Preview: State of Decay 2 delivers on the promise of the original

Hands-off Preview: This IS the zombie game you’re looking for.

Preview: State of Decay 2 delivers on the promise of the original

“Oh, great. Another zombie game. How original.” If Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare cemented the fact that CoD and shooter fans had sci-fi fatigue, it seems that every new game release with zombies in it is met with that opening criticism. Just like there’s nothing wrong with a quality futuristic title, the same is true of fantastic zombie games.

For instance, right now, I’m absolutely loving what Sledgehammer Games has done with the latest batch of Nazi Zombies in Call of Duty: WWII, except for the lazy Gröesten Haus second/prologue map. The main map is fantastic, and I’m loving the fact that newbies can have a guided experience, and hardcore Nazi Zombies fans can pursue a more traditional (and in-depth) mission path.

But I digress. Instead, let’s talk about State of Decay 2, and the promising hands-off presentation I saw earlier this year. I was a big fan of State of Decay’s idea more than its buggy execution, particularly in how you legitimately cared about your characters because of the ever-looming presence of permadeath. This mechanic, of course, returns in State of Decay 2, but there’s new stuff at play, like co-op.

It really felt like the original State of Decay would have benefited from co-op play, if only so you didn’t have those awful moments where bugs made you feel more likely to die when playing alone. Even though this was early code, it’s clear that developer (the aptly named) Undead Labs has taken some of the core feedback from the original game to heart. For starters, it looks a lot better. The mechanics are deeper. There’s co-op, of course. And familiar bugs didn’t rear their ugly heads alongside the appropriately ugly zombies.

The setup for the demo was intriguing. One of the members of the player’s little community of survivors was infected with something that would, very soon, turn them into a zombie. The mission: race into town to hopefully find one of the scarce cures. Friendly players can drop-in/drop-out whenever they like, which is great, and there’s also the risk that you’re taking one of the characters from your game to someone else’s space. If you die in their game, your character is dead in your game.

Your other option, especially if you don’t have any friends online to help, is to send up a signal flare. This flare requests help from other players playing in their own games, and they can choose to accept your call for help and pop into your game. Personally, I think this has the potential to invite trolls into your game, so I won’t be using it, but I do like the idea of shrieking at an online friend to please, please, please come and save my hide.

For the purposes of the demo, the second presenter entered the game, and the two players headed into town to complete the mission. This was at least the dozenth or so time they’d done this demo, so it started out relatively on-script. But then, true to the unpredictable nature of open-world games, shit started hitting the fan and it became a whole lot more interesting. One of the players didn’t kill a screaming zombie fast enough (a zombie type returning from the last game), and it meant the smallish horde they were fighting quickly turned into a much larger one.

The players tried to stay composed, but it was clear things had gone off script. Some of the characters they’d tried to save near their objective started falling. A misplaced Molotov did some serious damage to one of the players. There were too many damn brain-munchers to get to their objective. Eventually, they were forced to cut their losses and make their way back to base, emptyhanded.

Just because they’re out in the game world, though, doesn’t mean that zombies aren’t doing their own thing in other parts of the map. Case in point, when they got back to base, it was clear there’d been a zombie attack. Zombie bodies were scattered around, and certain characters had lower health bars than when we last saw them. The back gate was also suspiciously ajar.

Before the duo could properly appraise the damage, the zombie horde returned to finish the job. It wasn’t just minion zombies, either. There was a big ’un with them that did significant damage. The co-op player died. So too did several members of the main player’s fledgling community. Finally, the big bastard went down, but it was a hollow victory.

With no cure for that quickly turning infected character, tough decisions had to be made. In the final game, you could wait for them to turn. Banish them. Or execute them, knowing what they’re about to become. Apparently, if you banish them, you may run into a familiar-looking zombie out in the game world, which is a nice touch sure to upset many a player when they notice one of their faves, who they couldn’t bear to kill, is just another mindless threat out in the world.

I got the feeling that the presenters were slightly embarrassed that the demo didn’t go the way they had intended, but I was glad it didn’t play out nicely. This is the type of demo I was hoping to see: one that properly showcased what could go wrong when the shit hit the fan. I was already interested in State of Decay 2, if only for Undead Labs having a shot at properly executing the clear promise of the preceding game. But after this demo, I can’t wait to get my paws on State of Decay 2 when it shambles onto shelves in 2018.

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