Worth putting up with
Every time I play a new zombie game, I think it'll be the last one I'll ever enjoy. And then, inevitably, I get invested in certain aspects enough to overlook the same old tropes that have given me such a hyperbolic outlook on the undead's presence in gaming. That's what happened with State of Decay, Undead Labs' open-world survival sandbox game.
It's been available on Xbox Live Arcade since June, but the studio only recently brought the title over to PC by way of a Steam Early Access release. I intentionally held off as this was a bit too work-in-progress for my liking -- keyboard and mouse controls weren't even in there to begin with -- but the PC version has since come together. Well, more or less.
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State of Decay (PC)
Developer: Undead Labs
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Released: November 5, 2013
Rig: Intel i7-2600k @3.40 GHz, with 8GB of RAM, GeForce GTX 580 GPU (SLI)
To be clear, I didn't start playing the PC version until its "official" launch earlier this month. The game is still being updated by Undead Labs, but it is no longer a part of Steam Early Access. As was the case on XBLA, despite an overall lack of polish, this still ends up being one of the better zombie-survival simulators in recent years.
It isn't much to look at, visually, even at higher resolutions on PC, but dig into the game's persistent open-world simulation, set up a community of survivors, and tragically lose one of them to zombies after you've spent ages leveling up their stamina -- you'll more than likely be hooked.
For all of its faults, there's still more to love in State of Decay than there is to hate. Though, I have to say, there are a number of issues with this PC port. To start, it's clear that this was a console title before being brought over to the platform.
A current lack of in-game key remapping is a nuisance and the graphics settings aren't great, either. For options, you're looking at aspect ratio (4:3, 16:9, and 16:10), resolution (ranging from 640x480 up to 1920x1200), and graphics (min, medium, max, and ultra). These settings are all on user-unfriendly sliders, I feel it should be pointed out.
Then we get to the standard VSync on/off switch and a gamma slider. And ... that's it. I've certainly seen worse PC ports and at least there's no Games for Windows Live functionality shoehorned in here but, again, this is all fairly basic stuff that could be better implemented. More options would've been greatly appreciated, particularly in terms of customizing graphical features.
I played with mouse and keyboard controls for long enough to know that a gamepad would be the better way to go, which didn't take long at all. While this scheme is functional, mouse acceleration and a user interface that is clearly designed with an Xbox 360 controller in mind were reason enough for me to switch. Driving vehicles using the WASD keys proved to be especially difficult, though I'll admit this isn't a problem exclusive to State of Decay.
Playing State of Decay on the ultra spec, I generally had acceptable frame rates but would occasionally encounter slowdown while driving at high speeds (which is the only way I drive), and there was also some blatant object/texture pop-in in similar situations. Annoying, yes, but nothing completely off-putting.
And that's been my experience with the game in general: flawed, and yet still worth dealing with. For as negative as this little impressions piece might sound, I'd still happily recommend State of Decay as one of the premier zombie-survival games.
The first time I lost a character, I was utterly shocked, not realizing that death is permanent in the game. It was my starter, too, and he was unceremoniously ripped in half by a big brute. So much investment lost so quickly. After that, I had a bit more respect for the walking dead and found myself getting entirely too drawn into Undead Labs' sandbox.
From a technical standpoint, this port isn't where it needs to be. It rather clearly needs work. But it sounds like Undead is fairly committed to making improvements and what's here right now is certainly playable, especially if you're fine with or even prefer to use a gamepad. If you own State of Decay on Xbox 360, I don't know that I'd double dip, but between the two versions, the PC version is going to win out in the long run.