The original State of Decay was a fantastic game, one that had a lot of features people have always wanted from Zombie based survival games, such as an open-world littered with resources needed to sustain a base or community. Now, a good few years later, we finally have the much anticipated sequel on our hands, and for the most part it’s a welcome return… “for the most part”.
State of Decay 2 still features the same sort of control style as well as gameplay mechanics, so in a sense it could be seen as more of an upgrade than a revamp, and honestly that is completely fine as it not only makes the game more approachable for those that played the first game but manages to keep aspects that players loved whilst improving on them. So control wise a lot of things are similar, with how you sneak, or search, etc… For example, you can still search quickly, but it comes with the drawback of having it be louder.
Two of the main improvements I have seen in this game that have impressed me are the animations and combat, both complementing each other. The combat feels more responsive and fun than before due to the improved animations and feedback whilst the usual animations like scaling walls or running have a nicer transition between them. You can see the zombies realistically stagger or get their heads chopped off or burst depending on what weapon you are using. It is especially satisfying duking it out on a fallen zombie as you pummel them to death. This type of visceral combat adds tension and grittiness to the game, which makes sense considering the bleak setting.
The management system works better as well, revolving around a planning graph of sorts as you customise and build up your base. Certain base structures or facilities require you to find survivors with specific skill set. For example, if you were to build a car repair facility, you would understandably need a survivor with relevant experience maintaining cars. Still, it isn’t done in a way that feels unfair as you may never come across someone with the required skills, but can still fix your car with repair kits.
Managing your survivors however, is a very important pillar of the game as death in this game is permanent, which makes you think twice about helping certain people or taking on certain quests as the game auto-saves frequently, preventing you from cheating the system. This time, there is a new variant of zombies that are more aggressive with bright red eyes capable of infecting your survivors, slowly transforming them into the aggressive undead if nothing is done for them. In order to treat them you have to find samples of plague, which are dropped from the zombies that carry this disease. Furthermore, you need an infirmary to deal with it. This addition really helps the game’s atmosphere and bolsters an infectious setting where anyone can get affected.
Another interesting thing is that your choices may help certain communities, but it does not prevent them from harm. So someone you put effort on may get raided or attacked by the worst monsters of all… the humans! I will be honest, I completely messed up my first human encounter as I had a false sense of empowerment, and why wouldn’t I having meticulously dispatched zombies for hours prior, but it turns out the humans aren’t as brain-dead or slow and can easily take you down if you don’t plan ahead. You can get into confrontations with humans if you are not careful of the choices you are making.
The vehicles have made their return as well, and whilst they aren’t as polished as you would want, they are still fun to control and a powerful tool since you can ram enemies by driving into them or by opening your door. You can also fit a lot of items (at least more than you yourself can carry) into a trunk of a car, in order to offload it in your base. This also means that you need to take good care of your vehicle as getting them too bent out of shape can prevent them from working.
Jesper Kyd is once again back doing the music for the game, and it is in equal parts beautiful as it is ominous and memorable. Of course with a composer like Kyd, you can always expect there to be brilliance and emotion in terms of the overall score, something that is apparent right from the main menu theme, a variation of the main theme which plays the game’s sombre main melody in acoustic, reminiscent of the first game, as well as bolstering the overall apocalyptic mood the guitar has become an image of with other games like The Last of Us. In fact, I would definitely recommend people get the soundtrack or stream it as it is available on most major music platforms like Spotify.
Even with all the amazing additions and improvements mentioned above, the game still suffers from certain issues that prevent it from becoming a solid game. The most disappointing of the issues is the lacklustre co-op which even though present doesn’t always work properly, is buggy or has strange design choices. With something that was marketed with co-op in mind, I would expect it to have a reasonable progression system where if you joined your friend’s game you could somehow carry over everything you have experienced, but unfortunately that is not the case as certain resources cannot be carried over at all.
Not to mention, the coop capabilities and mechanics are very barebones that you would expect in any game. In order for the co-op to have been a trademark talking point of the game, I at least expected mechanics unique to this game. More time should have been invested in the co-op in my opinion.
What irks me a lot more is the PC version of the game where I mainly played. By limiting it to the broken UWP system that all games purchased from Windows Store use, it really limits the customisation in terms of graphical settings. The biggest issue I had was with the locked resolution in full screen as UWP games don’t fully support proper full screens so far. This means that if like me you have a 4k monitor, or anything that is above the resolution your graphic card can handle you will either be stuck playing at the resolution native to your monitor, sacrificing key quality settings or will have to inconveniently mess around with your screen resolution every time you have to play the game. It is annoying and makes even wanting to start the game a chore. So far the only res choice in full screen is “Desktop Resolution”, and it can only be changed in windowed mode.
To be fair, the game is buggy to begin with, with enemies clipping into the ground, or loading out of nowhere due to a broken draw distance, hitting your car. Graphically, the game doesn’t have much of a unique visual style, making it look a bit bland. This doesn’t mean that the game is ugly looking though, as on high enough res the lighting is great but it doesn’t stand out from a lot of other games.
It also just looks as if they have thrown in most of the post processing options readily available in Unreal Engine 4 that can be used with a tick of a box, and as an Unreal developer myself, I recognised some of the starter lens flare systems for example. For a game that has spent 4+ years in development, it is disappointing. Lastly, the game can get highly repetitive as well, since you can only enjoy redoing the same types of activities to an extent, and dressing it up with different colours by giving it varied context doesn’t make them any less repetitive.
Overall, the game does a lot of interesting things that feel right at home in a zombie setting, with great music, effective animations and simple but responsive combat, as well as an interesting base management feature. However, these are not substantial enough to offset the performance issues the game is having, as well as its repetitive nature with a lacklustre co-op addition. They really should have just stuck to a solid single-player offering. Not to mention, limiting the PC version to UWP is a baffling decision that really hinders the experience of the game for PC gamers.
+ fluid combat and animations
+ Fantastic Music by Jesper Kyd
+ Choices can be Important
+ Base Management System
- Lacking Content
- Buggy with Performance Issues
- Limiting PC Version
- Co-op seems tacked on
- No Visual Identity