By Shane Ferguson
I can’t say I had the highest expectations going into State of Decay 2. With the abundance of zombie apocalypse media released in the past few years, I’ve been taking a brief but much-needed hiatus from the genre. I missed the first State of Decay in the sea of last gen zombie games, but even this time, it seems its successor finds itself in a similar predicament. With propitious triple-A zombie titles on the market and on the horizon, is State of Decay 2 worth your time? The short answer is ‘yes.’
The long answer is yes, too. State of Decay 2 is definitely the game for you if you love the genre. It simulates the nuances of being in a zombie apocalypse better than most. The essence of every zombie story is a tale of life and survival. Man’s returns to primitive thinking. Once simple tasks are now filled with obstacles. Teamwork and diplomacy are needed in a time of chaos and impending doom.
I’d say, though, that State of Decay 2 could’ve done a lot more to accentuate its story elements beyond traditional expectations. There’s scavenging, safehouse relocating, community politics, and hierarchy. Better were the scenarios that were more unique to my experience. State of Decay 2 has no save points, no pause and permanent death. These features magnify and add different levels of weighty tension to State of Decay 2’s survival gameplay. When you’re down to your last original members, it does start to feel like the later seasons of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
However, is it a great game overall? That can be more difficult to answer based on your taste in games.
While SoD2 is a game with a lot of potential, that gets lost right off the bat due to technical and graphical issues. The frame rate is atrocious and zombies will often spawn right out of the sky, literally. It doesn’t help that State of Decay 2 is Xbox One X enhanced yet looks almost last gen graphically. It doesn’t do much to show off the power of the hardware running it. This is concerning considering State of Decay 2 needs to be more than a good zombie game to help the Xbox One compete with PS4’s juggernaut of exclusive titles.
I was confronted with issues early on – in the first 20 minutes of gameplay. The first pickup truck I began the game with glitched itself and stuck in the air over a median. This happens a lot in SoD2, Your vehicle is likely to do somersaults over the smallest things. I abandoned the truck, forgot about it and rediscovered it hours later in the same position. After having all of my other vehicles destroyed, I desperately dedicated 10 whole minutes into moving it (which I did).
Yet this live world with limited resources creates a genuine feeling of accomplishment when you find just what you need at the right time. You also get what’s perhaps a genuine feeling of regret after looting that one last store that gets a member of your crew killed. Plus, you have to think about almost every move you make: your footfalls, how much weight you carry, and even personal attributes like asthma will all affect your world.
Unfortunately, the game is way too repetitive and easy at times. Which means eventually you realize the time you took to weigh your decisions are actually somewhat frivolous. There are also different zombie types that will affect how you traverse the map, as some threats just aren’t worth the trouble. State of Decay 2’s day and night cycle utilizes lighting really well when it comes to setting the mood of the world. During the day you have these dreary yet peaceful natural earth tones and at night, State of Decay 2 is a really dark, disturbing game. The only way to illuminate your path is your flashlight or vehicle’s headlights. This would be extremely unsettling and even frightening if the immersion wasn’t constantly disturbed by the technical and graphical issues.
The implications of your actions are permanent so your trial and error can make or break your experience with this game. It is paramount to know when to end your play sessions, as you will be stuck with any mistakes you make based on fatigue or lack of focus. This sort of gameplay may not be much fun for the average consumer just looking for a fun new exclusive for their Xbox One X. It is difficult to tell what demographic this game was intended for anyway, considering it can feel really cheesy and made for immature teens. A moment later, characters are throwing unnecessary expletives around like sailors. This is not maturity.
Although you’re free to play the game in any manner you choose, it is very possible to feel overwhelmed with tasks in State of Decay 2. You have to manage and gather supplies — all the while making sure to tend to the needs and morale of your survivors, as well as your neighbors. Think of it as similar to a zombie apocalypse edition of the popular Sims game series.
Story or main objectives can feel non-existent, leaving my play of State of Decay 2 aimless at times. Besides destroying the scattered zombie nest called “plague hearts”, there isn’t much objective outside of survival. SoD2 keeps you busy without ever feeling like a full triple-A experience. Which is somewhat expressed in the game selling at $30, below the average retail price. Furthermore, it is available for free to all Xbox Game Pass subscribed members. Despite my criticisms, I had fun with State of Decay 2 because of the the freedom of choice. At its best, State of Decay 2 can feel like your own personal horror movie. At its worst, it can feel like an unfinished mess. I think a good update patch could solve at least some of the issues plaguing it (no pun intended).
The main issue I think the fans will have with State of Decay 2 is not the gameplay but the multiplayer which leaves a lot to be desired. You are tethered to your guest while other online players are separate from your community. It can feel more like a beat em up when playing with friends and that takes away from the single-player experience in my opinion. Multiplayer is more used as a temporary tool for help when in a jam rather than a separate experience that can compete with other multiplayer games. I wouldn’t recommend purchasing State of Decay 2 with multiplayer mainly in mind.
State of Decay 2 isn’t your average action zombie title. It’s adds unique simulation elements to action with hours of survival gameplay and replayability. For the casual fan, it’s a decent title that can be very fun at times but might leave you wanting a little bit more. State of Decay 2 will mostly appeal to fans of its predecessor or zombie apocalypse media in general. There are no loot systems, the retail price is fair and suggests it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Hopefully, updates and fixes will be implemented to improve it. It has the potential to be a cult classic – but not in this, um, state of decay.
Shane Ferguson is a contributing writer for the New York Videogame Critics Circle.