State of Decay is a great game with some quirks, so why has it garnished so much criticism? The short answer is that it was a huge waste of potential.
State of Decay originally came out on November fifth, 2013, and the Year One Edition came out a year and a half later on April 28, 2015. Releasing two DLC expansions at a $15 dollar price tag, State of Decay had a lot of great content. A Year One Edition was never really asked for, nor was it necessary in any way.
State of Decay has melee and gun combat, both of which are well executed, but don’t stand out very much.
The cars are still absolutely terrible to drive. Vehicles don’t have any real weight to them, and react to hitting objects in ridiculously comical ways, coming to a complete stop. Visual damage to cars is pretty weak. They’re very reminiscent of Watch Dogs’ very floaty driving
Melee combat has some special moves higher skilled survivors can learn, and are fairly flashy but aren’t exceptionally useful. The three melee weapon types (blunt, cutting, and heavy) do work very differently, and its pretty great how different weapon types adapt to different situations.
The guns are useful in-game, but dont have a lot of kick. At the beginning of the game, finding a gun feels great, but later on there are more guns then there are people to use them, so you end up with a stockpile of 10 guns for each ammo type towards the end of the main game. Ammo conservation is pretty minimal, as there are tons of types of ammo to be found. Whenever you run out of ammo for one gun, you can switch to another gun which uses a different ammo type. Gunshots do make noise, so using them at the right moment is an important choice to make, because shooting at the wrong time could attract tons of zombies.
The game centers around survivors attempting to escape a small town hit by the zombie infection, alongside several NPC’s who will give exposition once in a while to further the story.
There isn’t any improvement to the story telling over the original game’s. The “cutscenes”, if you would like to call them that, are mostly regular conversations which you cant move during, so an NPC can deliver some exposition. Right at the start of the game, the starting character’s friend Ed gets bitten by a zombie and gets sick. A few hours more into the game, a doctor somehow heals Ed from the zombie virus, and another hour later Ed is a playable character. So little is explained about a situation as uncanny as this. Apparently you can survive a zombie bite? Its assumed, since zombies bite your character brutally every time they attack you.
Very little is explained, and often times there were whole hours where I wasn’t given a new mission. There were so many opportunities to create new missions centered around certain survivors. If survivors had more character, more of a background, the game’s permadeath mechanic would be much scarier, and make players be much more cautious.
Early on, we often saw glimpses of characters lives before the war. The survivor Maya is a veteran, so when you encounter the military for the first time, playing as Maya will create a unique situation where the soldier interacts with Maya, as if they had a deep past together. There are only a couple other moments like this in the entire game.
The game could have easily given a reason to care about each character, given them an origin or a reason to live similarly to Telltale’s the Walking Dead does with its main characters. Rather than every survivor having substance, an emotional reason to keep them alive, each survivor is just another set of stats.
The Year One Edition came with a series of small quest lines which supplied overpowered weapons, new vehicles, new survivors, and new weapons to be found including grenade launchers, and incendiary shotguns. People who own the original State of Decay get a free survivor with her stamina skill maxed out, which can be spawned when in story mode. These new pieces of content affect the game in almost no way at all.
Having played around 50 hours of the original title, I can safely say I noticed no change in gameplay in the Year One Edition. State of Decay had a lot of weapons, cars and survivors to begin with, so the new content was near indistinguishable from the original content.
The vehicles added to the game were re-skins of original vehicles that drive slightly faster than their decal-less counterparts, but because vehicles are destroyed so easily in State of Decay, the improved vehicles disappear really quickly.
I have to give credit to the developers though, the re-skinned cars look pretty good. There’s even a Freedom Mobile:
The grenade launchers, while are immensely powerful if used correctly, have so little ammo around the map, so you are constantly saving the ammo with the idea that at some point, it will be useful. The incendiary shotguns are the same case, as the incendiary ammo is so rare. Bottom line, bringing one of the new gun types is not worth the inventory space.
Because State of Decay was already so chock-full of playable characters that can be recruited, and even then, any connection to a playable character stems from the time you spend playing as the character, rather than their personalities.
There was a huge opportunity to add something new to the game, the new weapons came close though. Survivors could’ve been given a new perk, say an improvement to the melee combat system, and how it was explained. Survivors can unlock special techniques and defensive abilities, but there is no explanation as to how they work. While the special techniques are useful, they feel weak, and rather than being a part of the combat, they feel like add-ons you may use once in a while towards the end of the main game.
One of the main selling points for the Year One edition were supposed extreme graphical improvements. The Xbox website boasts “improved lighting, textures, [and] animations,” but the majority consensus is that the game looks nearly the same. Remember, this game runs on CryEngine 3 famously one of the most powerful graphic engines there is.
This comparison from YouTuber Candyland shows the difference between the PC versions of the Year One edition and the original.
The change the lighting is saturated and much brighter, which makes it easier to see how poor the texture quality is. Any improvements to textures are either minimal or non-existent, and many appear pixelated, despite the game being in “stunning 1080p”. Improvements to animations are unnoticeable and don’t improve the flow of gameplay at all.
The game still looks like it was released in 2011, but in a much weaker engine than CryEngine.
At launch, State of Decay was buggy as all-hell, and the Year One edition is no exception. Plagued by game breaking bugs, State of Decay Year One Edition will ruin playthroughs by randomly killing your story characters.
This clip, recently featured on Highlight Reel, shows the Year One edition’s only valuable new survivor being killed by a bug that has yet to be patched, several months after release.
Despite Vsync, screen tearing and texture glitches are very common. There are just so many graphical bugs it really doesn’t help the claims from the developers that the game has improved graphics.
There are also some really weird issues with rendering new objects in the game, if a car is speeding down the street, frames can get as low as 20 fps, an issue which likely wont ever be fixed. The render distance is s pretty terrible, and there might as well not be sniper rifles in the game if you cant see zombies more than two blocks away.
Thankfully the bugs are far in between, and wont make it completely unplayable. They are only a minor nuisance, and the game breaking bugs are mostly patched out now.
State of Decay is still a pretty good game, despite its clunkiness. The graphics are a bit dated, but don’t hinder gameplay at all. Most serious bugs that haven’t been fixed already will be fixed within the next few months, so the game is salvageable.
If you don’t already have the original game with all it’s DLC, I do suggest you give this game a try. Otherwise, this game is little more than some really expensive DLC.
You’re reading TAY, Kotaku’s community-run blog. TAY is written by and for Kotaku readers like you. We write about games, art, culture and everything in between. Want to write with us? Check out our tutorial here and join in.
This is my first publicly shared review, so if you have any suggestions you can comment below. You can also reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please forgive any minor mistakes in format, this is my first post using the TAY review Format