The single-player zombie survival game for the Xbox 360 was created by several ArenaNet alumni (including ANet co-founder Jeff Strain) and aims to one day release an MMO version titled Class4. But in the meantime, it's breaking XBL sales records and showing us all how a decaying game premise like zombie survival can gain new life.
I grabbed the game at launch to give me an idea of what to eventually expect from Class4, but I was quite surprised at what I found. A console game with a living world? A single-player action RPG with purpose and incentive? That's just what you get when you interrupt traditional console game development with a few designers from this crazy new genre known as MMORPG.
State of Decay is a game that throws you into a post-apocalyptic survival situation where you must find and fortify a base of operations, maintain supplies, recruit more characters (some playable) to keep the base running, and complete survival-based quests, all while fighting off creatures that literally want to eat your face off. It's a roleplaying game. It's a driving game. It's an action combat game. It's a shooter. It's a puzzler. It's a sandbox. It's an RTS. State of Decay takes some of the best elements from the games you already love and pours a zombie sauce right over the top. Wait, no. That sounds really disgusting.
You start out as a survivor named Marcus who finds shelter in a nearby ranger station just after the zombies start taking over. You're confused about the situation at first, but the storyline eventually reveals what's going on with these walking dead. The short tutorial lets you get your bearings with the game's pace and introduces you to the importance of managing both people and supplies effectively.
From there, you go out in search of bigger and better shelters, all the while gaining more survivor buddies, more supplies, and more badass weapons. But don't think that this makes State of Decay a linear experience. The choices you make and the quests you choose to complete or ignore have a lasting impact on the dynamically generated world.
While State of Decay had me at "zombie survival sandbox," there are literally dozens of other games to choose from in that setting. Don't get me wrong -- I love me some good zombies (don't even get me started on zombies vs. infected), but oversaturation is oversaturation. That said, one of my favorite parts of SoD is the fact that the gameplay itself could easily hold its own in any other genre.
As the title suggests, decay plays quite a large part of this game. It's not just a description of your recently turned neighbor's face, but it also describes the elements of the game that most other games would hold sacred. Yes, you will lose your favorite weapon to damage and your favorite vehicle to poor driving skills, but if your character dies, he dies for good. Yes, forever-ever.
The ability to switch between characters in a party has always been a favorite of mine since the old-school RPGs like Pool of Radiance and Wasteland, but SoD makes you really think about the importance of gearing up your favorite characters effectively. If you forget to refill Maya's rifle ammo and a zed gets her while she's fumbling around looking for more, there's no going back. There's no, "Sorry about that, Maya; just run back from the spawn point and we'll try again."
On top of this, the management focus really appeals to me. You're not the hero in this game; you're controlling a stable of heroes. You'll find yourself managing food, ammo, medicine, fuel, vehicles, potential friends, potential enemies, attitudes, and especially your overflowing quest log. There's never a lack of things to do in SoD, and that can be overwhelming in itself. But what better way to immerse yourself in the situation at hand?
While I don't have any serious complaints about State of Decay, the UI is a sticking point for me. It's not a deal breaker, but I found myself wasting more than a few minutes trying to figure out what's what on that UI each time I played it.
And while having loads of content is a good thing, sometimes the number of quests is a bad thing. This may be the organized-quest-log MMO player in me, but there are so many missions and side missions and side-side missions in State of Decay that it seems impossible to keep up. And when you can't keep up, you can fail missions while you're logged off. My best piece of advice for dealing with this? Just accept it as a part of the atmosphere.
Overall, I'm really enjoying myself in State of Decay. I think the game introduces some new ideas while polishing some old favorites. I wasn't a fan of releasing a single-player version before the MMO version because it seemed like a cheap litmus test to me, but I can see how both the single-player and massively multiplayer versions of this game will work together well, especially since Class4 will be considered a follow-up and not just an MMO reskinning of State of Decay.
State of Decay is currently available for only the Xbox 360 but is said to be coming to the PC soon.
Burned out on MMOs? That's OK; there are tons of other titles out there featuring MMOish open worlds, progression, RPG mechanics, or a combination of all three. Massively's MMO Burnout turns a critical eye toward everything from AAA blockbusters to obscure indie gems, not to mention a healthy dose of the best mods.