Platform: Xbox One
Developer: Undead Labs
Australian classification: R18+
I’d long since run out of food and drink. I was bruised, beaten, and exhausted to the point of near collapse. My ute was packed with a days worth of salvage; medicine, materials, fuel, ammunition, supplies we desperately needed. The community was counting on me, but more than anything I just wanted to get home. I decided to take a shortcut. It didn’t go well.
Smoke billowed ominously from the overturned ute. I stood at a distance, shocked into stillness, and debated my options. Should I ferry the goods back to base one at a time? Could I find another vehicle nearby? Would I make it either way? Before I could decide fate did it for me, turning my efforts, ute and supplies into a giant fireball. Everything was wasted and there I was with a field full of zombies still between me and my base.
Despite the overwhelming and unexpected loss, it’s moments like these that make State of Decay special; emergence, the holy grail of the sandbox genre. At its core SOD is a pure loop of RPG feedback. It drops you straight into its world with zero exposition and asks you to fend for your life. Though it seems initially daunting, the interplay of systems open up in a very rewarding and organic way. After more than a dozen hours I was still finding new ways to scavenge, refining my tactics, expanding and relishing every killing stroke.
Whether choosing a base or crushing a skull, all of your actions feel appropriately weighty, and permadeath for characters means that a narrow focus and attachment to any single character can be swiftly punished. Even the most well equipped character can be quickly overwhelmed by an unexpected horde. Fortunately there are plenty of heroes to level up and experiment with, all with their own quirks and personality. Sadly, most of that personality is absent from the story, but the loop and grind embedded in the mechanics are so compelling that it simply doesn’t matter. I wasn’t running to an objective to further the plot, I was in it for the community, my community.
The Year-One Survival Edition comes bundled with two pieces of DLC; Lifeline is a story driven endeavour, this time with a military focus and the benefit of a new city-centric map; Breakdown is a pure distillation of the core SOD loop, essentially survival mode for a survival game. In addition to the added content, the new edition has purportedly seen a slew of upgrades, including “Improved lighting, textures, animations and combat mechanics… In Stunning HD”, however, calling it an HD remake is about as accurate as the panicked machine gun fire that saw one of my survivors torn literally in half.
Many of the bugs that plagued the last gen version are just as persistent as the Z virus that inhabits its world. In fact, my very first play-through saw a glitch that disabled all controls and left me helpless and completely dismembered. The glitch persisted even after spawning a new hero and forced a total system restart. It was gruelling in a way I’m sure the developers never intended. Despite this and numerous other instances of pop-in, clipping, slowdown and general jankiness, I was never truly frustrated. I would survive.
Though it may not be as shiny as some other recent re-releases which came out dripping in glorious HD, (like a certain stunning survival shooter made a misbehaving canine), the underlying mechanics, coupled expansions, and sheer joy of survival more than make up for any technical shortcomings. For anyone that has already clawed their way through all of Trumbull County’s thriving zombie community, the State of Decay: Year-One Survival Edition probably won’t provide you with any fresh meat, but if you skipped either of the rewarding add-ons, or if you simply didn’t make it to the apocalypse last time around, SOD is a grippingly delicious no-brainer.