Posted by Raine Hutchens on Sep 20, 2012

State of Decay – A Fresh Take On Zombie Games

Zombies are everywhere. They’re in movies, games, books, TV shows, and comics. Literally they’re about everywhere you can think of. We’ve gotten some good zombie games like Dead Island, Resident Evil (the early years), and Dead Rising, and while each game takes the approach to zombies in their own different way, the genre still feels over-saturated.

I enjoyed Dead Island, don’t get me wrong, I played that game until it broke, and I’ve been a long time Resident Evil fan. Still, going back and seeing things like Call of Duty: Zombies can really work at killing the fun the genre holds. Humorously enough, a company by the name of Undead Labs understands that there are gamers who feel the way I do, and they set out to change the norm.

Undead Labs was founded by Jeff Strain, the Lead Programmer on World of Warcraft. It’s a relatively new game development company that’s turning attention to the zombie genre at large. Their first project has been called State of Decay, and it definitely turns heads when it comes to zombie games. At first glance, State of Decay is an open-world action title. It boasts a lot of NPCs, a huge map, and plenty of resources to scavenge for. There’s a lot on the table already, but it’s only about half of what we’ll deal with in the game.

When players start the game they’ll select one of the offered preset characters. As you trudge through the game and rescue other NPCs, which is essential to gameplay, then you’ll be able to recruit them to your cause. After rescuing survivors you’ll be able to select any character in your group to play as. The more you play as a single character, the more tired they will get as each character runs off of a stamina gauge. Also, each character will have strengths and weaknesses, and be good at performing different tasks.

For example, as you play with the character that’s great at smashing zombies he’ll get tired. Once he is worn out you’ll have to swap out to another character. When this happens you’ll need to change your game up a bit. For instance, let’s say you swap out to a character that is great at gathering resources and setting up home base. Here’s where the strategy comes into play. Now that you’ve got to switch characters it would be better to spend your time doing other things like setting up your base because bases are extremely important in State of Decay.

Throughout the town you’ll be playing in are a number of outposts and you’ll need to decide how to manage which characters are placed in which outposts. Characters will have archetypes such as mechanic or doctor which will dictate where they would be best placed. A mechanic would be best suited in a garage where a doctor should be placed in an infirmary. Of course the game won’t always present choices this easily, and it becomes a struggle to decide where to place your characters.

Travis Stout, a developer who worked on Fallout: New Vegas, helped explain some of the game’s mechanics a bit. “Population management is a big part of the game,” he said. “Some of [the bases] are in the middle of urban areas, which means it’s great for finding supplies because there’s a grocery store across the street and a hardware store down the block, but it also means that you’re in the middle of zombie central. Some of the bases are out in the country and they’re these big, sprawling farmhouses, which means you have a lot more room to expand, but it also means that you’re farther from the vital supplies that you need.”

Stout continued to explain that you can make virtually any structure an outpost, serving as temporary way stations between travels. Your home base, however, should be set in a prime location, and as Stout comments there “are a fair number of them.”

The game isn’t just about surviving against a zombie apocalypse, rather it’s really about rebuilding life and a society after one has hit. The development team really wants players to think long-term. Stout commented, “Finding this food cache or finding these medical supplies might get us through the next day, two days, a week – but what about next month?” That’s enough right there to help give you the overall scale of what we’ll experience in the game.

There will be a lot of features in the game, and about 50 characters overall. The sheer size of this game is already a bit to comprehend, and it becomes even more boggling when you realize it’s an Xbox Live Arcade game. There hasn’t been hints to when we can actually play the game, and it’s left us in anticipation. Undead Labs originally saw State of Decay as an MMO title, but wanted to try it out on a smaller single-player scale first, which is what we’ll end up with. No matter the outcome, though, I know State of Decay will lay a fresh scent on a decaying genre.


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