Game review: State Of Decay 2 is a shambling mess –

One of the most ambitious open world zombie games finally gets a sequel, and four-player co-op, but it all comes at a terrible price…
No matter how good a game may be you still always end up fantasising what it would be like if it was even better. More levels, better graphics, improved artificial intelligence… even if a game is state-of-the-art your imagination will always exceed the limitations of current technology. But the most common wish for many recent games is simply that they be properly finished. Given the fact that many of the most popular titles today (Fortnite and PUBG to name but two) are unashamedly incomplete it often seems a forlorn hope, but it does affect some games more than others.
The first State Of Decay was released as long ago now as 2013, and it was very much at the vanguard of today’s unfortunate tolerance for unfinished games. Its central idea, of surviving a zombie apocalypse by maintaining a whole community of survivors, was appealing enough that nobody seemed to care that it was filled with game-ruining bugs and that the combat, driving, and mission design was awful.
State Of Decay 2 is almost exactly the same game, but to its credit it has fixed most of the gameplay problems from the original. It hasn’t added much new on top, but fighting and driving is now enjoyable in its own right. But the technical problems still remain. The graphics are terrible, the artificial intelligence is almost non-existent, and it’s so full of bugs it’s like visiting the insect house at London Zoo. And yet we’re still not sure most fans are really going to care.

Just as in the first game, State Of Decay 2 is set years after a zombie apocalypse, when society has completely collapsed. You start off in a small, poorly-equipped shelter and have to maintain and expand your settlement across the open world map. It’s essentially a survival game, but on the scale of a small community rather than just a single person. And just like a survival game that means ensuring a regular supply of food and equipment is just as important as fighting monsters.
Since there’s little in the way of overriding story it at first seems there’s little reason to venture outside your base, especially as it has to be regularly defended from roaming gangs of zombies. But while you can grow your own food and manufacture your own weapons that takes time and resources, and the latter can only be found by scavenging. Lots of scavenging.
State Of Decay 2’s most significant addition to the original’s set-up is the advanced base-building options and a new element called the blood plague, which can infect any of your characters and creates super strong zombies. The plague is propagated by giant beating hearts that lurk within buildings and other difficult to reach places, and are the first thing that needs to be cleared out when establishing a new base.
You wouldn’t design a whole game around it, but the combat and driving are now perfectly acceptable, with the latter making running zombies over, often by opening the door to ram them in the head, one of the game’s more enjoyable diversions. The third person combat is very simplistic but the range of weapons and explosives keeps things interesting enough, even if some of the faster moving zombies can be a pain to deal with.
The most enjoyable aspect of the game though is the base-building, which comes across almost like a post-apocalyptic version of The Sims. In fact, having said that, we can’t help but think the whole game would’ve been better if that’s exactly what it was, because monitoring the health and morale of your community and constructing new facilities and buildings is very intriguing.
Everyone has their own personality and upgradeable skills, and you soon gain favourites and are tempted to cheer when someone you don’t like is killed. But the illusion that these are anything close to real people soon evaporates when you realise that, thanks to the terrible artificial intelligence, they won’t don’t anything useful unless you’re controlling them directly – not even defend the base properly.
This also lessens the impact of having to interact with other groups of survivors, which if they turn hostile can be a bigger threat than the zombies. But The Walking Dead style human conflict this hints at never really materialises and once you’ve done a few fetch quests for them, or you’ve exterminated their limited supply of soldiers, they quickly become neutered.
If all this worked as intended then State Of Decay 2 would be an unambitious but agreeably improved sequel – a little late to the zombie party but good fun nonetheless. But it doesn’t work, to the point where it manages to make the recent Conan Exiles seem like a flawless gem by comparison.
The bugs and glitches are so numerous and varied that they almost loop round to being a genuinely enjoyable part of the game, as you sit and wonder what will go wrong next. It’ll certainly keep YouTube busy for the foreseeable future, as you watch characters and vehicles get stuck in scenery, invisible walls appear and disappear at random, zombies fall from the sky like rain, cars levitate strangely through the air, and computer-controlled allies disappear for a whole mission and yet somehow provide commentary the whole time.
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Those sort of problems can be amusing but with the game constantly at risk of a total existence failure it often seems pointless to even try to play it properly. The four-player co-op almost seems made for this, but the online lag combined with a frustrating tethering system, which sees you being snapped back towards the host’s location if you wander any distance from them, means even that works nowhere near as well as it should.
We’re getting tired of ending a review by saying that a game shows plenty of promise and will probably be very good in a few months, when it’s working properly. But we’re not sure that’s the case here anyway. The game is so broken it seems impossible to imagine that it’s going to be in proper working order in any kind of sensible time frame, especially considering the state the first game was left in.
The basic ideas behind State Of Decay are still perfectly sound and it’s true that you can have a lot of fun with this sequel. The problem is that almost all of that fun comes from laughing and pointing at how broken it is. That may seem almost cruel but ultimately the last laugh is on you, the player.
In Short: The State Of Decay concept still holds plenty of promise but this sequel is so broken that laughing at its bugs and glitches becomes its primary source of entertainment.
Pros: The set-up might be the same as the first game but it’s still an intriguing one, and the base-building and people management shows great promise. Competent combat and driving mechanics.
Cons: The game is so riddled with bugs and patently unfinished it’s impossible to imagine it ever working as intended. Missions still lack variety and the tethering and lag ruins the co-op options.
Score: 4/10

Formats: Xbox One (reviewed) and PC
Price: £24.99
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Undead Labs
Release Date: 22nd May 2018
Age Rating: 18

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