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State of Decay 2

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Undead Labs
Release Date: May 22, 2018


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Xbox One Review - 'State of Decay 2'

by Cody Medellin on May 17, 2018 @ 12:01 a.m. PDT

State of Decay 2 immerses you in an all-new, multiplayer zombie survival fantasy.

Buy State of Decay 2

In 2013, State of Decay introduced players to a different kind of zombie apocalypse. It eschewed big action set pieces for the thrill of mere survival. Taking down massive zombie hordes with powerful and inventive weaponry was cast aside in favor of practicality. More importantly, this was done with no central protagonist, choosing instead to emphasize the importance of community. It was rough in parts, but its unique situations and scrappy attitude were enough to make it worth checking out. Years after an upgraded re-release, the team at Undead Labs has returned to this world with State of Decay 2, a sequel with a few improvements but the same attitude and sense of wonder.

Aside from the fact that this is a zombie-infested world, there's no story arc to follow. The beginning of the game presents you with four pairs of characters with different backstories. You choose from an estranged brother and sister duo, a couple with relationship issues, a new romantic pairing formed through a chance meeting, and a man who's always bailing out his best friend. No matter which pair you choose, the game starts with the duo raiding an abandoned Army base for food and supplies. After running from a crazed horde, things seem to be going well when one of you gets bitten by a blood-covered zombie. You encounter a soldier and a doctor, and as the horde closes in, you decide to escape and work together to develop a zombie cure.

Choosing the pair is quite difficult. Each person has a job, such as a movie extra, used car salesperson, or school teacher. The traits are different, so the bus driver could have great stamina, but the housewife could be an awesome fighter. Every aspect of these characters, including their names, is completely randomized, so you'll often get traits that don't fit the backgrounds. You could get extremely lucky and find someone with perfect starting stats.

The tutorial level is set in the Army base and shows off a combat system that's largely unchanged from the first game. You can choose to whale away at zombies or take them down stealthily. You can grab and throw them or fight them on the ground. Almost every attack depletes stamina, so you can't flail around and expect to come away unscathed. Aside from fighting off some familiar zombie types — e.g., the bloater, who unleashes noxious gas when he explodes, and the screamer, who periodically calls in more zombies to the area — you have to deal with the new blood plague zombie who infects you when you're bitten, giving you another meter to worry about because an untreated infection can mean death.

The escape from the Army base means you get to choose which area to settle down in, and this marks another big change from the original because you can jump right into the base- and community-building aspects. That means there's less emphasis on combat and more on the well-being of the community. You'll go on lots of supply runs to get basics like food, building materials, medicine, and other essentials to keep things running. You can build gardens and practice ranges at your base, but it won't be long before you try to claim new buildings to house more people or get supplies so you don't have to scavenge all the time. In addition to the essentials, you have to maintain the morale of the inhabitants, whether it involves taking them on missions or fulfilling their specific requests.

As you would expect from a survival game, these things are pretty difficult to accomplish due to the limited resources, zombies, and your own frailty. You can run, but even if your stamina is at the max level, you'll be gassed after a short while and need to recover. Ammo is always in short supply, and guns are only good as a last-minute choice since they make enough noise to attract even more of the undead. Melee weapons break, so you'll constantly repair them. The same goes for the finite number of cars, so you'll need to scavenge for fuel and spare parts to keep the vehicle running. You can't be awake for more than a day, so you're forced you to return to the base to rest while another character takes over. Finally, permadeath is back, so there is a real chance of losing a character who you've invested time on. At least the game gives you a reprieve by suspending things while you're away from the game, a response to criticism that the first game punished players who didn't play every day.

While the danger is there during daylight hours, it can become nightmarish once the sun goes down because there's no ambient light except for your flashlight and car lights. The zombies don't become stronger at night, but the pitch-black environment means that zombies can only be seen by their pinprick glowing eyes, which are usually only visible up close. It's bad when one zombie sneaks up on you, but an entire horde at night spells certain doom if you don't keep a level head.

Recognizing the dangers of going solo, State of Decay 2 now lets you recruit other characters to join you on excursions. You can recruit up to three AI companions, and that includes people who are already part of your community and others who are either neutral or friendly to your cause. For the most part, they're pretty competent and stay close to you, and while they don't immediately react to threats, they hold their own in melee battles. Give them firearms, however, and their usefulness drops significantly because they tend to aim for cars, walls, and anything that isn't the enemy.

Luckily, the game has a good alternative with actual online players. Each player can recruit up to three others to help out, with friends getting priority over strangers. Online players bring in their own characters to start with, and they can swap out with any of the host's characters. This won't give online players any items gathered during this trek, but it gives them the influence to do things like trade with other survivors and claim buildings. The online performance is solid, and having real people involved makes the game more enjoyable. It would've been nice if there were a way to set up a game where all four people are permanently involved in one community instead of just visiting.

For the most part, the gameplay doesn't get tiresome thanks to the interesting situations, such as helping a trio of drunks who want to make a distillery or going on special supply runs to get food and medicine for others. If you're looking for something more goal-oriented, the game provides that with an approach rarely seen in the genre. Instead of uncovering a conspiracy or finding a cure, your goal is to destroy all of the plague hearts that litter the area since they act as beacons for zombies. Your other goal, running parallel to this one, is to appoint a leader and fulfill specific tasks so their legacy can live on. That goal is made more intriguing by the fact that your surviving characters live on in future communities, giving the game a permanence with every playthrough that you don't find in many titles.

The move to a new game engine affords the title some upgrades in the graphical department. The day and night system produces some awesome lighting effects, and a decent amount of particle effects are on display. The environments look nice for something set during the apocalypse, and the number of zombies that can be present in the area is impressive. The Xbox One holds steady most of the time with 30fps, while a good PC can go 60fps without too much trouble. As before, however, the graphics are in need of polish. Textures and shadows have a tendency to fade in at rather noticeable distances, and the character models could look nicer, especially the faces. Collision detection can be wonky, leading to situations where characters look like they're sinking into the ground or standing in mid-air. Hopefully, these issues will get fixed in a patch.

The audio portion can sometimes be minimalistic. Music is scarcely used, but what's there evokes the proper mood, and at least its presence means something important is either nearby or about to happen. Meanwhile, the characters in the game love talking, but for some reason, conversations between two or more people can devolve to uttering simple phrases and nothing more. This becomes a little concerning when the response to encouraging words is "okay" or "sure." The conversation flow also feels stilted, as the lines of dialogue often have a very noticeable pause before the next person chimes in, so things feel unnatural.

State of Decay 2 is imperfect, but it's still a very good time. The presentation may not be up to snuff and the AI can be a hindrance, but the overall experience is fulfilling enough that you'll overlook those shortcomings. There aren't many games that execute the community aspect so well or are as accessible to those who aren't deeply into survival titles. It's a good experience for newcomers but still satisfying for those who loved the first game.

Score: 8.0/10

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