When you think zombie games, I bet a lot come to mind. I probably know which ones go through your mind, but none of them have ever made me feel the same way that State of Decay does. It’s this sort of feeling that I can only describe as a dance with death, where if you take your eyes off death for even a moment, it embraces you.
State of Decay 1's endless Breakdown mode has a core gameplay loop that goes as follows:
1) Find a place to call home and establish your tiny community.
2) Go out in search of supplies in order to get your community up and running.
3) Seek out more survivors to build a stronger community that can take care of itself while you’re out exploring. Rinse and repeat Steps 1 through 3 until you’ve had enough and then proceed to Step 4.
4) Repair an RV and use it to escape(This resets the mode, making it more difficult in the process for an extra challenge.).
To find supplies for your community, you’ll have to venture out into the admittedly large Trumbull County and scavenge wherever you can. Zombies, or Zeds as they’re also known, wander aimlessly throughout the world but can typically be found in greater numbers around structures or wandering as deadly herds. Mixed in with the undead masses are special Zed’s such as the Feral, Screamer, Bloater, and Juggernaut. If you venture out in the middle of the day, it’s easier to spot zombies from a distance, but at night the sounds they make and the glow of their eyes make all the difference in the world when it comes to your survival. While fighting off a few regular undead isn’t too much of a problem, a Feral can take you out in a heartbeat if you aren’t careful. They move quickly, dodge bullets, and leap at you. If you don’t dodge their leap, the failure of which will leave them vulnerable on the ground for a finisher, odds are you’ll have a tough time getting them off and the result is your death.
And that’s what I mean by a dance with death. When you venture out into that world, you have to constantly be on your guard. Let it down for even a second and a zombie can sneak up on you. When you’re rummaging through a dresser or other object for supplies, it makes noise. If you work through it slowly, you’ll only attract zombies that are extremely close by, though the AI might send one or two random undead in the vicinity wandering in your direction. If you rush the process, it makes more crashing noises which will attract undead farther out. And I need not tell you that in the middle of the night this is not a good thing. Your minimap will tell you where the zombies are. White dots indicate zombies that haven’t detected you, while red dots mean they know where you are. If you keep your eyes on that while scavenging, it helps you avoid fights and lessens the chance that you’ll walk into a special Zed.
One little mistake can cost your survivor their life. If you go into a fight with a gun, but forgot the ammo, and there are numerous enemies, running should be your only option. I learned that the hard way. I went into a mission knowing that I’d be facing a lot of enemies, so I took a gun to try and thin their numbers. When they entered the building in a large pack, I pulled out my gun and pulled the trigger. All I heard were clicks. I had forgotten to pack the ammo. Instead of running I tried to beat them into submission with my weapon, but there were too many of them and my survivor was torn to shreds. You then take control of another survivor from your community, with Lily, your community’s radio operator, asks for a moment of silence for the fallen friend. It’s a somber moment because that character was a person, a valuable part of your community, and now they’re gone. They lost the dance with death, looked away for a moment and paid the consequences.
State of Decay is a game that reminds you of your own mortality. Many games make you feel like an invincible powerhouse, even zombie games. You take on the world with a single character and survive it all with nary a scratch. But State of Decay doesn’t let you get off so easy. It preaches a more hopeful attitude than most, but every character is fragile and can be gone in the blink of an eye. And because you’re aware of just how fragile these characters are, plus the knowledge that your community’s size isn’t infinite, leads to that tense feeling that death is everywhere and you can’t afford to die. And with each character that falls, that hope that State of Decay wants you to feel begins to slip away. Perhaps a few survivors will make it to that RV and start over, but before the end, there will likely be more than one unmarked grave. The survival of your community, is paid for by the sacrifices of others, who drew deaths attention away.