The idea behind Undead Labs’ State of Decay was a really good one. Instead of putting a twist and a contrived story on top of the zombie apocalypse, it simply dropped us into that world and asked us to survive. There’s no president’s daughter to protect, no virus to cure, nothing like that. The biggest challenge is surviving another day. For all the love Telltale’s Walking Dead games get (and deserve), I think State of Decay is the Walking Dead game people really want. That it broke Xbox Live’s digital sales records at the time suggests I’m not too far of. It was a great idea with shaky, unsteady execution, mired with janky animation, goofy bugs, and, on Xbox One’s “Year-One Survival Edition,” a rocky framerate that made the game a headache to play.
At this year’s E3 show, one of the very last things I got a peek at was the game’s sequel, State of Decay 2, a game I’m hoping can make good on the promises of the first while adding something new to the mix.
After the behind-closed-doors demo put on by Undead Labs, I’m left a bit confused. It’s not that the game looks bad – quite the opposite. It’s that I’m not sure how much new stuff is going into the game. The game area we saw felt eerily familiar. State of Decay wasn’t exactly original about its play on zombie tropes. We had the mean rednecks, the trigger-happy military, all of that. All the usual locations were there, too, with one of the major stations in the game being a church. In the demo, we’re right back at a church, complete with the brick wall around it. If I’d taken my glasses off, it would’ve looked like the first game to me.
What Undead Labs founder Jeff Strain emphasized during the demo was just how much stuff this game is simulating, and how those things play off each other. There are a thousand different possible traits the survivors of State of Decay can possess, a big bump over the few hundred present in the original. A snorer might keep his bunkmates up at night, lowering productivity and morale, while an action choreographer will have a natural advantage with melee weapons when facing off against the undead. All these different traits will play off each other to ensure that even if you try to do the same things in the same order each time, your survivors will give you a different play experience.
Aside from that and some quality-of-life improvements, like better menus and community management, State of Decay 2 feels very much like State of Decay, just improved. In fact, it feels to some degree like I would’ve expected State of Decay: Year-One Survival Edition to feel. You know, like an upgraded version of the original.
I’m hoping Undead Labs is just playing details close to their chest. There is one big change, though, that fans of the original will appreciate.
When State of Decay released, one complaint was almost universal despite the love the game received from every sector: why is this game single-player only? This will, for many, be the killer feature that makes the sequel worthwhile all on its own. It’s unclear right now just how cooperative play works in its entirety. Players can, of course, party up to play together, but you can also fire off a flare to summon a helpful player into your game. How you’ll be rewarded for helping out is unclear right now, and it’s unclear whether or not you’ll be able to play through an entire simulation together, or whether one of you is simply a visitor. It sounds like the latter is the more likely scenario. Even so, this sounds like a great addition to the series.
State of Decay 2 is set to release in the first half of 2018 on Xbox One and PC as an Xbox Play Anywhere title, and will include 4K and HDR support for Xbox One X owners.