Look, Xbox Game Pass is fantastic. Sea of Thieves was an absolutely amazing PvP experience that I’m not going to pretend wasn’t worth the price in and of itself. It so is. Ruining people’s pirate days is some of the best electronic entertainment you can get. Turns out, though, that there are other games on the ever-expanding Game Pass, most of which are magically available on both your Xbox One and Windows PC. You’ll get those as well!
State of Decay 2 is one of them, and it’s a pretty average zombie game that’s very much worth the minimal price it takes to try it out between late-night Sea of Thieves sessions.
Hey, guess what? Zombies are here! They’re here yet again and they’ve ruined society and everything’s bad. Time to deal with this in the best way you know how: collecting an absolute ton of pizza-stuffed duffel bags, then bobbing and weaving past zombies to apply some much-needed backstabs before blowing up their nests with molotovs. It’s certainly a different sort of take on this idea.
You’re tasked with surviving in a zombie apocalypse, but that’s rarely especially difficult. Regular zombies can be easily taken out by the truckload with a quick juke-and-backstab maneuver that my group and I picked up within a few minutes of starting the game, turning the stealth mechanics into a brutal primary attack. Even without this, melee weapons are quite powerful, guns even more so, and none but the most powerful zombies really stand a chance against you. To be fair, those guys are nasty and do stand a chance of making you regret your hubris in a straight fight…but it’s rare that you’ll ever have to engage in a straight fight, as there are plenty of options to exploit their questionable pathfinding and get some free shots in.
The “bosses” here, such as they are, are the Plague Hearts, essentially zombie nests with “cores” that need to be destroyed. These will eat up a pretty massive amount of ordinance and only get more difficult as you progress.
Running around and looting the map tends to be more fun than fighting zombies, anyway. There’s plenty of buildings to check out and your survivors are always going to need more of pretty much everything. Resource collection revolves around bringing duffel bags full of goodies back to your camp, a task made easier if you bring a vehicle out. Of course, you’ll then need fuel, which is an issue in and of itself, which might require further exploration – and so it goes, on and on, with systems feeding into one another. Maybe you’ll want to build a big fancy base with power, clean water, a nice medical facility and so on, and that’s certainly possible but you’re going to need plenty of duffel bags to make it happen. If you’ve ever wanted to play a game focusing on the real problem of a zombie apocalypse, that being resource scarcity rather than actual zombies, then State of Decay 2 is for you.
It’s not even a bad-looking game, though it’s not going to win any awards. On a high-end PC State of Decay 2 looks, sounds and runs just fine, though you’d expect as much. I’m told the console versions have some performance issues, but that wasn’t my experience playing on PC. From an aesthetic standpoint I didn’t think this one was all that bad.
In fact, the issue isn’t necessarily that anything I just described is bad. It’s not. It’s an entirely workable gameplay loop slapped on top of a decent-looking if not spectacular game. The issue is that it’s pretty much all there is; you’ll collect supplies, gather survivors and clear out Plague Hearts, then, well, you’ll do it again. And again. And again. The way the game “ends” will change somewhat based on the character you’re controlling, but the overall idea is the same – kill the Hearts, fulfill whatever “Legacy” quest your character has, you’re done.
The idea appears to be that the game will lend itself to emergent gameplay and storytelling so there doesn’t necessarily have to be a significant overarching plot, but in reality that feels like a bit of a cop-out. You can play in co-op, but there’s very little reason to do so given the overall lack of challenge and the limited progress that non-host players are capable of achieving.
What’s left feels a little reminiscent of an Early Access game on Steam. There are bunches of ideas, but most of them aren’t really implemented in complete or enjoyable ways. You have to make sure to keep your survivors loaded up with resources, but that’s less of a threat and more of an annoyance. You can build a big, fancy base, but why, aside from maybe being able to produce ammo by the wheelbarrow-load? Being able to finish the maps by clearing out all the Hearts can’t help but seem like a cheap replacement for a story. The price is right, don’t get me wrong…but State of Decay 2 probably isn’t going to hold your attention forever.