PAX Prime 2012: Undead Labs' State of Decay

Screenshot -- State of Decay
Everyone loves zombies, right? Apparently so because they're absolutely everywhere (like Miami, for instance), but we keep on lapping it up. Secretly, though, I think a lot of us are tired of the same old zombie games. After all, if you're one of the truly hardcore that has a zombie apocalypse plan that includes where you'll hole up, how you'll find weapons, what you'll eat, and so forth, it's a little disappointing that most games tend to focus solely on the zombie-shooting part of the zombie apocalypse (not that there's anything wrong with zombie-shooting).

Undead Labs' upcoming MMO State of Decay might change all that.

The game will take place in a persistent world where players are responsible for rounding up survivors, finding the necessary resources to build defenses and stay alive, and of course, fighting off the zombie hordes. Finally, those of you who have long debated the merits of going to the gun store vs. not going to the gun store in the event of an apocalypse can see whose plan works better. And what's more, at PAX Prime 2012, I got to sit down and play around with it myself, though not for nearly as long as I would have liked. Regardless, if State of Decay is on your radar -- and it should be -- then I'd be glad to tell you all about my 20-odd minutes with the title.

My tour through State of Decay was guided by none other than Undead Labs founder Jeff Strain, who began by noting that the game is in the early stages and is not quite in its massively multiplayer incarnation, so my time with the game was completely single-player. Strain then explained to me the game's survivor system. Unlike many games (and most MMOs) that put you in the shoes of a single character throughout your play experience (barring alts, of course), State of Decay allows players to unlock a stable of survivors scattered across the game world. After rescuing a survivor and earning his trust by providing food, protection, and other necessities, the player will be able to play as that character at-will.

Screenshot -- State of Decay
Of course, this is easier said than done. The first step in providing a safe haven for your ragged band of apocalypse survivors is to find a defensible position -- a farmhouse, in the demo -- with a lovely (and solid) stone wall surrounding it. But of course, since I had a rather large band of followers, there simply wasn't enough sleeping space for everyone, which could cause some of the poor, sleepless souls to become irate and leave. To that end, Strain showed me through a simple menu that allowed the survivors to go all HGTV on their little farmhouse in order to add new facilities such as a workroom that increases construction speed, or in this case, a nice little dormitory with some comfortable (albeit messy) beds. Now that our little crew had a place to crash, it was time to venture out into the world to rescue survivors and slaughter zombies.

I was allowed to choose my arsenal from a weapon storage chest chock-full of every shooting, slicing, and exploding weapon under the sun. After arming my character with an assault rifle, a rather dashing saber, and a few grenades, I hopped in my sweet (probably stolen) ride and popped open my map. Nearby radio distress calls are marked as points of interest on your map, so all I had to do was set a waypoint near one and I was off. It's worth noting here that when I first sat down and had a look at the handy control layout card by the TV, I saw that the X button, when in a vehicle, would execute a door attack. To my delight, it was exactly what it sounded like, and I flung my driver's side door open as I passed a group of zombies, turning them into a fine crimson pulp. Maniacal laughter may have ensued.

Screenshot -- State of Decay
My laughter was soon silenced as I got to the farm at which the survivors I was supposed to be rescuing were holed up. They were holed up for a good reason, actually, because the whole place was overrun with zombies. I gleefully mowed down the first wave of undead with my assault rifle, only to be met with the dreaded click of an empty gun. Apparently I forgot to grab extra ammo. Well, this sucks. As the blighters began to gnaw on my face, I whipped out my saber and started swinging.

The controls, regrettably, left a bit to be desired. I'm generally pretty good with shooters, even on consoles, but it seemed somewhat difficult to get my character to swing in the direction that I wanted her to, which led to a number of surprise hugs from the surrounding zombies. My movement also felt a bit sluggish, but that's nothing that a bit of sensitivity adjustment couldn't fix; I just didn't bother to check whether I was able to change it due to fear of zombies eating my eyes while I navigated option menus. But then, it probably wouldn't have made much of a difference because I ended up succumbing to a particularly nasty breed of zed known as "feral."

With one character down, I was immediately put in control of another of my band of merry survivors, and I immediately set off to finish what my predecessor started... with extra ammo this time. Also, a shotgun. Turns out the shotgun may have been one of my worse decisions because the firing rate simply couldn't keep up with the number of zombies continuously making a buffet of my tasty human flesh, and each gunshot attracted even more. Mercifully, my time with the demo ran out before I suffered the humiliation of dying twice in one go.

Ultimately, my impressions of State of Decay so far are that it's quite unpolished (as I was warned), but there's a great deal of potential. The third-person zombie-shooting gameplay isn't anything innovative, but it's a change of pace from the typical MMO, and I feel like there's a lot of depth to be found in maintaining/fortifying your base of operations while managing your roster of companions, some of whom may end up being less-than-savory characters. Add hundreds of players all doing this at once, vying for prime real estate, making and breaking alliances, and generally diving into the mayhem that accompanies the zombie apocalypse, and I think that's a recipe for a fresh and fun MMO that should do well with PC and console players alike. If you've ever wondered how you'll fare when Z-day comes, State of Decay is definitely a game to watch.

Massively's on the ground in Seattle during the weekend of August 31st - September 2nd, bringing you all the best news from PAX Prime 2012. Whether you're dying to know more about WildStar, PlanetSide 2, RIFT: Storm Legion, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!

This article was originally published on Massively.