My history with sandbox survival games is fleeting. I spent a handful of hours with the original State of Decay, and while I enjoyed my time to an extent, it never fully dragged me in and I never felt invested in the fight for survival. The same applies to my time with DayZ and H1Z1 (before it split into two separate games), and although I spent a decent amount of time in H1Z1 the ascending phenomenon that was open world survival games never inspired me to quit my job and live out my days in a zombie-infested digital world. Despite this I was still relatively keen to check out State of Decay 2, mostly to see if it brought anything new to the table. But while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel by any stretch, there are some improvements at hand and it offers fans of the genre a fun, and at times, exciting open world experience that is let down by some technical issues.
Welcome back the apocalypse
You’ll start your journey by selecting your starting duo, who will then play out the game’s tutorial through a fairly linear tense opening sequence. In fact, it made me wonder what developer Undead Labs could have produced had they focused on narrative a bit more. Once this is over you and your compadres are free to roam and scavenge their way around the rural American setting. From here the lives of the members of your community are in your hands; whether they live or die is a result of the choices you make.
Players can recruit other survivors they stumble across to join their community, but this means more mouths to feed and more bodies to bed. As such, you need to ensure your community/base has enough resources to go around, otherwise the community’s morale will drop to the point that members will threaten to leave. This forms State of Decay 2’s primary gameplay loop. You’ll have to venture out into the zombie-infested world to scavenge supplies, resources and weaponry to keep your community ticking, as well as ensuring that you make it back alive, because death is permanent; there are no second chances.
Traversing one of the three regions is no walk in the park either, with zombies (or zeds as they’re known) practically at every turn. This feels even more prevalent at night where you only have your torch to light your path. Your characters are fairly capable of taking out a couple zeds at time, but it is quite easy to be overwhelmed when taking on a large pack, especially so when the faster and stronger zeds are around and you’ve got to keep an eye on your stamina levels. You’ll also need to be on the lookout for ideal outpost and home base locations. It is here you can manage your community, see what is making them sad, build and make additions to facilities (such as infirmary, workshop, garden etc.) and switch between survivors and enlist survivors to follow you. You can also specialise your character in certain skills depending on what traits they have and the tasks you make them do. If you make your character sprint a lot you will build their cardio up, if you continuously get headshots your shooting skills will improve and you can also specialise hone their skills in a certain field (such as medicine or gardening) which provides boons to the community. The only negative is that I couldn’t (in the words of Donald Trump) build a great wall to keep the zeds out. No matter where you put up shop, zeds would almost relentlessly infiltrate your home base.
Home sweet home
In order to keep your community happy and safe you’ll need to deal with hordes of zeds, known as infestations. Eliminating infestations is generally a two-person job and will boost your community’s morale and allow you to forage for goods (you’ll be doing this a lot). Furthermore, you’ll have to wipe out Plague Hearts too, which are hive-like infestations that spawn Plague Zombies (a new feature). If you’re going to get bitten by a zombie you don’t want it to be a Plague Zombie, as this specimen can transmit the Blood Plague to your character, which if you haven’t guessed by its name is a bad thing.
Destroying a Plague Heart is one the game’s biggest challenges, not only because of the amount of damage required to do so, but also thanks to the gaggle of Plague Zombies that inhabit the area. As such, exterminating Plague Hearts gives your community’s morale a mighty boost and these should be tackled sooner rather than later. Thankfully there are enough weapons lying around to make donnybrooks with the undead manageable, however explosives and Molotov’s are the best way to take down a Plague Heart aside from perhaps a shotgun. These moments can be extremely tense, and several times I had to abandon ship with my tail between my legs like Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino and come back again later.
Your characters will each have their own scores to settle or missions to complete (such as finding a character’s missing mother or helping locate a fugitive). Additionally, other survivors in the world may radio for your help and you can either choose to give them a hand or go on your merry way. While this adds a nice change of pace to the repetitious scavenger hunting gameplay, the missions themselves quickly become a bit humdrum and I found myself ignoring requests for help frequently.
Sad community, sad life
Keep your plague away
Players can equip a number of melee weapons such as baseball bats, axes, machetes and pipes which can be used to make mincemeat of your undead opponent
Roadside hazard ahead
Prepare to be roadkill
The combat is fun and satisfying, albeit simple. Players can equip a number of melee weapons such as baseball bats, axes, machetes and pipes which can be used to make mincemeat of your undead opponent. You will have to watch your stamina meter as cracking zombie skulls is hard work. Your melee weapons are also susceptible to breaking too (as are firearms), and usually choose to break in the worst moments, however you do have a default knife that can be used to stealth kill or stab a victim to death. The guns have a nice weight to them and the scarce ammo means that in some instances you need to make every shot count, as you can quickly become swarmed by a horde and easily run out of lead as a result.
Thankfully there are salvageable vehicles that can be driven around the game’s open world. Vehicles also let you store resources in the trunk, meaning you can stock up and make larger runs instead of tedious shorter runs. Like in real life, vehicles require fuel, but thankfully it’s not in scarce supply and you can craft your own at your home base Vehicles will also become damaged the more you use them as battering rams and one of the most satisfying feelings is ploughing through a horde of zombies while on your travels. I cannot recommend it highly enough. . I must confess that I thought the driving would be like Big Rigs Over The Road Racing, with vehicles having crazy abilities to drive up and down rock cliffs. I initially I drove with reckless abandon. However if you choose to drive in this manner be prepared to leg it, as on four separate occasions I had to abandon my vehicle because I had overestimated its off-road abilities, which can lead to some hefty and tense backtracking.
In a welcome addition, Undead Labs have made the entire game playable in co-op. It definitely helps lessen the game’s repetition by creating some crazy fun moments with your mates, and it does make it easier to gather resources and take down infestations and Plague Hearts considering the game’s difficulty can be tough at times.
Sadly it’s not only the game’s repetition that hurts the game’s potential, but rather the array of technical issues that plague the game. Issues range from levitating zombies, vanishing AI companions, a chugging framerate on the One X, doors and gates appearing open that are actually closed and the most frustrating of all, a disappearing HUD and inability to access my in-game menu or inventory with the only solution being to restart the game. Given missions in progress don’t save, you can end up losing a fair chunk of time and resources.
While State of Decay 2 creates a host of fun and tense moments thanks to some solid combat and the challenging difficulty of keeping your community alive and happy, it ultimately fails to fulfil its potential thanks to some fairly repetitive gameplay and a shoddy technical performance. It’s priced well at $49, but in the end it’ll depend on whether you’re prepared to relive the zombie apocalypse all over again.
Reviewed on Xbox One X | Review code supplied by publisher