By Andy Gray
On 5 June 2013, Undead Labs rewrote the book on how zombie games can work. No longer was it about kill count or headshots; it was about the brutal reality of merely surviving a zombie apocalypse. When a survivor died, they were gone for good. When supplies were used, they were gone. There were no magical replenishing supply crates or regenerating health. State of Decay focused on the immediacy of making decisions and the brutal consequences of those choices. Mix in a storyline about wanting to get out of the valley and you have a simple but effective game. Strip away the storyline and you are left with just the need to survive.
Enter "Breakdown", State of Decay’s first DLC. Unlike most other DLC, "Breakdown" doesn’t offer an additional story, added areas to explore or even the chance to check in on a favorite character to see what’s going on. Rather, "Breakdown" asks the player to do one thing and one thing only. Survive. Live to see the next day. In the State of Decay base game, you are tasked with amassing survivors, scavenging for supplies for your community and getting out of the valley. While there was certainly a story element to it, the real magic happened when you were looking for needed supplies to help an ill survivor, searching for food to feed a hungry settlement, or trying to find badly needed ammo to keep the hordes of zombies away.
"Breakdown" drops you into the same valley as the original game, but with no story. The world and your actions are the story. You will need to enlist the help of other survivors to build up a camp and keep everyone happy and healthy. Scavenging nearby houses, warehouses, super markets, and anything in between for supplies. The beauty of "Breakdown" is once you fully scavenge a building those supplies are gone, they don’t magically respawn. Resources are finite and as such require planning and proper management to make it through.
Once the resources of the valley run dry, the only option is to leave the valley via an RV. However, in order to get RV up and running, you will need to find parts and gas. Once you are able to get the RV moving you travel to a new valley. Layout wise, the new valley is the exact same map that’s where the similarities stop. Supplies are never in the same spots and each time you move to a new valley the difficulty only increases. Managing survivors, supplies, and hordes of zombies is both challenging and exhilarating. There is a certain intimacy in knowing all you have to do is survive, it’s hard to play a well-crafted game about zombies and not think of The Walking Dead. "Breakdown" is how I envision living in a zombie apocalypse; unforgiving and brutal.
As much as I enjoy State of Decay and the "Breakdown" DLC, it’s not without its faults. During my playtime on PC, I experienced several bugs, a couple which were dangerously close to being almost game breaking. I encounter several instances of hitting zombies with a car only to have the car do a wheelie and almost flip over backwards. When I went to establish my first settlement there were two characters inside, one was standing still and the other fell through the floor repeatedly and appeared right above himself to create an endless loop. The other major bug I stumbled across several times is in-game character dialog simply not being present. The only reason I knew dialog was taking place was due to leaving the subtitles on.
While I certainly encountered my fair share of technical issues, there is something to be said of the fact that I never wanted to put it down. There is a certain magnetism while playing, wanting to make sure that all your survivors are ok and have the supplies they need. Technical issues stop "Breakdown" from being amazing, but it settles in nicely at being good. Undead Labs has the right formula for making a fun engaging game. Sure there are some things that need some further attention and polish, but at the end of the day it’s about fun and replayability and those are the things that State of Decay delivers on.
"Breakdown" is available on Xbox Live and Steam for $6.99 USD on 29 November.