In theory, I like everything about State of Decay and its upcoming Xbox One and PC sequel. I like the idea of a zombie-survival game where you must plan for the long term; where you must keep your squadmates happy, healthy, and well-fed; where you can explore to cultivate new land for farming opportunities or to scavenge; and where permadeath means hours of hard work can be undone in seconds.
Unfortunately, on the basis of a three-hour preview demo, State of Decay 2 suffers from many of the same issues as its predecessor: It still feels a little aimless, and it's still never really clear what direction the game wants you to go in, since every direction is so punishing to traverse; the loop of exploration and defense soon begins to feel tired; and a multitude of bugs and some poor presentation make it feel unfinished. Which, of course, it is. Many of these issues could therefore be fixed by the time State of Decay 2 launches on May 22. But they've persisted since the original came out in 2013, and that's a worrying sign.
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State of Decay 2's big new feature is the addition of multiplayer, allowing you to drop in and out of co-op play with up to three other friends. Tearing around the game's world with mates is fun, though it taking place entirely in the host's world means your actions ultimately have little consequence outside of death or a gain of Influence (which can then help your character's standing in your own game). This makes multiplayer trips evoke the feel of a wind-swept American road trip or a silly session blowing everything up in GTA more than a serious, punishing journey into the unknown.
Again, I like the idea of State of Decay 2's co-op, but in practice it is not realized well. Only the host can select quests, for example, and it's not totally clear who the host is. Worse than this, you can only travel a short distance away from the host before the game pulls you back to your friend's approximate vicinity. Why can't our team of four split into two pairs to approach a target from opposite directions, or go off to accomplish separate objectives? You're forced to stick together, which makes it even more frustrating when you receive a notification to say your base is under attack--why can't one of our squad remain at home to defend us from opportunistic zombie hordes?
This is a problem still seen in single-player, since you can't swap allies on the fly without abandoning your current mission. Because of this, I always felt progress in expanding my base and charting new areas was hindered--I was forced to cancel mission after mission because my base was under assault, or because my current playable character needed supplies I didn't have, or because I required another survivor's expertise. I never felt like I was getting anywhere or achieving anything. Who knew the zombie apocalypse would be so punishing?
Even the game's main strengths--its core systems of character progression and resource management--aren't the accomplishments they should be. On one occasion, I went to the aid of a rival settlement, led by a man named Magic Mark, who had turned to us in their time of need. Despite our groups' past disagreements, Mark asked if I could urgently help them find food. I agreed, but the game refused to let me take any of his group with me on my quest, so they all just stayed put, standing around doing nothing in their garage base (which, incidentally, looked like every other garage I saw in State of Decay 2). I then decided to steal the group's belongings from right in front of them, but they didn't care one bit. Don't mind me guys, I know I said I'd bring you food but actually I just wanted your shotgun pellets--I'll be out of your hair any minute, alright?
As someone who only played a little of the original game, it doesn't yet feel like State of Decay 2 has meaningfully built upon the promising core of its predecessor. If it can fix the annoying geometry glitches, refine its AI, and allow greater freedom within co-op squads, it may yet turn out to be a fun zombie apocalypse simulator, but until then, I think I'd rather leave Mark to conjure up his own food supply.