Developer Undead Labs’ return to their smash hit zombie apocalypse simulator with State of Decay 2 looks just like the first, and that’s a very good thing.
State of Decay 2 looks for all the world like the game that Undead Labs wanted to create in the first place when they released State of Decay in 2013. It’s bigger, it’s prettier, and it’s more complex. Most of all, it has the single most requested feature since the launch of the original: cooperative multiplayer. At E3 2017, we had a closer look at what is already one of 2018’s most promising releases.
State of Decay 2 is a snippet of a global zombie apocalypse, the likes of which have been depicted countless times in every conceivable form of media. The dead rise, and it’s time to bash brains and burn bodies. It’s a premise that has been employed ad nauseum, but rarely with much thought or finesse. Zombies are a great excuse to allow someone to unload metric tons of ammunition. For the most part, that is the beginning and end of most games based around the shambling undead. So how did Undead Labs manage to make State of Decay one of the most engaging survival experiences in the genre?
It’s not the zombies, it’s the survivors. While hordes of rotting corpses found their way into every nook and cranny of Trumbull County in the first game, it was the survivors you found along the way that made it worthwhile. State of Decay generated endless potential followers, and the mix of traits and clashing personalities they possessed created the sorts of procedural storytelling that is more compelling than the vast majority of tightly scripted experiences.
State of Decay asks you to provide your people with the food, fuel, weapons, ammunition, and other materials you need for survival. It forces you to build up a haven against the ever-worsening undead plague. But it also asks you to resolve crises of character, loss of morale, and interpersonal conflict of the sort that always occurs when very different people are forced to live and work together under immense stress.
It is that humanity that elevated yet another zombie apocalypse game into one of the most beloved cult classics of a console generation, and it’s that humanity that is front and center in State of Decay 2.
This time around, survivors may have any number of 1,000 possible traits. With that addition alone, the possible differences from one game to the next are astronomical. But the developer is also doubling down on emotional depth, with an even broader variety of interactions between survivors and responses to in-game events. State of Decay 2 pushes the design ideas of the original exactly where it should. It is becoming an even more dynamic device for telling stories and doing it in a way that somehow feels both interactive and appropriately cinematic.
All of the possibilities expand by another order of magnitude once you add other players to the mix. Allocation of resources and potential risks become even more important, as the stakes get higher. They’re staging the whole thing on a map that is three times the size of the first game’s and supports even further expansion.
The only weak point I was able to find were the visuals. While the game looks much better than its predecessor, it appears to retain the same stiff action figure animations. It also looks visually primitive when compared to other major releases. If Undead Labs were given the sort of budget to pull in a truly AAA art team, the next State of Decay would easily have the mainstream chops to stand up to just about anything else on the market.
State of Decay 2 may not have been an E3 headliner, but it is easily one of the games about which I am most excited and an easy contender for my favorite game of the show. It wouldn’t take more than quantity to create the perfect sequel to State of Decay, and doubling down on quality has made it as close to a sure bet as you get in the industry. Sadly, for now we’re left to lurch, slowly yet inexorably, toward its launch next year.
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