The zombie survival sim State of Decay released nearly five years ago with a remastered version releasing just two years later. Its sequel was announced at E3 2016 and slated for release in 2017, only to be pushed back to now. In spite of this, it still doesn’t feel finished, or like much of a sequel at all. But if you absolutely loved the zombie survival simulation of the first game, this is more of that, pending you can overlook all the new bugs.
Sure, there are some new things to find here, like multiplayer, being able to carry over your favourite survivors between instances, and a way to “win” the game. Still, there just isn’t enough here to have this feel like a proper sequel, and what is here doesn’t work all that well.
Playing State of Decay 2 on Xbox One or Xbox One X means playing with a framerate that rarely goes above 30fps and often dips sharply or at times chugs to a stop for multiple seconds before the game can catch back up. This is particularly noticeable when playing multiplayer, and is even worse if you’re not the hosting player. Playing on Windows 10 nets a higher framerate and better graphics, but poor optimization still leads to frequent hitching and frame rate dips. Graphically State of Decay 2 is very ugly and it looks like something that came out last generation, not something that has been in development for years by an AAA publisher. While characters are randomly generated, their faces come from what seems like a small pool of options that are ugly to a comical degree, giving Mass Effect Andromeda’s launch faces a run for their money.
During my time with State of Decay 2, I encountered some pretty nasty bugs including zombies spawning in the sky, sometimes hanging there for a while before plummeting to the map. To add to the player’s frustration, there are far too many things mapped to the Y button, making it an agonizing experience to get the game to recognize which action you want to do. Talking to characters, searching for items, interacting with cars and crafting stations are all done with one button which can lead to a lot of confusion if there are multiple actions you can perform that are close together. And if that wasn’t enough, characters will randomly jump over objects and open doors while running. And since there is no dedicated button to say “yes I want to jump over this object,” or “I want to open this door”, the character will sometimes end up being pulled towards the object almost magnetically, which can lead to injury or death. And finally, you know how in some really old games it was a pain to climb down ladders because you’d have to approach them at just the right angle, otherwise your character would run off the edge and get injured? Yeah, State of Decay 2 somehow managed to bring back that old chestnut. Oh, and there seem to be reused assets from the first game here — at least I’m fairly certain there is a reused building — which makes it that much more perplexing that the game runs so poorly. This isn’t acceptable in most games, let alone one published by one of the big three.
Meanwhile, the multiplayer feature, perhaps the marquee new feature introduced in this sequel, is also a buggy mess. Players are forced to stay within a short distance of the host player, which is marked by a circle on their map. If they should reach that circle they are warped to where the other player is, which can cause players to fall and be hurt, be spawned surrounded by zombies, or just be spawned at the roadside as the host is driving at full speed past them instead of spawning them into a passenger seat. Player characters can’t pass through each other and have a ridiculously large hitbox, meaning trying to walk through tight spaces like doorways or corridors just can’t happen, even if the player characters wouldn’t be physically touching on the screen.
Not only that, but non-host players will experience more pop-up, issues with textures loading, issues using outposts and storage lockers, and even issues with objects not loading until they are on top of them, as we found out while my co-op partner accidentally destroyed one of my vehicles as he drove into it full speed before it loaded for him.
Should you stomach all these multiplayer bugs and join your friend’s game the only progress you’ll save is any advancement on character stats you’ve earned. You’ll be “rewarded” once you reload your own save with a few measly items, far fewer than you could have gotten had you been playing on your own or as host. Basically, aside from companionship, multiplayer in State of Decay 2 is a worse experience than the single-player campaign, by far.
Outside of multiplayer, those of you familiar with the first game will find a lot of the same in State of Decay 2: you’re finding survivors, doing fetch quests for them, recruiting them to your base, putting them to work and taking control of them when your other characters need to rest. As this is as much a survival game as it is a zombie game, you’ll spend a lot of time scavenging for supplies and building additions onto your base, like an infirmary to craft healing items and medicine for infected survivors, beds to sleep in, and whatever else your survivors need.
The combat here is absolutely dull, as mashing the X button over and over will cause the player character to automatically bounce from zombie to zombie attacking them with no other interaction required unless enough of them surround you. Then, after zombies are cleared out of an area, you’re treated to walking around houses, garages, and barns, looking for flashing objects to search by holding the Y button for what feels like an eternity since you’re doing nothing else. Any supplies you find while searching can be used or taken back to your base to use as needed by survivors, to craft with, or used to upgrade facilities at the base.
New to the franchise is the introduction of an end objective, or a way to “win” the game by finding and destroying every plague heart on the map. Plague hearts are large red pulsating sacks found in houses that draw tons of zombies to them. Destroying them is rather simple, however, as throwing a handful of explosives at a plague heart makes short work of them and causes all nearby zombies to die as well. Once all these are destroyed, you’ve “won” the game and unlock a legacy perk to be used in future playthroughs, which are just bonuses that make the game even easier. As far as survival games go, it isn’t all that hard to begin with, so I’m not sure its much of a reward.
One new thing I can say that State of Decay 2 has improved over the original is that time no longer passes while not playing the game. Instead, you’ll load right back into the moment you stopped playing before; although in my experience characters are sometimes displaced, though still near, where they last saved.
State of Decay 2 feels similar in ways to Microsoft’s other big exclusive that released earlier this year, Sea of Thieves, in that it feels incomplete, rushed, and lacking any real depth. Once you’ve played for a couple hours, you’ve seen pretty much everything the game has to offer and experienced far more bugs than any other first-party game in recent years has ever had at launch, in my experience. Perhaps once bugs are ironed out, the game is heavily optimized, and a ton of quality of life updates hit it would be recommendable. But right now I’d avoid it like the plague.