In the realm of video gaming, zombie titles are nothing new.

Seems like developers are just kooky for the undead buggers, which has greatly diminished their impact. The last good zombie games I’ve enjoyed were Left 4 Dead 2 from Valve, and Walking Dead from Telltale. Seriously, how many hordes of the dead can you blow away and have it still remain relevant and new?

State of Decay found a way.

This is a very different sort of zombie game. This isn’t the type of game where you just rush blindly into a zombie horde, guns blazing. Actually, that would be a very bad idea. This is a game about survival. Not only for yourself, but the people you encounter along the way. And in this game, decisions do matter.

There’s no hand holding in this game. You’re thrust into the proverbial water the second the game loads, and you learn how both zombies and living work.

You and your AI friend get your first “taste” of the outbreak out by a collection of cabins near a lake. You can either choose to fight or sneak past them, and while it’s not as relevant in this moment, “flight or fight” is a huge factor. Humans have endurance, meaning they tire out, go hungry, get sleepy, or burdened by carrying heavy objects, and you don’t want to have to catch your breath in the middle of a fight. Melee weapons also break over time, and again, if one breaks during a fight, you may not have the time to equip a new item.

A single zombie, or even two or three, aren’t a big deal. More than that, or even the zombie hordes that aimlessly wander the street… that’s a big, dangerous, and scary deal. In addition to your regular zombies, you have to content against feral zombie, who are wilder versions of the “normal” variety, huge, hulking zombies that are powerhouses, and screamers that can stun you at all the wrong times. There is an utter feeling of desperate hopelessness when your character becomes exhausted, your weapon breaks, and you find yourself getting swarmed. Sometimes, you can survive, break free, and catch your breath long enough to escape or find higher ground to hold out a little longer. Other times… you don’t. And deaths are permanent.

Humans, are a different story. They can help you, hinder you, become friends, or destroy your home base. Keeping morale high is imperative. If someone gets depressed or angry, people can die, or the whole community will collapse. You have to keep well stocked on supplies. You have to talk to people and snap them out of their funks. And you have to be a leader and get them to trust you. Trust opens up a lot of things, most importantly the chance to switch out characters. If your character is tired out, he needs to rest and recharge properly. If they don’t, they may never fully recover. People can also get sick, and if they get bad enough, you have to take them “out back” and shoot them. I had to do a mission like this, and when it came time to pull the trigger, I actually found myself hesitant to do so, wondering if there was some other way to do this instead of telling my community that I had to send one of our members “off to live on a farm somewhere”.

This is truly a zombie action RPG. It’s important to level up stats like sneaking, fighting, and running. It’s also important to fortify your home to keep zombies out and plenty of services to keep your people alive and positive. You can even establish outposts to further keep your area safe. And you travel a lot. Ammo, Food, medical and construction supplies are always in high demand, and you have to scout out a lot. Fortunately, you can get place to place faster via taking over and driving a car, which is great, because the town and surrounding area is huge. And while you can drive and be a little safer, you can run over a ton of zombies with your car. Just be careful that hitting things can damage the car.

There are a lot of things to consider, and choices to make a difference, right down to how you treat other communities of survivors. This is a game all about atmosphere. It’s a blast ripping through zombies with a car, or honking the horn to draw them out of houses. It’s absolutely intense to fight huge hordes of zombies, either on the road or within a rescue mission, and there isn’t much scarier when you are hiding in the bushes, badly injured, hoping that roving group of zombies doesn’t see you.

The game itself is smart. The AI characters aren’t stupid, which make them blessedly useful in a fight. The player character isn’t stupid. Most games have you blocked by tiny walls that you would have to walk around. You can climb fences, hurdle walls and jump up on dumpsters here. And sound and light is important. Sometimes you have to cause a distraction or remain as silent as possible to get through an area. Open fields are just as problematic as closed houses. There is a genuine sense of dread throughout the game, as while the zombies can be absolutely overwhelming, sometimes the humans are worse in causing problems.

There are a few issues. There are some clipping issues with characters bleeding through walls, and a bit of pop-up in the draw distance, but the atmosphere is so immersive that you don’t even register it that much. With any 3D game, sometimes the camera can give you a bad angle at the worst time. And the game is in “real time”, meaning that if you left something or someone in a bad state, it may be worse the next time you come back to the game.

State of Decay is remarkable, especially when considering the content for an XBLA game. I hope a later patch includes a co-op mode as despite the repeated warnings of “never go alone”, the game does put you in a lot of solo missions. It’s all well and good until you run out of ammo, or are so exhausted that you can barely run anymore.

If you are wondering if you should believe the hype and get this game, the answer is “yes”. Finally, someone does something intelligent with the zombie genre allowing this title to not be as brain dead as its necrotic antagonists.

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