CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If there's one thing I've learned from having watched countless zombie movies and television shows and reading every issue of "The Walking Dead," it's that there are no do-overs when it comes to surviving the undead apocalypse.
It is this belief that also happens to make "State of Decay," the first release from developer Undead Labs, one of the most entertaining zombie games I've ever played.
"State of Decay" casts you as a survivor in the early stages of a zombie uprising -- with the key word being "survivor." Unlike other games in which you can run headlong into an undead horde and dispatch foes without any real repercussions for failure, the focus of "State of Decay" is on staying alive at all costs. You'll leap out of windows, scale fences, hijack abandoned vehicles and simply hide in the bushes - whatever you have to do to live another day. Because when you're character dies in "State of Decay," they're gone forever. No resets. No restarting a checkpoint. No do-overs. Dead.
Your character may be vulnerable, but you aren't without means to defend yourself. Sneaking up on unsuspecting zombies triggers allows you to perform a gruesome instant kill animation. Various weapons ranging from wooden planks and machetes to pistols and rifles can be found and used, though each has a limited shelf life. The aiming in the third-person view is less than perfect, making the use of firearms often a last resort. And given that the sound of gunfire draws quite a crowd to your location and ammo is in short supply, attempting to blast your way through the game is a rather futile endeavor.
The notion that your character is wholly mortal, and that all of the time and effort you've put into making them the most capable survivor possible could be wiped away in an instant, creates a real feeling of dread over the entire "State of Decay" experience. My heart raced every time I ventured out in search of food and supplies. Exploring at night was especially tense as zombies are attracted to both light and sound, which often meant sneaking around in near total darkness.
Dangerous though it may be, collecting resources and supplies is a must in "State of Decay" if you hope to keep yourself and the other survivors you meet alive and well. That's right, you're not alone in "State of Decay" -- though when you're running for your life from a group of bloodthirsty zombies it can certainly feel as though you are. Your fellow survivors remain holed-up at your home base while you leave to collect the necessary resources needed to keep everyone safe and sound. As you find more stuff you'll be able to upgrade your base with things like additional sleeping space in order to accommodate more people and a medical center to provide better health bonuses.
As you progress, you'll be able to switch between certain other characters in your group and level them up, too. And when your primary character inevitably dies, you'll automatically switch to another member of your little community, provided any are alive. If not, you'll begin anew with a fresh character and can attempt to retrieve your fallen avatar's belongings, but not their stats and skills. After investing hours leveling up a particular character, the trek back to scavenge what's left of their remains was indeed a depressing one.
"State of Decay" does so much right and is so much fun that it's easy to overlook the presentation hiccups and general jankiness that permeates throughout the experience. Textures pop in, items disappear, zombies get stuck in doors, fences and trees ... you get the idea. It's nothing I haven't seen before and I'm prone to rip a game for lacking such polish. But honestly I found "State of Decay" is so enthralling that I stopped paying attention to the mess after a short while.