren field, surrounded by hordes of zombies attracted by a screeching alarm. “Not a problem”, I thought, “truck beats zombie every time”. Speeding full-throttle into the group took a good number out, but a few persistent undead clung to the bonnet. A sharp handbrake turn failed to fling them off, so I sped into a head-on collision with a weighty piece of farming equipment that satisfyingly splattered them. Attempting to reverse for a second frame of zombie bowling bore no fruit – I’d killed the truck as well.
Black smoke billowing from the engine, I jumped out and made a beeline for the supply drop, the horde distracted by the now-burning vehicle. The drop contained a military rifle, frag grenades and medical supplies – quite the haul in a zombie apocalypse. Obviously I wanted to take everything, but I hadn’t had the foresight to deposit items from my full inventory into storage before setting out. Meanwhile, the truck exploded, drawing more undead to the party – and they were headed straight for me.
I realised I’d just created a story far more engaging than the official storyline – something that could have been pulled directly from the most action-packed episode of The Walking Dead.
Here began a frantic attempt to juggle deciding what to dump from my inventory, which items to replace them with, and keeping the encroaching dead at bay (the game doesn't pause during inventory management). With my gunfire engaging yet more and more threats, it wasn’t long before I was overwhelmed and decided fleeing was the best course of action – I hadn’t taken everything I wanted, but I was richer than I arrived, and, under threat of permadeath, holding on to an extra pair of hands seemed more valuable than a few extra supplies.
On the back foot and sprinting in retreat, it didn’t take long for my lungs to empty, which led to me being swarmed. Throwing biters from my back, I spotted a meagre opening and took the small window of opportunity to break from the group, launching the grenades from the supply drop over my shoulder as I again ran for my life. Only two were left standing, which were messily dispatched in melee combat. With no zombies remaining in the immediate area and the detonations seeming to have drawn no attention, I was able to heal up.
The overwhelming feeling of relief this brought didn’t last long; I quickly reached the realisation that being stranded in the middle of nowhere without a vehicle meant I was far from out of trouble. Careful exploration uncovered a nearby home, which seemed like the best chance of securing transportation, so I approached only to find there was no car - just a huge infestation problem! Leaping through the windows with more agility and finesse than any zombie deserves, I turned 180 degrees to discover a propane tank. Finally, some luck – or so I thought. Running a lap of the house kited the zombies into a neat conga line, providing just the opportunity I needed to have them meet their fiery end. The issue, therein, is explosions make a lot of noise and you aren't often as lucky as I'd been with the grenades earlier.
Firing the igniting shot made it immediately clear what was to follow, and so I ran, occasionally turning back to fire at any zombies that got too close for comfort until my ammo ran dry. Then, like a desert mirage, a car appeared on the horizon. Upon reaching it and clambering in, a few remaining pursuers clung on to the sides. After bashing one from the driver’s side door – with the driver’s side door – I hit the accelerator, the others losing their grip as speed built. A sliver of health and no regenerative items remaining, I’d just barely escaped. Returning to home base, a fellow survivor commented on how I looked exhausted and should take a break, which is advice I took literally, putting the controller down to give my poor heart some time to recover.
During the break I realised I’d just created a story far more engaging than the central narrative – something that could have been pulled directly from the most action-packed episode of The Walking Dead, except in no way scripted. What's most impressive is that these special, organic moments are abundant – like the time a member of my group mercilessly killed another after they showed symptoms of illness, even declaring he'd do it again. With members of the community living in fear as a result, I made the difficult decision to invite him on a scavenging run and put an end to him for the greater good. Maybe I’m just biased as a big zombie fan, nostalgically reminded of some of my favourite moments in cinema and television, but to me, a game that boasts organic gameplay and character interactions that can consistently rival scripted and/or set-piece content is able to transcend any technical problems. It's much more than the sum of its parts.
While I won't attach a score, because it'd lead to me doing either readers or the game an injustice, I can heartily recommend that you give it a fair chance. You should also keep an eye on Undead Labs for any possible State of Decay sequel that might see the game reach its full, amazing potential.