A literal State of Decay

Five years ago State of Decay on Xbox 360 really took me by surprise. My initial reaction was the graphics were poor and gameplay was sloppy, however, I was able to look past these shortcomings. That’s because the core base building mechanics and survival elements were very addicting. It was one of those games that wasn’t technically impressive, but captured your attention regardless.

Fast-forward half a decade and Undead Labs is back with their follow-up title, State of Decay 2 for Xbox One. Not a whole lot has changed from the original game, in fact, it’s essentially a carbon copy with a handful of minor additions. These include slightly improved graphics, a new blood plague menace, co-op gameplay, and vehicles now require gas to run. So, while it isn’t the fresh experience we were hoping for, fans of the original are sure to feel right at home.

Bugs you can’t spray 

While I was hoping State of Decay 2 would provide a smoother experience than the original, sadly this was not the case. My time with the game was riddled with so many bugs that constantly took me out of the experience. One time while out driving my hatchback it got permanently stuck on a lamp post, and I was locked shut inside. Another time my character fell right through the ground causing me to reset the game. Zombies regularly fell from the sky right in front of my eyes.

Bizarrely, on one mission the game’s HUD completely disappeared, again forcing me to reset the game. Another time a zombie I was supposed to kill got stuck in a house attic, and I was unable to shoot it. This left me no choice but abort a mission I had just spent 20 minutes on. Bugs like these happened frequently, which was naturally a disappointment. In fairness, the original game contained numerous bugs too, but it’s less forgiving the second time around.

Managing your community

Looking past the technical flaws, State of Decay 2 offers similar base building mechanics as the first entry. To start, you’ll first establish a base, then have to head out on supply runs. Your base needs plenty of resources to run smoothly, include food, meds, ammo, building supplies, and gas. All the while you can help stranded survivors and sometimes, recruit them into your community.

The gameplay loop is setup in such a way that your community will almost always be in dire need of something. While you’re out desperately searching for food, you’ll get an alert saying a community member has fallen ill and requires meds. When you head out to collect meds zombies will attack your base and your community will deplete the ammo supply. And then while you’re out scavenging for more bullets, you’ll learn that ants have infested and spoiled your food. The gameplay loop then restarts anew.

Sure it’s repetitive fetch questing but the constant sense of urgency does give missions a sense of purpose. For the first dozen hours or so I rather enjoyed myself, as providing for my community felt satisfying. Eventually though I reached a point where I was asking myself why I’m searching for another rucksack full of food for the nth time. Basically, there’s not much of an end-game here, you simply perform the same tasks over and over again for as long as you’d like.

Zombie fighting, sort of

Combat, once again, plays a big part of this zombie-filled experience. I get that zombies are supposed to be brainless corpses, but here they’re especially huge numbskulls. All you have to do is crouch and you’re practically invisible—even when it’s blatantly clear the zombies should see you. As close as 10 feet away, and approaching from a visible angle, most zombies couldn’t detect me at all. It was only when I stood up that they finally discovered my presence and attacked.

Ironically, I discovered humans are the greater threat as I once made an outsider community angry and paid for it big time. It’s my fault though since I intentionally treated them poorly just to see what would happen. If you frustrate another community enough the members will turn on you and shoot your character dead. And in this game, death is permanent so make sure you’re a little more careful than I was.

A graphical letdown

One area I was hoping for large improvements over the original was the graphics. Unfortunately, what we’ve got is more akin to a remaster of the Xbox 360 game versus true next-gen visuals. For as much as Xbox touts the graphical capabilities of its hardware it’s a wonder why more effort isn’t put into creating stunning visuals. After playing graphical powerhouses like Dying Light and The Last of Us—both zombie games as well—State of Decay 2 looks begrudgingly ordinary. The one saving grace are the lighting effects, which create the occasional pleasant evening sunset.

Handful of new features

State of Decay 2 does contain new features over and above the original, but there’s not a whole lot here. You now have to contend with the Blood Plague, and new type of infection that makes your characters lethargic and mostly useless. You can also pick your community leader, which unlocks new hero side missions to complete. At your base, you can now add modifications to construction and alter their effects. Oh, and now you can store supplies in your car’s trunk.

The biggest addition by far is the much-requested ability to play online with friends. State of Decay 2 offers co-op for up to three extra players over Xbox Live. I encountered a bunch of server issues affecting connectivity during the pre-release period, but was able to still get a co-op game in. In order to activate co-op you need to fire off a flare signalling you need help, or you can choose to join another player’s game. Co-op works as expected, together you collect resources, kill zombies and return supplies back to base. Whoever is the host can pick the mission (nobody else can), and all collected resources go into the host’s reserves. Overall, co-op was fine when it was working smoothly.

Final Thoughts

State of Decay 2 offers a very similar experience to the Xbox 360 game, for better or for worse. Numerous bugs brought down the moment-to-moment gameplay but the core loop still feels fun—at least for a time. I expected a smoother experience, and much better graphics, but those weren’t in the cards this time. The saving grace is Undead Labs seems committed to resolving the technical issues so performance could improve with time. For now though, approach this zombie-infested playground with extreme caution.

+ Satisfying core gameplay loop
+ Co-op gameplay 
+ Lots of missions to undertake 

– Very buggy
– Poor graphics
– Little innovation

OVERALL

Gameplay: 3/5
Graphics: 2.5/5
Sound: 3.5/5
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4/5

Overall Rating: 3.4/5 (68%)

Get State of Decay 2 for Xbox One

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