State of Decay 2 Review

If State of Decay 2’s zombies don’t stop you, the bugs will

State of Decay 2 is a unique take on zombie survival plagued by bugs and tedium.
State of Decay 2 is a unique take on zombie survival plagued by bugs and tedium.
State of Decay 2 is a unique take on zombie survival plagued by bugs and tedium.

Highs

  • Genuinely frightening at times
  • Relative calm of success is a haunting message

Lows

  • Lots of bugs
  • Poor pacing, particularly near the end game
  • Awful controls for exploration and traversal

DT Editors' Rating

State of Decay was something of a sneaker hit back in 2013. It was among the first of the open-world zombie survival games that, in time, would evolve into the massively popular “Battle Royale” pseudo-genre we know today.

With State of Decay 2, though, developer Undead Labs and its publishing partner, Microsoft, are looking to twist the formula. Mixing in cooperative play changes the chemistry quite a bit. The goal is to survive against the apocalypse – together.

That means a renewed emphasis on building a base that can supply and care for the people you gather. It’s a war you can win, eventually. One bite doesn’t doom you, and with enough resources you can even treat and cure those in your care. It’s a surprisingly optimistic take on the setting, but the spark of hope doesn’t last. A buffet of bugs and awkward design choices thwart the game’s best ideas.

Zombie survival takes a village

State of Decay 2 opens by letting you choose not one character, but a pair. Each has distinct skills, as well as a background that explains their traits. Some are better at cardio, others come with medical knowledge. Whomever you select, though, they’ll become your starting protagonist. Or, rather, protagonists. You don’t play as a person, but instead as all the survivors, leaping between them. You’re an invisible hand, guiding their actions, and hoping that you can pull them together to make it.

That comes with its own distinct tension. While you lose the power of a single narrative thread, you gain the story of the community. If one of your members dies, you feel that sacrifice — not just in the absence of their voice around your camp, but in the loss of their skills. The camp, your camp, pushes on regardless. There’s nothing else to do in the wastes. Death is a real and permanent threat, but not an insurmountable one.

The struggle for supplies binds the community-oriented gameplay together. There’s a constant need for more food and resources. After the opener, play settles into a gentle oscillation between outings and base management. It’s these parts that work the best. Gathering, while not terribly engaging on its own, forces you to make choices about the risks you’d like to take on, weighing those against what you desperately need.

Hungry mouths, festering wounds

And there’s always a need.

Food dwindles. Survivors get bitten and need medicine to be cured. Basic construction materials, too, find a use in patching and building up your safe house. And the progression from bombed-out dwelling to semi-permanent base that can hold its own is a powerful one, capturing the mundane audacity of living armageddon day-to-day.

From the moment you step foot into State of Decay 2 you’ll have to grapple with the game’s buggy, broken world.

In the early stages of a new expedition, for instance, you’ll need to find a high place to survey the area. While that might sound a bit like Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry, the distinction here is in the selection of targets. Scanning the area manually will help you pick out your destination. You may spy a cluster of houses to one side, or a supermarket to another. The former will have tight spaces and bottlenecks, great for avoiding a zombie swarm, but will also be light on supplies. Sorting out which might be a better target and when, is half the fun. There’s also a tradeoff between risk and reward.

Where this formula starts hitting snags, though, is in its execution. From the moment you step down from whatever tower you were using to get the lay of the land, you’ll have to grapple with State of Decay 2’s buggy, broken world. Simply traversing the area can be a pain. Jumps are criminally short, allowing you to scale tiny rocks, and occasionally a fence.  lipping and falling down hills into inescapable nooks is common. So much so, that you’re given a special ability that allows you to get yourself unstuck. But that’s on two-minute cool down timer, and there are plenty of times you’ll need it more often than that.

Once the fighting starts, you’ll go through the standard zombie-killing bits. Shoot the walkers, stomp the crawlers, clear things out room by room. You’ve likely done this thousands of times in countless other games. Luckily, the combat in State of Decay 2 isn’t constant, so the lack of excitement rarely becomes annoying.

Decapitating zombies isn’t the point, anyway. You risk life and limb to scavenge new materials from abandoned lockboxes or refrigerators. When looting – and you’ll loot a lot — you have the option to move slowly so you don’t attract the attention of baddies nearby, or you can rifle through in an instant, but make more noise. It often seemed the quick-and-easy option caused new zombies to spawn in the game world, just so they could rush in and punish the expediency. While that makes sense in theory, in practice it can be woefully tedious.

Clawing out a living

Still, State of Decay 2 has moments of greatness. It’s not frightening because of jump scares, but how it reminds you of the fragility of life.

It is almost beautiful in its simplicity, in its repetition, but it’s impossible to look past its flaws.

When it launched, one of the most consistent praises for State of Decay was in its mundanity. The idea that the people you gathered together at your base could be trained up in cardio or marksmanship to make them more effective scavengers. That’s still true, and it’s easy to settle into the pattern of play the game was clearly designed around — survey, explore, gather, rebuild, repeat. That circuit is almost beautiful in its simplicity, in its repetition, as it can convey the lesson that success isn’t a point you cross, but a state you maintain.

Cooperative multiplayer should (and may one day still) be the game’s saving grace, as the camaraderie of real humans in this setting is a tough experience to top — but then we come back to the bugs. Disconnections, lost data, wiped saves, and other game-breaking issues are just that. And when two or more systems link up, the odds than one of you will get stuck multiplies.

That puts State of Decay 2 in the odd position of receiving a strong recommendation for those with an abundance of patience, but a pass for all others. At least until the basics are tightened and patched.

Our Take

Is there a better alternative?

Yes, and no. You can find many cooperative games with roughly similar themes, like Don’t Starve Together, or smash hits Fortnite and Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. Even Valve’s classic Left 4 Dead 2 is in the same ballpark. However, State of Decay 2 scratches the itch for no-nonsense survival in a zombie apocalypse.

How long will it last?

Technically, the game could be played in perpetuity, particularly in multiplayer. We found the adventure wearing thin after a little over 20 hours.

Should you buy it?

No. State of Decay 2 holds promise, but its many bugs and thin gameplay fail to deliver on the game’s premise. You could sink hundreds of hours surviving in this game’s apocalyptic world, but a lack of variety in anything aside from bugs will leave you bored long before that.

Gaming

The Genesis Mini will make you wonder how Sega lost the console wars

Sega may have lost the console wars to Nintendo, but it has stepped up its game in the new, retro console wars. The Sega Genesis Mini boasts an impressive lineup of games and has authentic, charming hardware design.
Gaming

E3 2019: All the games we expected to see, and some we didn’t

E3 2019 is the biggest gaming event of the year. It will be loaded with new game announcements and details. These are the games we expect to see at E3 2019, and the games we won't see.
Gaming

From Ghost Recon to Watch Dogs, here's what we saw at the Ubisoft E3 2019 show

Ubisoft held its annual E3 press conference on June 10. During the Ubisoft E3 2019 press conference, the company announced Watch Dogs Legion, Roller Champions, and Gods & Monsters, along with a few other surprises.
Mobile

Check out 30 of the best iPhone games you need to be playing this month

The iPhone has some of our favorite games available for any mobile platform. Here are the best iPhone games for every big-name genre, whether you're into puzzles, strategy, or something else entirely.
Gaming

E3 2019: Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and Game Pass PC go live ahead of Xbox briefing

Microsoft has launched Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and Game Pass PC ahead of its E3 2019. Both were announced earlier this year, but only now are available for gamers to join. And both are only a buck for the first month.
Deals

Need a smartphone? The Razer Phone 2 gets a huge $300 price cut

Mobile gaming has grown seen incredible growth in recent years. The best gaming smartphones tend to be expensive, though, but the beefy Razer Phone 2 is on sale right now for a huge discount on Amazon that can save you hundreds.
Gaming

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is endearing and wonderfully weird

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is as magically weird as I remembered. The super cute art style fits Koholint Island so well, and Nintendo improved multiple, critical mechanics.
Deals

Walmart drops a big $200 price cut on the Dell XPS 8930 PC

If you're looking for an affordable gaming PC, you'll want to check out this Dell XPS 8930 Gaming Desktop Computer (8th Gen), which is $200 off from Walmart. Normally $1,400, a cool 14% discount brings the price down to $1,200.
Gaming

From Nintendo to Capcom, here are the best booths we saw at E3 2019

Every year, publishers and developers gather in Los Angeles to show off their games at E3. Booths are a major part of the excitement and this year didn't let us down. From Nintendo to Capcom, here are the best booths of E3 2019.
Computing

Don’t call it retro. Atari’s VCS is a modern console for PC gamers

You might think the Atari VCS is another retro console like the Nintendo SNES Classic or Sega Genesis Mini. You'd be wrong. Atari's VCS is actually a modern console that runs PC hardware. Yes, it can play Atari games, but it does much more.
Gaming

Call of Duty: Mobile is the best shooter I’ve played on a smartphone

Call of Duty: Mobile attempts to put the franchise's tight gameplay in the palm of your hand. It's largely successful, thanks to precise controls and attractive graphics. The game arrives on iOS and Android later this year.
Gaming

The PlayStation Network is back up. Here’s the latest on the PSN outage

Sony's PlayStation Network is back online after going down for several hours on Thursday afternoon, annoying legions of gamers right in the middle of E3. Here's the latest on the outage
Cars

Tesla screens may support YouTube with next software update

Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced today at E3 that the infotainment screens will support YouTube video streaming very soon. This most likely lines up with the latest software update that is expected later this year.
Deals

The best Nintendo Switch deals and bundles for June 2019

Looking to score Nintendo's latest console? We've smoked out the best Nintendo Switch deals, including discounts on bundles that feature must-have games like Super Mario Odyssey, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and Zelda: Breath of the Wild.