A calm hilly landscape. The first light of dawn in a town immersed in silence. The sudden scream of an infected screamer to pierce the strange veil of quiet ... and the large door of an armored van that overwhelms and silences him. Welcome to State of Decay 2.
The genuine "Rick Grimes simulator", developed by Undead Labs and published by Microsoft (who provided us with the review copy), lands on Steam with his burly "Juggernaut Edition". Do we have the best zombie apocalypse ever?
The premises of State of Decay 2 are quite simple: a large part of the population has now turned into brainless undead, interested only in feeding on the few humans left alive. Modern society no longer exists and the survivors have gathered in small and small communities that try to go on day by day, trying to resist the threat of "putrids" and groups of less friendly people. The title of Undead Labs basically looks like a management software: our community in fact needs a stable base that must be enriched with structures useful for producing food, treating the wounded and meeting secondary needs such as weapons and fuel, which are however fundamental in a situation of such necessity. Although the whole system rests on rather simple and basic foundations, this does not lack depth and the base customization options are manifold and capable of responding specifically to the type of approach chosen for the game. The game in fact leaves ample freedom for the player on how to make it more efficient, presenting a menu with intuitive screens and without ever being too tedious in the explanations of each individual object or structure.
Our base, however, needs continuous supplies to function and here the more action and survival side of the title comes into play: after a short tutorial and the factory in our very first location, we are called in first person (or it would be better to say in third) to arm ourselves as best we can and start looking for resources, taking control of any of the members of our community. Each of these has its own peculiar characteristics and character inclinations, which lead them to be more efficient in certain actions and less efficient in others. These qualities are presented in the form of perks that can be improved simply by performing related activities and can evolve into specializations which then allow us to provide further structures to our base. Some of them require the presence of a member with certain skills, even if only to be built. It is therefore our care to keep doctors and engineers safe and choose the best men and women of action to carry out our raids. These certainly make up the funniest part of the whole experience, allowing us to massacre hordes of undead while we are looking for useful resources for our community. The fights are quite well done, both for those with a melee weapon and for those with a firearm and the general feedback is quite satisfactory in a title that does not spare in terms of violence and bloody effects. Whether you face an open-faced horde armed with katanas alone or decide to make a colossus with rifles and grenades into small pieces, the result does not change and cleaning up the world from infection is always a lot of fun, with the icing on the cake represented by the spectacular "Finisher" executable in stealth or on a landed target.
Entertainment, however, does not transcend the fact that every action must be carefully planned: being in the midst of a group of undead, unarmed and far from the base, can create various headaches and lead, in the most extreme cases, the death of the character under our control and his permanent loss. This also means losing the benefits that it brought in dowry and more or less serious consequences on the balance, even if only moral, of our group. In fact, each inhabitant, by carrying out various actions, can increase their importance within our base: starting from the level of Recruit, they can be promoted to Citizen to then finally reach the rank of Hero and provide a specific bonus to the community. Once obtained this rank, a character can also be elected Leader, taking one of the four specializations present and establishing, in fact, the declination of the game.
State of Decay 2 is in fact a substantially sandbox experience, where the player has ample freedom of choice on how to guarantee the survival of his community. There is no underlying plot and, despite a fairly defined lore, the narration is entrusted to the periodic secondary missions provided by our "settlers", by friendly communities or, precisely, by the specialization of our Leader: based on the if this is a Builder, a Trader, a Sheriff or a Warlord, the main objective of our campaign will change, as well as the general approach to the game world. However, this is not constricting and the margins for action remain very wide. Nobody forbids us, for example, to trade while being a Warlord or to focus on the prosperity of our base while acting as a Sheriff. The way in which to survive in one of the four available maps remains our prerogative.
From a technical point of view, State of Decay 2 unfortunately gives more disappointments than joys. Despite the use of the Unreal Engine 4 in fact, the graphic detail does nothing but shout at the miracle, presenting itself more as a game of several years ago than a product released in 2018. The Juggernaut Edition has however brought a small upgrade to that effect, working on the details and on the lighting system, making everything visually more pleasant. The 4 scenarios (including the new starting map, Providence Ridge), set in a desolate rural America, will not take your breath away but will make their dignified figure after all. The sound sector, already valid in the original version, has been further enriched here and constantly manages to create the right atmosphere in the various game situations, resulting in one of the most successful elements of the entire production. What is really wrong are the various glitches that afflict the action side of the title: ranging from characters who "jam" in an attempt to get on a sidewalk to vehicles that jump up in the air unmotivated at the end of repairs. Overall, this is nothing too compromising to make the title unplayable, but annoyances that are definitely not necessary for the player remain. Which then become unacceptable if you consider their presence in what should be the complete and definitive version of a title released almost two years ago and which even seem to increase when approaching multiplayer: the online cooperative sees in fact significantly worsen these problems and , thanks to a netcode that travels between continuous ups and downs, gives some moments of frustration too much (did someone say invisible zombies?) in a still fun experience.
Yes, multiplayer. The big absentee of the first chapter becomes "cross and delight" of State of Decay 2. It is indeed possible to bring your own Survivor in a friend's game and assist him in the progression of his game, while still maintaining access to our community locker. Helping brings several advantages, including the progression of the character in use, the gain of influence (in fact the game currency) and the possibility of keeping the recovered objects. Different speech instead for generic resources, which end up replenishing exclusively the deposit of the owner of the session. On the other hand, the more our help is significant, the more the reward will be greater when returning to our game, thanks to a system of prize boxes that increase their value depending on the contribution. However, a game structure that, on the whole, leaves the player unsatisfied: in fact, it is not possible to continuously create and manage a community in the company of a friend. Each game has only one owner and therefore, at the end of the session, each one at home. This is not a wrong or badly made system, on the contrary, it remains quite faithful to the management soul that permeates the title and the anti-griefing loot system is really well done (supporting up to 4 players), but being able to collaborate with others also in managing a base, and not just in a simple resource gathering phase, would have been a decidedly fascinating option.
State of Decay 2, on the whole, proves to be an absolutely valid title and a real one must have for all zombie-themed horror fans. Managing a community, while mowing undead with your arsenal, is addictive and has never been so fun. The Juggernaut Edition in fact it provides the most complete experience of what, for all intents and purposes, is a survival that is already rather full-bodied in substance and which is enriched with all the additional material published after the launch. Heartland, the stand-alone campaign set in the Trumbull Valley of the first chapter, is a pleasant addition that satisfies players in search of a more narrative and less demanding experience from a management point of view while Daybreak, the frenetic horde mode, adds the possibility to enrich their games with exclusive objects by simply slicing undead, without too many thoughts. All this results in a decidedly satisfying experience, proposal at an affordable price and capable of giving tons of fun spread over about a hundred hours of play, as long as you make compromises regarding a not flawless technical realization and that on several occasions seems to get lost in a glass of water.
State of Decay 2 it is not the definitive zombie themed survival but it gets closer, just missing the big target. An appointment, perhaps, only postponed to a third chapter already in progress.