As PAX wound down to its final hour, I happened to walk by the Microsoft booth once more on my way out and noticed the Xbox Live Arcade game State of Decay finally had some space for me to get a quick runthrough as the convention closed down. I had been meaning to check it out these past three days but because of the long lines and the amount of other things going on, I just hadn't had the chance.
I'm incredibly happy that I finally got an understanding of what this title from Undead Labs is all about.
Forget tired zombie apocalypse games. State of Decay is a persistent, open-world where your choices actually matter and finding inventive ways to eradicate the zombie menace is only one aspect of the experience.
State of Decay (Xbox Live Arcade, PC)
Developer: Undead Labs
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release: TBA 2013
From what I've read about State of Decay around the net, a lot of comparisons have been made in terms of gameplay to Day Z, the well-received mod built off of the Arma 2 engine. While the game has simulation aspects that may hearken back to the Day Z mod, the similarities generally end there. Also, the game has gone through a name change and turned into a completely single-player experience since it initially began.
The story of State of Decay begins when your character returns from a fishing trip only to realize that the world he once knew is gone, and in its place is a nightmare of hungry undead corpses. As soon as your character finds and befriends a survivor, you're able to switch between your main character and the survivor, and as you discover more survivors, you begin to build a community that may fend off the zombie apocalypse together.
A death in State of Decay is permanent; when a survivor dies, there is no retry button. This survivalist element affects everything in the game -- just about every resource is finite, though as soon as you have enough survivors, you can begin to build an actual, physical community and stock ammo and defenses.
The world in State of Decay is persistent. You can leave the game and your survivors only to come back later and learn that your need for food and ammo has increased dramatically, forcing you into an emergent side quest.
The game will have a general story arc with about 10 to 15 hours of play in the main quest line, and an infinite number of hours (depending on luck and skill in surviving) in the emergent open world. Different survivors have varying skills as well as character attributes that affect their friendship with you and with the other people. An example of this was explained to me in the form of a character who might have the trait of being a selfish asshole and a supply hoarder, but he's your best sharp-shooter so you sort of need him on the team.
With my hands-on PAX preview, I took control of a female survivor named Maya. The build I played was still early, so the graphics weren't super polished, but the intent and gameplay were certainly there. I decided I wanted to get into some trouble, so I jumped into a police car and drove past my community safe zone into the wilderness.
The first thing I learned about killing zombies in vehicles is that an open car door is a great way to take down a few extra walkers, provided you're not driving slow enough to let one of them grab on.
After running through zombies for a few rounds, Maya's police car was nearly totaled, so I ditched it in some bushes and found myself wandering through the underbrush -- right into the eager arms of several moaning corpses. Using my character's melee weapon (an axe), I chopped and sliced several zombies before deciding that if I didn't move soon, I'd be overwhelmed.
Maya made it back onto the main road and jumped into a car just as it began to rock with a ton of zombies crawling all over it. I steered her further away from the zombies and got back out into the open with a few molotovs in hand.
During my scuffs with the zombie hordes, I saw one huge brutish zombie and was told by the PR reps that he was certainly one to watch out for. He began to advance towards Maya before he freaked out and started attacking what looked like other zombies, until both I and the developer on hand realized his object of "affection" was actually other survivors.
Watching the brutish zombie pummel one of the poor survivors was rather brutal, even when it glitched a little and the survivor was frozen against a lamppost in a near fetal position for a little while until the brutish zombie managed to grab him again and play with him like a cat's toy.
I was so mesmerized by the plight of the other survivors, I didn't notice the zombies that had shambled up behind me, and very soon I was overwhelmed. Watching the zombies feast on Maya was also gory, and it signaled the very end of PAX and consequently the end of my hands-on time.
Everything I saw and heard about State of Decay made it sound and feel like an incredibly promising title. The game is still in a relatively early stage and, as such, definitely showed some very rough edges, though the most important aspect for now -- the pure intent of the developers' vision -- shines through even after just a few minutes of gameplay.
With help from a developer who has an intimate knowledge of the MMO structure, State of Decay is looking to offer a completely novel, persistent open-world experience. The fact that this is planned to be released as an Xbox Live Arcade game in the interest of working towards an amazing MMO experience further in the future is just icing on the cake.