I have to admit that I was never much of a fan of zombie flicks. In my mind, zombies were the simpletons of the undead family, devoid of any redeeming quality, as they lumber clumsily in search of fresh brains or whatever item that’s currently on the menu. Presented on the silver screen, they always appeared more grotesque than scary, even slightly pathetic, and any real terror they instilled in me was that of boredom. Even The Walking Dead TV show, which finally gave them a welcome note of gravity, quickly become a bit stale, as they tried to artificially reanimate the suspense using defibrillator powered with undue shockers and sudden deaths of the protagonists we just started to care for.
However, thanks to their participatory moment, video games are entirely another affair. After all, race with a horde of hungry corpses is much less hilarious when it happens to you, especially when you’re out of ammo and all you’ve got in your arsenal to fend off the zombie menace is a Swiss army knife and a blunt stake. State of Decay 2 is a game that perfectly captures that special sense of superstitious, almost medieval fear that the dead will one day return to reclaim what was once theirs, but also adds a bunch of modern gaming and cinematic twists which makes it exceedingly fun and appealing to the modern audience. In short, we got the game that will equally impress a jittery medieval bigot and a hard-core modern devotee of Romero, Boyle, Dead Island, Dying Light, Last of Us and similar gory classics. In fact, if you’re into this kind of games, State of Decay 2 would be an almost perfect treat for your zombie-loving sweet tooth – if it wasn’t for somewhat clunky controls, vague directions, few visual glitches, and companions that sometimes have the movement algorithms of drunken lemmings.
A sequel to the successful action open-world zombie apocalypse RPG/Survival hit made by Undead Labs (even their name seems to profess their undying dedication to the zombie sub-genre), State of Decay 2 takes tried and true formula of its predecessor and manages to make the franchise even better. The basic concept and storyline are just as it can be expected – neither better nor worse than what average product of this genre has to offer, with zombie apocalypse caused by an infectious disease called Blood Plague and a community desperately trying to survive in the severely changed circumstances. However, one of the most remarkable features of this franchise, and the thing that decisively separates it from the crowd of other zombie-themed games is that here you take the role of the entire community of the survivors, not just one or two protagonists. In this aspect, State of Decay 2 resembles much more games such as X-COM or Fallout Tactics where you have a bunch of characters at your disposal, each with its particular strengths and specializations, that on some of its zombie-themed peers. This by itself sounds pretty engaging, but the thing that makes everything a bit better is the way the members your survivalist community are designed, with a successful illusion of personality that exceeds what most other games even could dare dream of.
For something that’s actually randomly generated, those characters are sure impressive, with a number of attributes, perks and other features (about 1200 of them in total) that make each and every one of them pretty unique, as if they’re lovingly crafted from the scratch. Naturally, since State of Decay has a slight RPG component, those abilities can be further developed as you advance throughout the game, simply by using them, just like in Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls games. Thanks to this, you’ll have characters in your team skilled in mundane things such as gardening which can provide you with a constant supply of food, or those proficient in the use blunt or edged weapons. Of course, just like in every community, there will slackers that won’t pull their weight. In this case, that means that you’ll get also those characters endowed with the negative attributes, which could potentially cost you more than they worth.
Unlike procedurally generated characters, the setting (i.e maps) aren’t random and its locations and features are always fixed. What changes, however, are various events, which adds considerably to the replay value of the game. Of course, at the heart of this, or any other zombie-themed game is a pure, painful struggle for survival. Since you aren’t a loner in this game, you’ll be forced to neglect your own selfish needs and look at the bigger picture, taking after the larger needs of your community, with a special emphasis on the things such as food, crafting and medical supplies that determine the prosperity of your operation. You’ll also get to build various facilities to improve your improvised township, and each one will benefit you in a different way. Of course, you’ll constantly be menaced by zombies. They come in a variety of different shapes and sizes from standard walkers, to more advanced and lethal versions such as Screamers, Juggernauts, Ferals, Bloaters, and other subspecies which will really test your skills and patience until you finally manage to bring them down.
The combat is relatively simple, but still an exceedingly satisfying thing – for me, personally, nothing beats the feeling when you slice deep in the rotting, fleshy zombie carcass, or make a successful headshot from a safe distance. Paradoxically, when you finally manage to fortify yourself, things will start being a bit too easy and you’ll relatively easily dispatch even the larger herds of zombies that stumble on your base. And that’s perhaps the greatest failing of this title – the lack of the challenge in the latter stages of the game. No matter how skillfully or advanced you become, in the games of this type most of the time there should be a feeling that you and your community, as well as rest of the sentient world combating this vicious disease, are on the brink of survival.
Nonetheless, despite few shortcomings, State of Decay 2 is a really enjoyable game, with a solid visual presentation based on Unreal 4 engine and nice atmosphere that still manages to push all the right buttons if you’re into this kind of content. As Rick Grimes himself would tell you – being a leader of a struggling community caught in the middle of the zombie apocalypse isn’t without its gratifications and kicks and you’ll get plenty of both in State of Decay 2.