PAX East 2013: Hands-On with State of Decay

By Mark Delaney, 5 years ago
PAX East returned to Boston this past weekend. It's billed as the biggest gaming expo of the eastern United States, and we were there to experience it all. Over the next few days, you'll get to read all about our firsthand accounts of this year's upcoming retail and XBLA titles. I chose to open up our coverage of the convention with one of my favorite games I got to see, State of Decay. I was fortunate enough to chat with the team at Undead Labs and play the game hands-on for 30 minutes and came away very impressed with just how ambitious the game is, especially for its arcade format.

My session opened in a farm-like area which I was told was about two-thirds of the way through the game. I was introduced to the game's RTS elements which were expansive and dizzying at first. Each area had buildings that could be renovated, fortified, and altered via in-game menus to suit what I wanted it to be, but each task takes a different amount of time, depending on what I was doing to the structure. Buildings could also be ruined by the undead so in the full game, gamers would have to really weigh their decisions. This part seemed too deep for my half hour so I got a crash course on it before I headed out to slay the flesh-eaters.

03/12/2012 - Skill 2

I quickly realized that this game takes itself seriously. Armed with just a melee weapon to start, I took on a few "zeds", as the game often calls them. One zombie was easy, two wasn't much harder, but attract a horde and things get very difficult, and all noise and lighting changes you cause attract zombies if they're nearby. The developer let me browse the inventory to see different supplies and foods I could bring but I had to be mindful of my backpack weight. Like an RPG, I could only carry a certain amount of gear.

Then I was given my choice of guns. The developer told me he personally designed the dozens and dozens of guns in the game and each one has different attributes. I spent some of my earned Influence (the game's currency system in a currency-less world) and chose a shotgun which was ineffective beyond a close distance and even then I really had to aim for the head to keep them down. A blast to the gut knocked them down but they'd get back up if I didn't finish them off with a finishing move by running up and stabbing them in their reanimated brains.

03/12/2012 - Inventory 3

More came and I drew them over to the large gas tanks. With one shot, most of them were blown to bits but a few survived and kept coming. Soon, a zombie bigger than the rest was drawn to my delicious flesh and he was on my trail, too. I climbed up a sniper outpost to escape but couldn't get a good headshot with my shotgun. He wouldn't go down. I jumped off to try my luck on equal ground again and had to try to fight them off again. Eventually, the sound of my shotgun attracted too many shamblers. I was getting overrun.

I found a car and took off for the roads ahead, aimlessly. I plowed over zombies even as some of them clung to the vehicle. When I passed a survivor in need, I got out to assist him. It wasn't easy with my shotgun, but after diving through a window of the abandoned store he was in, we cleared them out and he thanked me. Then he offered me a side-mission to kill a particular zombie he was hunting for personal reasons. I helped him with that too, but he didn't yet want to come back to my safe haven. I headed home alone. If he had come with me and I had earned his trust, he would become a playable character. Anybody in my group could be a playable character, in fact. I went home as my starting character, though, and it wasn't long before the zeds were all over me again, but I didn't want to drive out of the situation this time.

It was time to run, which highlighted one of the best parts of my time with the game: the stamina bar. All physical exertion depleted my stamina bar. I could sprint away from the zombies for a while, but when I got caught with little to no stamina, fighting them off was very difficult. I could leap walls to force them to do the same thing, of course much slower at their shambling pace. This was a great strategy for distancing myself until my escape route was also overrun. That's when it was over for me. I knew it was coming. I shot off a few more rounds but the reload, realistically, takes a lot of time. I started swinging the hatchet I had in my hand. I took a few more down with me but soon was on the ground by the gas station. With my last gasp, as they literally chewed away at my life, I pulled out a grenade that I had from gearing up earlier, pulled the pin, and went out in a glorious explosion, taking the zeds to hell with me.

16/02/2013 - Screen 1

The Undead team told me they're really trying to simulate not just the hours and days after a zombie outbreak, but the weeks, months and maybe years after, when it looks like the real world isn't coming back. As you probably noticed, the game is very realistic. While it isn't graphically marvelous and on two occasions the enemies went through the geometry, my 30 minute session overall left me wanting a lot more. One of my favorite features of the game: you know that guy who died? He's dead. That's it. He doesn't come back. It seems like they have thought of most everything and if they can put it all together, this will be one of the best apocalypse simulations available.

The game had an RPG feel to it, which is either good news or bad news to the rest of you. I was told the game will always work to spawn survivors to meet and quests to complete. After the 10-15 hour story mode, the world is open for you to enjoy too, though they recommend players beat the story first, then treat the next playthrough like a free-roam mode due to story-related reasons. They even mentioned that if gamers wanted to bypass the story and see how long they could last, the game would continue spawning the necessary survival tools and supplies for upwards of 100 hours before your world eventually was unable to survive and sustain. Hopefully the 22-person studio will share more with us soon, including a price and release date as the game is currently awaiting certification from Microsoft. For now, I am left thinking about what I could have done better to keep my character alive... and how I can find his body to regain the supplies he left behind.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is one of three voices on the TA Playlist podcast. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his fiancée and son. He almost never writes in the third person.