By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong
UNDEAD LABS’ State of Decay was a certified critical and commercial hit upon its release in 2013. Best described as a third-person sandbox-cum-survival game simulating a community in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, it tasked you with finding resources, interacting with other denizens, and clearing out zombies in an effort to survive. And, on the whole, it proved to be a compelling experience, its flaws notwithstanding.
Fast forward five years, and Undead Labs is back with State of Decay 2. Fans of the original would be glad to note the familiar starting point, but with a twist. Again, you help your enclave mount a stand against zombies, but the “blood plague” makes the effort more difficult. It’s an illness that infects you via a mere scratch, and you’re compelled to retrieve samples from unique carriers in order to concoct a cure. The introduction of the kink underscores the game’s bent towards stealth as opposed to out-and-out action. At the same time, your thrust to build the community has you opting for playable characters with skills it requires to thrive.
As a followup title, State of Decay 2 boasts of equally outstanding qualities. From the get-go, the work that has been put into it is evident. Visually and aurally, it’s a massive improvement compared to its predecessor; it may lack the flair, vibrancy, and personality of contemporary competition, but it performs extremely well — with little to no hiccups in loading textures — and retains a smooth, consistent framerate.
While environments aren’t too detailed, they’re interesting to dive into, and the zombies that inhabit them look varied and distinct as opposed to copy/paste clones. Parenthetically, sound design is top notch, presenting depth and highlighting the proper mood as needed.
That said, State of Decay 2 falls a tad short in terms of gameplay. Similar to that of the first, its premise is simple: you run around, do missions and jobs, kill zombies, and strengthen the organization of the populace. Which, despite its tendency for repetition and predictability, is all well and good. Unfortunately, it gets bogged down by inadequate quality-of-life features. After the fairly interesting introductory segment, the game just basically leaves you to yourself, and in a manner that feels like it’s out to punish you.
For instance, State of Decay 2 requires that you manually carry supplies back and forth, and said supplies don’t stack. Meanwhile, whatever interest its weighting system generates is limited by its casual and uniform treatment of inventory; bulky items (i.e. gas cans) take up the same space as much-smaller ones (i.e. nails). Skills exist and serve to supplement your and other playable characters, but most of them are uninteresting; they either unlock crafting options or enhance efficiency in the performance of certain endeavors. Meanwhile, the community the game has you build and develop proves to be a drain on resources, leaving you to constantly balance cost with upkeep, a not-quite-interesting task given the lack of customization options.
Certainly, State of Decay 2 presents quite a few meaningful ideas. On the flipside, they aren’t always applied well. Dealing with survivors, scavenging food and resources, and staking out new bases for your budding community may provide sound premises for engaging gameplay, but they’re locked behind a number of tedious mechanics that needlessly slow the game’s pace to an elephant walk. Collectively, these issues make it difficult for you to give it another run-through even if its core gameplay is fine by design.
Overall, State of Decay 2 has more than enough to hold your attention, but its innate clunkiness may yet drive you away if you begin with heightened expectations. For fans of the open-world concept of survival horror, it should be long in engagement; the sequel pretty much delivers what the first game did, only with graphical updates as befit current-generation releases. Meanwhile, those new to the title would do well to dial down their prognoses and appreciate it as worthy of its pedigree.
Video Game Review
State of Decay 2
• Interesting exploration and scavenging work
• Compelling introductory sequence, with a solid concept to set the game up
• Engaging base building
• Very little customization available
• Tasks can be tedious and unenjoyable
• Off-putting grinding, with few exciting rewards on offer