IT & Systems Management

One more for the horde: State of Decay shambles onto the PC

I like to think I'd be pretty handy in the event of a zombie apocalypse: I enjoy hoarding, sitting absolutely still in dark rooms, and keeping my cool while haphazardly hammering slabs of wood to window panes. Though maybe not as cucumber-cool as State of Decay's cast of characters, who have transitioned from an idyllic rural existence to a ravaged militaristic one with little more than a few sassy quips--I suppose we're all accustomed to the whole undead thing by now.

Yes, it's yet another open-world zombie-survival game that's different from the pack and will change the way you think about a me-too genre that's bursting at the seams. But it's also so very good, one of those rare gaming gumbos that borrows bits and pieces from far-flung genres and serves up something bewilderingly great.

State of Decay offers the requisite "it's probably the government's fault" narrative: a virus causes people to die and then un-die and bite other people, spreading the infection. The story is helped along by awesome voice-acting that lends a real sense of charm and tension to the proceedings, but we're here to kill Zeds, and the game wastes no time letting us off the reins.

The open-world setting isn't limited by any means: just pick a spot on the sprawling map and go there. Along the way, you'll encounter abandoned houses you can rifle through for goodies, vehicles that'll make your treks a bit faster, or supplies you can deliver to your base, or have allies pick up and ferry back. There are even packs of survivors for you to parley with, who'll offer supplies or move into your base and join your merry band of survivors, once they trust you enough.

And there are zombies: slow ones, fast ones, fat ones, armored ones. Worse still are the zombie hordes, undead packs that roam the map and swarm anything that sounds loud and looks appetizing--including cars and heavily armed survivors who can't get enough of gunplay. Any game that offers some kind of stealth gameplay gets a nod of approval from me; you'll find that things go rather smoothly if you opt to hide in a bush and creep around baddies instead of taking them head on, especially in light of the limited ammunition going around. If you get into a tight spot, a trusty lead pipe to face will slow all but the largest baddies, and do so quietly.

Every hatchet swing or shot fired takes a toll on your weapons, eventually causing them to break and disappear for good if they aren't maintained. Fatigue will also wear your character down, lowering your total stamina as the hours pass and limiting the actions you can take before stumbling and gasping for a rest--zombies love tired people. Do you see what's in that next house, or head back to base for a nap? And do you walk back home, or take one of the few fragile abandoned vehicles laying about, and risk wrecking it while plowing through riled up zombies?

It's a clever little balancing act, and control over multiple characters adds yet another satisfying wrinkle. Instead of playing as a single character (who'll get tired, and need rest), you'll work to become friends with other members of your survivor group, unlocking the ability to switch over and play as them at a whim. Every character has their own set of skills, and while these can be improved with practice and effort, some personality traits lend themselves better to certain roles--a coward probably won't be the best option for grappling with the undead, for example.

All of this is set against that looming need to survive: your supplies will dwindle, and relentless zombie attacks will take a toll on morale. You'll eventually need to find a larger base to house more survivors and store more stuff, and ultimately figure out what exactly the military is doing in town anyway--they certainly don't seem very friendly.

State of Decay has been available on the Xbox 360 for a few months, but is now available as an early access title on Steam. It's rather polished for a game that technically isn't done yet, though the console-first design means a wired or wireless Xbox 360 gamepad is currently required to play--though the developers are naturally working on a proper mouse and keyboard implementation. The full game is slated to be release sometime later this year, but you can grab it from Steam for $20 and follow along as it's developed.


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