State of Decay 2 – Review
Xbox One, PC
To say I was a fan of the original State of Decay would be an understatement. After reviewing the original for The Black Panel (a site, now gone sadly) I fell in love with its unique take on Zombies, when at the time Zombies were being done to death. The focus on survival as a group, simply living in this infected world was a breath of fresh air. That being said even a massive fan like myself can’t deny the game had its issues. Bugs galore infected the game and a confusing and complicated UI made life tougher than it should have been. These problems were clearly the result of limited resources during development, but much has changed since that game’s initial release. Undead Labs is now owned by Microsoft and therefore has a fair bit more in the way of funding at its disposal. The question is, with the release of State of Decay 2, did they put that funding to good use?
The game is set quite sometime after the events of the first. The Zombie plague has well and truly taken over with, what I am assuming to be, backwater America seemingly rotting away. Groups of survivors scattered around the undead-infested countryside, eeking out a living through scavaging supplies and fortifying their place of residence. It is a desolate scene and one that I was thrust into with my initial band of four survivors. I was left to make my own way in this decaying world and it would be totally up to me to keep everyone alive.
I just love the whole concept of the game, sure there is a story (and it isn’t too bad, to be honest) but that really isn’t what the game is about. It is about just getting to the next day and then the day after that. taking my survivors out into the world to gather what my community needs never grows old and with an ever-changing infestation, I never felt comfortable. This is all much more streamlined than the original game, mainly due to the fact that the UI has been hugely improved. Everything has been tidied up and made more logical, from the inventory to the radio, to the world map. The team at Undead has obviously sat down, listened to the criticisms of the first game and acted appropriately. This means that despite the game being just as challenging as the first title, it is much more welcoming, meaning that hopefully a whole new group of players will be introduced to its unique gameplay.
All of the game’s systems have had the same level of improvement as the UI. The whole game is much more polished and the bugs and strange behaviours that State of Decay exhibited are almost a thing of the past. I say almost because I still did have a few instances of buggy gameplay, most notably in one mission where a Zombie was stuck under a tractor and I couldn’t kill it to complete the mission, but these instances were certainly few and far between. Another annoyance that is gone is the degrading community while the game is off. In the first game, your community would slowly get worse while you weren’t playing, which in theory sounds like it fits the theme of the game nicely. In practice, it just made the game excessively frustrating and put players off coming back if they had been gone for a while. This has thankfully been cut from the sequel in what is a wise move by developers.
The game does have a big visual boost over the first game, but in saying that this isn’t going to win any awards for its looks. Everything is much clearer and there is more detail in-game which is nice, but that is basically what should be expected. The lighting and day-night cycles are quite impressive however and the game creates mood with these two systems wonderfully. Sound design seems to have improved significantly. Voice acting is much better and while there is still the occasional cringy line of dialogue, as a whole it seems natural and flows well. The effects themselves also implements surround sound well making this is a game that really benefits from a good headset. It adds a nice layer of immersion when you can hear the undead swarming around you.
State of Decay 2 has also introduced multiplayer into the mix and while I only had a limited chance to test it out due to playing the game pre-release, when I did get a match it worked well. The concept is that your community joins the match of up to 3 other communities, all living and trying to survive on the same map. It is a novel concept and I had a blast playing with others, working together to take on the tougher Zombies and Plague Hearts (buildings that spawn Plague Zombies). I can see the potential for griefing here, but with a group of like-minded players, I think this is going to be a very popular way to play.
The world of State of Decay 2 is significantly bigger in size. Early in the game, I was given a choice to settle in the highlands, plateau or lowlands. These are three different maps, all roughly the same size as the map from the first game. Travel between these maps is possible and I could even re-settle my community if I felt I was running out of resources in my current location. To say there is a lot of land to explore would be an understatement and with working cars a much rarer commodity in this game, getting around is a challenge unto its self.
In fact, just about all resources in the game are much rarer than in the first title, building supplies and medicine in particular, which forced me to make resource generating outposts and rely on their daily addition to my supplies. This then feeds into the need to upgrading the buildings in my community to more efficiently provide the essentials of life like food, first aid and water. Undead Labs has created a wonderful eco-system where everything is connected and intertwined meaning no one item, resource or building is more important than the other.
With State of Decay 2, Undead Labs has realised the potential of the first game. This is very much more of the same, but that same has been polished to a blood-smeared shine. State of Decay 2 won’t win over people that had no time for the first game but for those of us that loved it and even those that saw its potential but couldn’t get past the jank, State of Decay 2 is a wonderful return trip to a Zombie infested country. Who knew that scavenging for first aid kits and stopping fights between two NPC’s could be so much fun?