State of Decay 2 is the sequel to the 2013 survival horror game State of Decay which was generally well received by critics, and was a game I thoroughly enjoyed as well. Going into this game I was expecting more of the same zombie-killing and strategic gameplay from its predecessor. Well, this game delivers that, but really not much else. That isn’t totally a bad thing though because it still does those things right. A lot of heart and soul has been poured into State of Decay 2 by development house Undead Labs, and it shows.
STORY / CHARACTERS
In the original game, you started as a set character, Marcus. When starting State of Decay 2 for the first time however, players will select a set of two characters; one that will be controlled and a partner. These are picked from a selection of different sets with varied amounts of stats, skills, and perks for each character and begin at a decommissioned army base looking for supplies. This base serves as a tutorial level for the game and from there players get three options of where to start in the game itself.
State of Decay 2’s story progresses through the completion of tasks marked as goals for your community as well as through the completion of side quests for survivors around the map. For those who hadn’t played the original, you have nothing to worry about. It seems there is nothing missed from the original being key to understanding the course of events in this new title. Mission variety is based on which character you have control of. Players unlock missions based on their survivor’s personality and desires. The beauty of this game is that you are the director of your own story, going at your own pace, and choosing your goals as such. This concept makes for a much better experience than most open world zombie survival games.
Like the original State of Decay, the game plays as a mix of strategic base-building, exploring, and searching for resources with the same simplistic yet addicting melee plus ranged zombie slaying action. The combat mechanics are not very complex but feel good. Strikes have weight to them, guns pack a loud and powerful punch. The wide variety of weapons of both close and long range creates options for character builds and adds a lot of variety. Driving controls are smooth, which is great as you will rely on vehicles as you progress further and have to cover long distances quickly.
State of Decay 2 opens a bit cold. Some may find it a little hard to get into at first. Once you start slaying zombies and clearing out locations, you’ll be raking in resources and building up your bases. Progression feels organic and not as “grindy” as the original felt because through the unlocking of survivors and enclaves that aren’t part of your squad (but are still allies), you can make quick progress by gaining more influence. Influence is the game’s currency and is used to purchase items from the enclaves and travelling traders. Taking control of settlements through the use of the radio systems can also help you find more survivors, items, and even medical assistance if necessary.
There are various types of zombies in State of Decay 2 such as:
- The Screamer – a zombie that will alert all zombies nearby if it spots you.
- The Bloater – a zombie that explodes when killed, spreading its toxic guts around.
- The Blood Plague Zombie – a zombie that you will be hunting for its tissue to cure the plague it carries.
- The Plague Heart – not an enemy per say, but the heart of the horde and spawns the zombies itself.
You will have to carefully maintain all resources such as food, medicine, construction parts, and ammunition plus make sure to keep everyone happy so that they can provide to the community equally. There’s nothing more frustrating than to get halfway to a location and find out your currently controlled character is tired and can’t fight or refuses to carry as much. Keeping a close eye on everything is essential, creating problematic moments that ironically are also key reasons why the experience itself is so enjoyable.
GRAPHICS / PERFORMANCE
State of Decay 2 keeps its previous entry’s realistic, gritty art direction and invokes the same sort of despair and fear that a viewer of a classic zombie film or show would feel while viewing it. All of the playable survivors, the NPCs, and the enemies are designed well and have animations and mannerisms based on their current condition.
The glowing red eyes of the zombies pierce the darkness at night and the buildings that you scavenge can be a terrifying experience at night whether or not you have your flashlight on, creating the ideal environment of a zombie apocalypse which immerses the player and makes them feel as if they are right there fighting the vicious zombies themselves. Even before starting the game itself, the title screen shows a beautifully bad landscape of the hell that awaits in its full detail just welcoming you to the game. For Xbox One X owners, there is a significant performance boost provided by the additional hardware as well.
Reviewer’s Note: Xbox One X owners get the definitive edition provided by the additional power of the console, but playing on the base Xbox One does have only minimal frame rate drops during times of large enemies on screen.
SOUND / MUSIC / VOICE ACTING
In combination with the art style, there is a heavy focus on ambient noise such as the howls of screamers, the smashing of glass, or banging of doors as bloaters come after you. The soundtrack is very situational as music grows in intensity when you are on missions or when you run into swarms of enemies. The voice acting, while a little cheesy at times, is fantastic and gives all the survivors a lot of personality which really sets the stage for the adventures you go on and helps lighten the monotony other games might provide when players are limited to dealing with only one playable character who has no personality. Undead Labs were clearly trying to make this game’s experience very cinematic and it creates an impact as you grow to love everyone you deal with.
Unlike the original, State of Decay 2 features a drop-in online co-op where you can join a session in progress to assist other players or have others join your session in progress. When playing in this mode the visiting player is helping the host player and any resources / influence gathered is kept by them. Their own story progress is kept safe though. While I have played a very limited time in this mode, it’s a welcome addition and can be a great time when played with the right people.
With a variety of mission types, a set of different character groups to start as along with a choice of three different starting areas and a bevy of achievements (with a lot of very comically names to accompany them), State of Decay 2 is a game you can sink hours into. However, similarly to the original title, it can get a bit monotonous at times. For those looking to collect all available achievements, there are 42 that will span at least 4 play-throughs of the game. This will keep you busy for a good chunk of time. There is also two downloadable content packs; “Daybreak” and “Independence” that are upcoming releases later down the line to look forward to.
Overall, I had a blast with this game and while it didn’t provide a vast improvement over its predecessor, it took what worked from the original and made it better. The fact it is a game on Microsoft’s Game Pass catalog makes it an easy game to pick up and play if you are a member. But even if you aren’t, it’s a great title to pick up at a less-than-AAA price and if you can get past the early game’s cold start, you are in for a load of fun. With the knowledge of two expansion packs upcoming, this is a game that is still getting work put into it. For those who enjoy the original or just enjoy zombie-centric games in general, you can’t miss out on this.