State of Decay: Breakdown Review

Gutted.

State of Decay: Breakdown raises an important question: does downloadable content still count as content when it takes out more content than it adds? After all, this is still Trumbull Valley as we left it back in June, but here there are no squabbles with military hard-asses or heroic attempts to overcome blocked mountain passages. This, rather, is a bleak scramble for survival, and one in which the zombies are all but guaranteed to win.

In short, it's the sandbox so many of us wanted back in the early days of summer. Though bootable as a separate experience from the main narrative, it's meant to address the perception that there was little left to do once the trajectory of the story cut off progression, and thus the potential for replay, aside from milking the last save file. But this addition, priced at almost half the cost of the full game, adds no new enemies or locations; instead, it guts the story completely aside from side missions.

This, rather, is a bleak scramble for survival, and one in which the zombies are all but guaranteed to win.

A zombie can never be too dead.

Breakdown is an apt title. The core experience involves the usual business of fortifying communities and scrounging for supplies, but it also throws in the need to repair a busted RV and to select five survivors to take along on the most awkward road trip of all time. Alas, it's a road trip to nowhere, because "escape" leads you back to the same town, but the circumstances grow direr upon each visit. You may start in a random location at a higher level than in the previous playthrough and with the buddies you brought along, but cars become more scarce, zombies become stronger and more numerous, and resources don't respawn. It's a Sisyphean vision of hell, and one where success is rewarded with misery. Repeat it long enough, and survival seems less and less likely.

The goal, simply, is to survive as long as possible. I'm currently sitting at the seventh difficulty level out of 10, and already I've reached the point where I'm about ready to take up the undead on their pushy invitations to join their numbers. It has taken many hours to reach this point, and in the process, the brutal difficulty has forced a welcome adoption of different tactics that were only toyed with in the core narrative. Firecrackers, mines, and Molotov cocktails become more valuable than standard weapons, for instance, and firing a gun has such horrifying consequences that I tried to avoid firing one altogether. By the fourth difficulty tier, even cars are weak, which means no more joyrides where you mow zombies down like grass.

It's a Sisyphean vision of hell, and one where success is rewarded with misery.

Admittedly, it could have been harder. The repetition involved with each new cycle turns you into a Trumbull Valley native rather than a tourist, and as a result, you start new playthroughs knowing the locations of essential sites such as grocery stores, police stations, and pharmacies. The locations of survivors and safe houses may change with each playthrough, but the familiarity with the rest of State of Decay's elements allows some room for hope. And if you die? Breakdown at least has the decency to start you back at the same level rather than forcing you to relive the experience again.

So what's new here? Not much, aside from the hefty batch of new "heroes" you find scattered among the existing cast of characters, although their specialized professions, such as paramedic and soldier, make them ideal for the privileged seats in your RV. If there's a problem, it's that most of the requisites to unlock them lead to hours of mindless grinding. Take the dealer: if you want him and his godly ability to send you a car whenever you need one (at the cost of influence), you have to slaughter 400 zombies with nothing more than your car door.

There's a time and a place for tailgating.

But beyond that, this is the same State of Decay I already knew and largely love. It's a shame, then, that this means it's also susceptible to many of the same bugs and glitches. Zombies still tend to walk through walls with all the nonchalance of Casper, storage containers claim to be full even when they're empty, and companions sometimes insist on taking leisurely strolls even when the zombie hordes are charging in plain sight.

Breakdown is thus the kind of DLC that probably should have been in the game in the first place. Seven bucks is a steep price to pay for what amounts to a shake-up of the original adventure, although to its credit, it delivers a satisfyingly harrowing experience for players who didn't find sufficient challenges the first time around. Indeed, in its best moments, it achieves a commendable expression of what an open-world survival experience should be. Every scrap of building material becomes precious, and items such as morphine assume the veneration once accorded to religious relics. And with around 10 hours needed to pick each cycle clean, there's plenty to do. Life in Breakdown may be nasty and brutish as a matter of course, but play your cards right, and it doesn't need to be short.

The Good
Absence of resource respawns encourages conservation
Ten difficulty tiers demand smart changes in tactics
New heroes with specialized abilities to fit sandbox direction
The Bad
Light in terms of new content
Lingering bugs and glitches detract from the overall experience
7
Good
About GameSpot's Reviews
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About the Author

Leif Johnson loves open-world games, although he usually prefers to shoot arrows at trolls and bandits in The Elder Scrolls rather than bash in zombie heads. For the purposes of this review, he played about 20 hours.

Discussion

19 comments
fnitty
fnitty

I had mixed feelings about Breakdown back in December but with the new TU5 patch coming out soon I have been inspired to record a couple speed runs on Difficulty 2 and 3. Here is the playlist if you are interested - http://agogoo.gl/SxSvIb - State of Decay: Breakdown - Dirty Cam

Earthbound_X
Earthbound_X

I loved the main game, but I hated this DLC, it just felt so lazy and half assed.


It's 7 bucks for what's basically just a new difficulty.

Rooten
Rooten

I would like to see a MMO style for this game (maybe like DayZ or something). I think the game has a lot of potential to be a great MMO/Co-op game.

DirkXXVI
DirkXXVI

I'm actually really enjoying this game.  I bought it randomly during a Steam sale a couple of weeks ago, started playing and to be honest it felt kind of underwhelming.  Then randomly played it last night because I didn't want to get to into Walking Dead Season 2 or AC4 with the weekend coming to a close.  2 hours later I'm having trouble putting the controller down.


Ironically if they had worked on making more formal cut scenes this game would have been epic.  Just feels kind of cheap having that in game camera during key plot points that the player doesn't even get to control.

XNEXUS666X
XNEXUS666X

I'm enjoying it, although I feel forced to participate in every task when I was hoping to sit on a roof and pop some zed heads with a sniper rifle for fun or something... Maybe I'll just have to make time for that and neglect the other survivors for a while. Going back to this after Dead Rising 3, I did feel more of a sense of urgency and terror as I'm trying to make it back to base on minimal health, no ammo and a severely damaged weapon. Bugs and glitches aside this is still one of the best games I've ever played, it's vastly more enjoyable than Battlefield 4 on next gen that's for sure.

sammoth
sammoth

While a good game still NO Multiplayer.

frylock1987
frylock1987

Damn, This game still has bugs and glitches to the point of shit literally walking through a wall to get you?

Totally not wasting my money on this.

kingfish1984
kingfish1984

I don't know about this ad-on, but State of Decay as a whole gets my Game Of The Year vote.  I sold my 360 for an Xbone and I got Dead Rising 3 now, but graphics aside I really, really miss playing this game.  Can't wait for this one to go next-gen!

warriors30
warriors30

Hmm...alright. I'm probably not buying this. 

Good review.

Ahiru-San
Ahiru-San

the description in the XBL sure is tempting, but after reading this I'm holding the gun. hope it gets on sale this week. any new achievements?

Ambivalist
Ambivalist

If this ends up on sale at all this month (I kind of suspect it might), I'll probably grab it. But I'm not really interested in yet another zombie story and paying nearly $30 just to play the survival mode (which by all accounts should have been in the main game), seems steep for me.

Ahiru-San
Ahiru-San

@frylock1987 it doesn't happen like every single zombie. nowhere near as glitchy as a bethesda game for instance. 

Ahiru-San
Ahiru-San

@kingfish1984 yeah, SoD really should get at least the 360's Game of the Year. you can still play it on steam though

Ahiru-San
Ahiru-San

@driftingsilvia @Ahiru-San not the game, the DLC…. I mean, I have the game already, I checked when the zombie games went on sale and the DLC wasn't… so didn't get it anyways… (DLC was 7 bucks)

State of Decay More Info

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  • First Released
    • PC
    • Xbox 360
    • Xbox One
    State of Decay is a 3rd person action zombie-survival game set in a dynamic open world.
    7.8
    Average User RatingOut of 585 User Ratings
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    Developed by:
    Undead Labs
    Published by:
    Microsoft Game Studios
    Genres:
    Adventure, Action, 3D, Open-World
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
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    Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language