State of Decay originally arrived as an Xbox 360 Live Arcade title back in 2013, before making the jump to PC a few months later. Whilst it appeared amongst a raft of other shambling zombie titles, State Of Decay’s open world and emphasis as a survival simulation, rather than an arcade shooting range, made it stand out from the pack, particularly with its origins as a downloadable title. Undead Labs have now returned to Trumbull Valley, remastering the title for Xbox One while also intent on bringing the title to a new audience on current-gen and smoothing off some of the game’s rough edges.
For the uninitiated, you start the game as clerk Marcus Campbell who, returning from a fishing trip with his friend Ed, discovers that the world has gone to hell, with a zombie outbreak in full swing. You soon meet a group of survivors at the Mt. Tanner Ranger’s Station, but sadly they swiftly perish after you’ve embarked on a mission to rescue embattled soldier Maya Torres. Returning to the ranger station, your friend Ed is attacked and bitten, leading you to make your way to a local church where another group of survivors has holed up. With this as your new home base, you set out to help Ed and the other survivors stay alive and survive through whatever means necessary.
Much of the game centres around maintaining and improving your home base, and its occupants, as you try to survive the vicious new way of life in Trumbull Valley. You do this by heading out on scouting missions to collect various resources from the surrounding area and then returning them to your base. Medicine and food sit alongside ammunition and construction materials as your key requirements, and the longer that you stay in one place, the further afield you have to travel as you exhaust the supplies around you.
State of Decay sets itself apart from the rest of the zombie horde with thoughtful systems that make your survival and that of those around you meaningful, and you have to earn your position within the group. Successful collection of resources and survivors rewards you with increased reputation, which is essentially the main form of currency, with the game allowing you to either trade it for items you need or to build new facilities for your base.
The game’s last-gen roots are very obvious graphically, and in the game’s technical underpinnings. While Undead Labs have improved the game’s resolution to 1080p on Xbox One, textures and items in the distance suffer from distinct and distracting pop-in. The game’s performance also takes a huge nose-dive the moment that you get into a vehicle, and driving around the valley results in severe frame-rate issues and slowdown, made even worse if the game happens to autosave at the same time.
One of the most obvious and welcome graphical improvements is the reduction of screen tearing that was so prevalent in the original Xbox 360 version. Whilst this makes the experience a great deal more refined, it’s a shame then that the frame rate remains incredibly variable, swinging from smooth performance to slow and choppy at various points. Optimisation is still clearly ongoing though, and during my time with the game it has already received two huge patches in excess of 3GB. Hopefully this support will continue over the coming months to remedy the shortfalls the game is currently experiencing.
Despite the game’s technical issues, one of the things it gets absolutely right is its atmosphere. There is a constant and nagging sense of dread as you search through nearby buildings looking for useful medicines and materials, and you never feel safe, even when at your home encampment. It’s all made particularly acute by the ever-present possibility of your character’s permanent death. While there are some subdued piano pieces played at various moments, the game often just leaves you with the quiet sounds of nature, which are punctuated by the guttural cries of a zombie as they approach or the distant gunfire of a survivor in need of assistance.
The longer you spend with State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition though, the higher chance you have of becoming deeply annoyed with what is a fundamentally flawed product. It could be because of a small bug, such as when a fellow survivor was on a mission with me until a story cut-scene then made him disappear, leaving me alone and vulnerable and assuming the worst for him. In the end, he’d simply reappeared safe and sound miles away at the home base for no apparent reason.
Equally, it could be because of the somewhat temperamental controls, which simply don’t feel tight and precise enough either during combat, or when trying to perform a time-sensitive action such as barricading windows. You’ll also get stuck on scenery, which you should be able to leap over without a problem, but instead you’ll find yourself an easy victim to your ravenous adversaries. All of these problems appeared in the original version of the game, and quite clearly should have been addressed when Undead Labs returned to perform the remaster.
Despite the technical problems it’s definitely worth noting that I still had an immense amount of fun with the world, and as this edition includes the original game and both of its expansions, there’s a huge amount of content and potential gameplay to be had for a relatively small entrance fee. It speaks volumes that the game mechanics are so sound that the other technical issues become less significant, at least while you’re still having fun.
State of Decay was, and still is, a hugely ambitious project for a small indie team, and some of the problems can be forgiven when taken in that light. There is however a pervading sense that Undead Labs have very much missed out on taking any real advantage of the Xbox One’s capabilities, resulting in a remaster that simply doesn’t feel like it makes enough of an improvement over the original.