After the third or fourth call over the radio I start to get frustrated. "Could use some help," the nameless man announces, this time with an obvious irritated edge to his plea. And I want to. And I know that in helping it will make things better for me and my friends down the line. But I'm low on food. I don't have enough medicine for the survivors living in my own base as it is. I haven't slept enough, I'm low on ammo, my suppressor is broken; I've got a housemate grappling with blood plague, my storage area isn't big enough for more materials and the truck I use for bringing supplies back home is a smoldering wreck in the driveway.
This is State of Decay 2.
When developer Undead Labs quietly unleashed their first open world zombie slaying adventure State of Decay for Xbox Live in 2015, it was an indie sleeper hit. A deceptively deep yet easy-to-play combo of third-person action, base-building and light resource and personnel management sim, the zombie-infested nightmare proved weirdly fun despite its myriad glaring inconsistencies and rough presentation. Was it an RPG? Kind of, but between managing the multiple characters' health, hunger and home while navigating zombies, humans and countless survivors begging for help, it seemed the player was always forced to make shitty decisions too soon.
Many of these shortcomings make their way into the sequel. Do you go help someone and unlock the ability to call in artillery strikes, do you trade your influence for better weapons or do you take on a buddy to clear out nearby zombie infestations? Do you scavenge medicine or set up an outpost that produces daily food supplies? Either way, the vast majority of decisions you'll have to make want you to believe it's about tough calls, but the reality is that it's about never having enough time to get everything done. Frustratingly so. Often, the time between a call for help and the requester deciding they hate you (and turning potentially hostile) for not jumping to it quickly enough is far too short, leading to more stress than is necessary. Perhaps this says something about wanting a more realistic feel, but it mostly starts to feel like a to-do list that is impossible to complete.
Combat is equally vexing, from hand-to-hand encounters that seem to not register which zombie you're trying to take down to wonky shooting and absurdly protracted reload times. Such issues make their way over from the first game, though every character you enlist for your base and team does come with specific skills and shortcomings in a deeper way than before. You can upgrade these traits by using them in the world. For example, running more upgrades cardio just as fighting more or scavenging more or shooting more upgrades those respective traits. It is indeed enjoyable to flesh these abilities out, and for every slight improvement you lose access to a different one; a much better take on the tough decision idea, even if the sprinting and carry weight skills always trump the others. The whole thing could have seen some relief if the ability to radio your base for help picking up items had been kept from the first time around. Sadly, it was not.
So what about the much touted co-op experience? Might that prove a better way to deck out the survivor HQ and otherwise help out players? Hard to say really, as every time we attempted to play with others, a funny thing happened wherein our pals could come into our game, they just couldn't move. Every so often, we'd get a little too far from our online buddy, tethering him to our position, but he still couldn't control a thing and just died. When we did eventually get what seemed like a solid game going, the lag on his end was so severe (and we both have super-fast internet connections), that the game was unplayable. Disappointing, though we'd imagine patches are already in the works.
This might say something about Undead Labs' ability as developers, though it much more likely speaks to strict deadlines from the publisher (Microsoft Studios); remember when they'd put out games that were complete? Yeah, us too. Sigh.
But it sure does look slightly better, even if the dialogue consistently lacks context and the opening hours are so wildly frustrating you don't even care to continue. It's sad, really, as the first game showed so much promise and the switch to the Unreal engine felt like a massive step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the best we can say is that State of Decay 2 will probably serve fine as a stopgap between better games. End of list.
+Slaying zombies is always pretty OK
-Unstable co-op, bizarre sense of time, utterly frustrating mechanics
State of Decay 2
Rated M (Heads a-splode)