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Review: ‘State of Decay 2’ can’t save dying zombie genre

The zombie genre may be on its last legs. I’m pretty sure of it this time. With “The Walking Dead” ratings slipping to a new low, perhaps many have lost enthusiasm for a world full of shambling corpses.
That disinterest could be bad news for “State of Decay 2.” The sequel to the surprisingly good zombie apocalypse simulator arrives when the category is ebbing in popularity. That puts the game in a challenging spot: Is it stellar enough to spark a renewed fervor for the undead? Unfortunately, the answer is no.
“State of Decay 2” does a good job polishing and streamlining the mechanics it established in the original. Players choose three survivors and they have to establish a base while scavenging the local area for food, medicine, ammo, materials and fuel. Having a stocked supply room makes everyone happy and building a base with facilities such as an infirmary and farm is vital to keeping everyone alive.
That’s the easy part. The harder part of living in the apocalypse is dealing with the undead while rifling through abandoned fast-food joints and gas stations. “State of Decay 2” is set months after the outbreak. Zombies have already taken over the world, and players have to struggle to stay alive. They have to use axes, pipes and other melee weapons to fend them off. Guns are also an option, but the sound attracts more zombies.
Because this is a survival game, “State of Decay 2” has other factors that weigh on players. They have to keep in mind that their character’s stamina dips after a period of time. If they stay out too long, the stamina bar drops so much that running a few steps can fatigue them. The other important element is that weapons wear out and must be repaired.
This creates a tense dynamic in which venturing out is always a gamble. Sometimes a weapon can break and that means players will have to fight using a short-bladed weapon. They can run out of painkillers or suffer trauma that must be mended with a first-aid kit. Packing enough gear for any eventuality and creating enough space for materials is a delicate balancing act. Packing things in vehicles is a solution but players also have to bring enough fuel and repair kits for the trip.
There’s a thrill to the gameplay similar to that of “Dark Souls,” in which every encounter matters. That’s because survivors in “State of Decay 2” level up seamlessy as they fend off the undead and sprint across town. The progression, risk and unpredictability of the game creates moments of emergent gameplay where players create their own story.
That type of gameplay is a double-edged sword because the open-ended narrative structure of “State of Decay 2” can make it boring. Keeping the community alive feels like work. Colony members screw up with materials or find ants in the food. In addition, players also have to weigh the personality dynamics and rival groups. Some people want to help others and act like the sheriff in their neck of the woods. Others have a philosophy of survival of fittest, and sharing endangers the lives of the group.
Without a clear goal, the game tends to drag on and feel aimless. The addition of multiplayer helps in this respect. It gives players an outlet when “State of Decay 2” hits a lull or when players run low on supplies. The online play can be successful, but that’s dependent on finding a knowledgeable and cohesive squad.
The other issue dragging down “State of Decay 2” is the bugs. The original had its fair share of glitches, and that tradition regrettably carries over to the sequel. I’ve finished side-quests that erased a colony from my campaign. Zombies drop out of midair or just spawn from nowhere to make things difficult. Other times the undead end up stuck on walls making it harder to clear infestations. Or an ally may go missing when players need him the most.
Like the first game, Undead Labs will likely fix these flaws and add more meaningful content, but at the moment, “State of Decay 2” is a sequel that still needs more work.

‘STATE OF DECAY 2’
2.5 stars
Platform: Xbox One, PC
Rating: Mature

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