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How the Next State of Decay Could Tear Other Zombie Games in Half

stateofdecay

Okay, a sequel hasn’t even been announced so I may be jumping the gun a bit, but if there is a God, and if he loves his gamer children then I have to believe we will indeed see a beefed-up version of Undead Labs’ instant Xbox Live Arcade classic in the next generation of consoles. And should that eventuality come to pass, I want us all to be treated to a true AAA classic.

For those not in the know, State of Decay is an open-world zombie survival game made available as a digital download via XBLA in June and it sold a quarter million copies in the first two days of release, making it an instant smash.
…the basic gameplay of State of Decay can be summed up in three words: Grand Theft Zombie.

And what exactly was it about this game that led to such a gamer feeding frenzy? Well, the basic gameplay of State of Decay can be summed up in three words: Grand Theft Zombie. You take the open world mechanics of one of the most revered franchises in gaming, then you add zombies, the ability to build up and upgrade a community of survivors, the need to gather supplies and allies from the surrounding area, and there you go.

And the way it was carried off was spectacular. Smooth gameplay, innovative mechanics, decent graphics, random side quests and dilemmas popping up for some variety from the main story, and some of the sickest character death animations ever to make it into a game made this one a total steal at $15.

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The game is utterly brutal for beginners. It auto-saves instantly when a survivor dies so no take-backsies allowed. And you are never, ever safe unless you are inside your base or watching a cutscene. The undead often swarm you at every turn as you forage for supplies and getting in and out quickly and quietly is of utmost importance. But that’s hard to do when you have to search for supplies.

Zombies will most likely chase you out of each location and will even grab onto the sides of your getaway vehicle to tear the doors off and pull you out. And once they get you down and out, they literally tear you to pieces before devouring you. That first playthrough is nerve-wracking.

But as good as State of Decay is, it’s admittedly not quite ready for prime time. It’s certainly a must-buy at the XBLA price point, but the reviews saying the game is on the same level as modern classics like Valve’s Left 4 Dead are overstating it a bit. There are a lot of small issues like a lack of a compelling story or character development/interaction that leave so very much room to grow. The lack of cooperative multiplayer is a glaring omission as well.
…at this point I’d kind of rather see the single player formula perfected and outfitted with multiplayer options…

State of Decay was originally designed to be a massive multiplayer online game, but ended up a single-player sandbox game functioning as sort of a single-player beta test and doubtlessly raising some much-needed funding. Undead Labs is still negotiating with Microsoft for the MMO, but at this point I’d kind of rather see the single player formula perfected and outfitted with multiplayer options, and I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t happen.

Whether or not they can get the MMO off the ground, I’d really like to see a AAA-quality sequel to the first game. And here’s how I see that getting done.

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More character depth.

So the question is: how do you take a budget arcade title and make it a real Game of the Year contender? Well, let’s take a look at a GOTY contender that happens to be both an arcade title and a zombie game. Telltale GamesThe Walking Dead did it with one hand tied behind its back. I say “one hand tied” because it barely had anything recognizable as what we call actual gameplay in the traditional sense.

It was more like an interactive choose your own adventure visual novel.  It won all of its accolades with excellent writing and believable characters.
Undead Labs’ first order of business to make the next State of Decay a true heavyweight should be hiring talented writers.

Undead Labs’ first order of business to make the next State of Decay a true heavyweight should be hiring talented writers. The game benefited from a varied cast that can vary from game to game and feature individual differences, but the interactivity with them almost entirely limited to random generic side quests.

You had Fable-like emotes you could use, but I never once saw another character respond to one, which is one of the things that made the game feel unfinished.

Making you really care about the characters in your community will make you fear for their safety that much more, and being able to solve their problems in more intricate ways then taking them down the street to kill a few walkers together and exploring their individual personalities and conflicts would do absolute wonders.

The social sim aspect really needs to be expanded to make the next game unforgettable.

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Fix what didn’t work.

Another thing that really showed the MMO beta roots was the fact that time marched on in your game even when you were not playing it. This was horrible. Basically, you could log off and in a few days come back and have half of your community fallen ill on the verge of death and all of your hard-earned supplies gone because they were used up for maintenance with your reputation and morale suffering as a result while you were at work or out of town or whatever.

This is not what I play video games for; to worry about what the game is doing when I’m not playing it. I should be able to pick up right where I left off when I get back, no questions asked.
One of the game’s headaches was also part of its intensity: the ever-present danger.

Furthermore, little things like not being able to share items with other characters were ridiculous. Not only that, but you should have the option to take a NPC partner along with you on supply runs. One of the game’s headaches was also part of its intensity: the ever-present danger.

But when you are searching a house head-to-toe, creeping along as quietly as you can and the zombies are still mysteriously honing in on you from all over the neighborhood, taking as long as it takes to search each container (which is not instantaneous like in most games) becomes pretty frustrating at times.

Bottom line: you often need someone to watch your back while you search to get anything done. The only way to get back-up is to start a sidequest with another character and then go off track. And not only should you be free to recruit NPC’s, but you should be able to load their pack up as well as yours.

Inventory space is a major issue in this game -as it would be in real life- and you shouldn’t have to leave behind vital firearms because your pack is full while an NPC just carries the weapon in his/her hand.

[Edit: last week’s State of Decay update 3 has allowed the option to ask NPC’s to follow you, so feel free to ignore that gripe. Also, Undead Labs confirmed for stealing my ideas before I post them.]

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Multiplayer, anyone?

I am not one of those people who thinks every game needs multiplayer, nor am I the guy who forgets the single player game and just plays multiplayer. If anything, I’m the opposite. But anyone who says State of Decay doesn’t have crazy multiplayer potential is trolling.
Being able to join up with your friends’ communities and lend a hand to bash some zombie skulls or trade some supplies seems so obvious…

Being able to join up with your friends’ communities and lend a hand to bash some zombie skulls or trade some supplies seems so obvious I can’t believe it wasn’t implemented in the conceptual phase.

That disbelief is doubled considering this was supposed to be an MMO in the first place.

In addition to co-op, there’s plenty of room for competitive play. Picking your best character and sending them against competing players for a game of Capture the Flag where you get to fortify your own base defenses while trying to break into your opponent’s base with zombies patrolling the space in-between could be epic.

Imagine sneaking into the enemy base with an alarm clock and setting it off to draw a nearby horde to the attack before snatching the flag and making your escape, or tossing a flare from a lookout perch to attract unwanted attention to an approaching raiding party. Tell me you don’t want this.

Or how about competitive supply runs where you and some pals load up in a vehicle and race to a gather a series of rucksacks before the other crews get them? And should two parties meet during the competition, they could battle it out to temporarily incapacitate one another. Think about the side-by-side vehicle drive-by shootouts while racing to the next supply cache. Just yes.

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Make the world bigger/better.

Being a fairly small-scale undertaking, State of Decay had a relatively small map to work on. It was plenty for what the game had to offer, but in order for the game to offer more, it really needs to do exactly that: offer more. We need more towns, more communities, more options for home bases, and more to explore.
The first game hinted at interpersonal violence in the story, but you never had to defend yourself from any humans that weren’t already dead.
In addition to more space, the world itself should be more dynamic and interesting. The other communities should have more interactions with you, for better and for worse. The first game hinted at interpersonal violence in the story, but you never had to defend yourself from any humans that weren’t already dead.

I think that encounters with human raiders while on supply runs would up the tension dramatically, and full-scale wars with other communities could be something really amazing in single player to prep people for competitive multiplayer.

The prospect of human invaders could also be something to think about when you choose a home base. Should you choose a place with better facilities, a more defensible area, or somewhere closer to supply locations?

One of the great things about State of Decay was that you found supplies in obvious places. Gun shops and police stations were full of firearms and ammo, construction sites and warehouses had tools and building materials, medical buildings had medicine, and so on. Well, how about military camps and police stations peopled by the remnants of those institutions? So to get the best gear you’d have to either sneak in, kill them all, or trade something of value.

And for some of those long trips, I really think you should have the option to camp out in secluded or secured areas to avoid the fatigue and sleep-deprivation. It should be risky but possible, especially with a partner. This would encourage more exploration and add to the feeling of really being far from home on an adventure during road trips.

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Moar customization, plz.
Being able to customize personalities in addition to the look and stat buffs of the characters who will appear in your game would be huge.

Right off the bat, we need a character creator. Preferably not only for your starting character, either. Imagine you could create a number of characters for the game to randomly insert into your story in addition to its own stock. Being able to customize personalities in addition to the look and stat buffs of the characters who will appear in your game would be huge. Also, additional clothing options as modestly-priced DLC could be a big seller.

Not that I support that sort of thing. [winking emoticon]

On top of that, being able to decorate your home base to personalize it could be another factor. The option to take some spray paint to your walls or put up posters and banners would be awesome. Anything to show off to your friends, right? Hey, some gamers might not draw dicks on their walls. At least, I’d hope so.

State of Decay gave you some really interesting choices, such as giving you the option to shoot a terminally ill character or kick them out before they turn. This should be expanded on. For instance, things like choosing sides in NPC conflicts or choosing whether or not to share with other communities could have benefits and consequences depending on how you handle it.

Kicking an ill character out only to have him/her survive could turn them against you if they were on bad relations already, or characters could lose it if you choose not to help them and go homicidal or suicidal. Likewise, communities you have bad relations with could become enemies if you refuse them.

So you could choose to be pragmatic militant protectionists and make enemies, or you could share and share alike and help other people like a wuss and try to keep the peace, depending on your play style.

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Alright, so you take the core game, smooth it out a bit, add next-gen graphics, a better story, more character interaction and customization, a bigger dynamic world to explore, and let players join forces and battle each other and I can just about guarantee the best zombie game ever made, point blank.

State of Decay was a wonderful addition to XBLA’s library of titles, but it was clearly not all it could have been. At this point in time, I have very little incentive to buy a next-gen console, and the biggest reason for that is a lack of killer apps for either the PlayStation 4 or the Xbox One.

I can tell you right now that if the game I just proposed were to be announced for either console, it could single-handedly tip that balance, and I think a lot of other gamers would feel the same way.

So how about it; anyone else feeling this? Post some of your own ideas and general State of Decay love and criticism in the comments section if you’ve got something to share.

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About Nick Verboon

I am a guy on the internet who writes stuff sometimes. Try and keep up. I used to write reviews Amazon and other sites under the moniker trashcanman before semi-retiring from my unpaid career for a while. But now I'm back in action writing columns for Unreality and Gamemoir. Enjoy. I

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