State of Decay 2, a zombie survival title, developed by Undead Labs and published by Microsoft. The title is a sequel to the surprisingly successful original 2013’s State of Decay. Five years ago, Undead Labs were a small indie studio at the time, and the bugs were relatively acceptable for the size of their studio. After getting acquired by Microsoft and having their support throughout the sequel’s development, it still failed to overcome most of the first title’s shortcomings.
State of Decay 2 builds upon its predecessor’s features, and its open-world and permanent death mechanism always puts you on the edge of your seat. Always on the lookout for a zombie crawling from behind the counter in the dark or scouring away for resources in an abandoned shack is what the post-apocalyptic zombie-filled world is all about, and State of Decay 2 manages to capture this feel perfectly.
Players are offered a choice of two characters to start off with, while encountering other survivors throughout the world and recruiting them to their own group. There are three maps available, Cascade Hills, Meagher Valley, or Drucker County. Players start in one of them and after developing their base and acquiring enough resources, you can visit the two other maps to gather more unique resources or even build a base there as well. Picking a duo with more well-rounded stats, which include fighting, wits, driving, chemistry, cardio and many more, will allow for an easier journey during the rocky starts of your survival.
Survivors’ traits grow the more you use them, for example running for long distances while keeping an eye on your stamina bar will build up your cardio trait and fighting several zombies will increase your fighting ability. Once a survivor reaches the maximum level in a trait, players are offered the chance to specialise this character to a certain aspect in their maxed out trait. Around 1,200 traits are available in-game for players to choose from, around a thousand more than what the original State of Decay featured. This allows players to build a community where each character can satisfy the other survivors’ needs and maintain their happiness level.
As your base grows and features more and more survivors, their needs grow with them. Not only physical needs increase, like the need for more food, more beds and sometimes even more friends, emotional needs increase as well, and they are harder to manage. Trying to console someone who just lost a friend to the plague or reassuring a survivor who is worried about zombies invading the base that everything is fine is hard to do yet rewarding. Once you do so, your character gains influence, which allows you to claim buildings and add them to your base and much more. The actions you take with a certain character affects their influence meter and since you are free to switch to other survivors, to allow the initial survivor to recover from fatigue or to switch to a more suitable character for the next mission, each character has their own influence stat and it is not shared between them.
The basic mechanics of gather resources, build a base, recruit more survivors and kill zombies to save the planet from the Blood Plague are all there and improved from the original State of Decay. However, I rarely found myself engaged in the main storyline and these objectives as much as I did with the little personal quests for each character. These little storyline perfectly portrays the cruelty and ruthlessness of the zombie filled world. Helping as a woman looking for her lost child, a man who is in desperate need for medicine to rescue his best friend before it is too late or even helping a man put down his woman because he loves her too much and can’t do it, all of these are emotional journeys players get to experience and feel the characters’ emotional struggle while doing so.
Combat, whether it is melee or using different kinds of firearms, is definitely one of the most fun aspects of State of Decay 2. The need to pay attention to your weapons’ wear and tear make you economical and efficient in how many swings you take during your zombie-killing rampages. Different kinds of melee weapons have different impact on zombies, with blades, knives and machetes offering a higher chance to amputate zombies and to execute a downed zombie is very satisfying indeed. You have to be very careful when using firearms as well, since bullets, shotgun shells or explosives, are hard to find and the sound of your gun will attract unwanted attention from zombies around the area, unless you crafted a silencer.
The sounds you make while running, fast searching through crates and your gunshots is indicated on the minimap with a white circle spreading out from your marker to alert you on how noisy your actions are, this can be critical especially during missions to destroy plague hearts or planning strategically to enter a zombie-infested house you want to assign as a base.
Of course the biggest addition to the sequel is the four-player co-op experience, allowing players to invite up to three friends to join their session. As much fun as it sounds, it is often interrupted with connection issues and weird bugs where players get stuck and their controls don’t work at all, and I experienced this personally while playing with my friend. However, when it was working, it allowed for some tense and fun moments while we planned and gave out tasks for each one of us to do to and then met up in our base after our successful expeditions.
All in all, State of Decay 2 is definitely a true zombie survival experience with all the right elements and mechanics, and after the addition of the four-player co-op mode, it got even better. However, Undead Labs’ failure to polish the game prior to its release and making performance issues and encountering bugs, glitchy animations and characters stuck on ladders the norm is a let down to an otherwise promising sequel.