Let’s not dance around the facts, exclusive games on Xbox One remain worryingly thin. Microsoft certainly hasn’t helped matters as of late, throwing up a range of mixed signals and empty promises, despite their clear strenuous efforts to drive the platform forward. That’s not to say that we haven’t seen some promise. Sea of Thieves is a great example of this, but sadly, most of its allure now sits with exactly that, promise. The promise of new content and the promise of building upon the “great” initial experience.
Sea of Thieves is a good game. There’s no denying that. However, its overly open development inevitably lead to expectations that have yet to be reached. Crackdown 3 on the other hand has been all over the place. Its questionable promotion and its development process almost completely extinguishing the heavy hype that this long awaited sequel once enjoyed. I’m not even going to touch the likes Scalebound and Fable Legends. Then there’s Super Lucky’s Tale, a prime example of the mediocre.
When PlayStation were enjoying Crash’s Trilogy and Nintendo were enjoying Mario Odyssey, we we’re expected to be content with this overly simplistic riff-raff. The point in all of this is that exclusives on Xbox One are few and far between and tend to deliver less than expected in one way or another. State of Decay 2, on the other hand, is an entirely different beast. Despite the occasional hiccup, Undead Labs’ development has been clean, realistic and on point, something that shines through with each and every step you take.
They need to be commended for this. They didn’t set unrealistic targets, they didn’t over-hype the game and they certainly haven’t under-delivered. Zombie games release at a frequent rate in one form or another. The last time I was truly engaged with this formula probably dates back to Dying Light, or even further, Left for Dead. State of Decay 2, however, has effortlessly restored my interest, despite a few niggles here and there. We’ll get into that in full detail via our review, at the launch of early access.
The foundation of this game remains quite inline with its predecessor, offering up an endless experience that only ends when you want it to. Even though it’s quite similar in design, State of Decay 2 comes with a heap of new features that were not present in the first outing. Though, by and large, this game is less about the undead apocalypse and more about the journey that your chosen characters – in turn you – will undertake. What follows on is a compelling and exciting trek, regardless as to how you choose to play it.
The game does a good job at feeding newcomers into the experience and before long, you’ll feel well acquainted with its initial mechanics. The overarching goal is to hunt for resources and like-minded survivors within State of Decay 2’s quite sizable and diverse map. Random missions will constantly be dished up, varying in complexity and difficulty, each rewarding you with useful items or allies along the way. What struck me the most, and something that continues to surprise me, is the behavior of the undead.
There truly is no place to hide from their numbers. They’ll pop up when you’re ransacking a house, they’ll hunt you when you’re walking the street, they’ll even come for you when you’re driving a vehicle. Safe to say that you don’t have time to take a shit before they’re on your six, nine, twelve and three. Zombies in State of Decay 2 show no restraint whatsoever and will constantly come at you from all angles, lending the game its tense edge and exciting atmosphere. Micromanagement is, again, a forefront importance.
Thankfully, the systems in place are well defined and not overly intricate. In fact, they’re surprisingly accessible. There’s always something you need or something to work towards, with the sheer scale of different tasks chasing away any notion of repetition. Balancing this constantly evolving job-list with every day life as well as the dangers of the world, is something State of Decay 2 relays at all times. You’re never completely in control regardless as to how well equipped you may be, which is a magnificent yet terrifying feeling.
State of Decay 2 has much more personality than that of its predecessor, bolstered further by each and every story that comes tethered to each interesting character. That being said, there’s a few assholes within that clearly know nothing about surviving the zombie apocalypse. These encounters will put you in grave danger, pushing forward a risk-vs-reward element that almost always proves more trouble than it’s worth, until you come out on top. With that in mind, what’s always apparent at all times, is that you’re not invincible.
You’re a clever pig with an apple in its mouth, a clever pig that looks far too tasty to each and every undead freak that claps eyes on you. The enemy AI is suited enough to portray the typical zombie experience, with different variations thrown in to keep things interesting, such as the screamer. This particularly nasty foe has the same purpose as Recess’ Randall, being that its screams will alert nearby zombies of your position, heightening the tension and difficulty, ten fold. The variations are predictable, yet well developed nonetheless.
I found that one of the most challenging aspects of the game was daring to stray too far from my stronghold. It appears as though people’s needs scale and stack whenever you wonder off to explore or solve missions. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, in truth it emphasizes that survival isn’t a walk in the park, which I guess is kind of the point. State of Decay 2 is about rebuilding life, putting yourself – and at times other people – in harms way for the benefit of the greater good, it’s equally as much about strategy and choice too.
Stats and skills also play a major role here, with each character coming equipped with unique outputs. This helps to facilitate a range of different play-styles as well as aiding you in the long run. Which, thanks to how well this game functions, is something I fully plan to commit to. My only gripe so far is the needed polish and the periodic grind. State of Decay 2’s bucket list-esque design does wear thin when you’re given far too much to chew on at once, but thankfully this doesn’t seem to occur frequently.
The pacing, for the most part, sits quite nicely. It’s just a shame when there’s a chaotic turn of events or a poorly structured mission that rapidly outstays its welcome. In regards to the lack of polish, there’s a few issues here and there that I picked up on, nothing that a day one/launch week patch cannot address. This include the likes of zombies appearing out of nowhere, getting stuck in the environment and a few other similar bugs. Still, there’s no doubt whatsoever that this may well be Microsoft’s best exclusive in recent memory.