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'State of Decay' is about surviving, managing the zombie apocalypse

State of Decay
State of Decay
Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Undead Labs brings its open world zombie survival game State of Decay to PAX Prime 2012.

The end of the world is just the beginning for Undead Labs, the creators of in-development zombie survival game State of Decay. The company's upcoming open-world survival adventure, coming to Xbox Live Arcade and PC, hopefully early next year, is the first step in what Undead Labs hopes to do with the zombie video game genre.

Undead Labs brought State of Decay to PAX Prime this past weekend, showcasing an early alpha build of the game that blends zombie slaying with base building, morale management, scavenging, and open-world action. In the brief playable demo, players must content with a constant zombie threat as they embark on missions to save fellow survivors. They must dedicate dwindling resources to the construction and upkeep of a home base, making their anti-zombie fortress clean, livable, and sustainable.

The only aspect of base management we got to sample at PAX was cleaning up a kitchen, to make food preparation possible, and to clear out a side room filled with decaying corpses and offal.

Undead Labs founder and president Jeff Strain told Polygon at PAX that the goal for State of Decay was to build a persistent online world built around communal strategy and zombie survival simulation. That's all wrapped in a familiar open world adventure aesthetic, familiar to anyone who's ever played a Grand Theft Auto game.

While simulation and building are key to State of Decay, there are still opportunities to venture beyond your safe zone to split a zombie head with an axe or run over a shambling horde with stolen car. And there are quieter moments, time spent tending to and upgrading a garden.

Most of my time playing State of Decay was out running missions. I loaded up my character with gear, realizing that the more weapons, food, and supplies I carried with me, the heavier — and slower — my avatar would be. At the suggestion of an Undead Labs staffer, a hatchet was my best bet, with its lightweight, zombie stopping power. After leaving "The Alamo," my character's base, I quickly ran into some zombie hordes, though they were small and mostly manageable. But after catching with another survivor looking for help, I was ambushed. I sprinted to the nearest car that hadn't been totalled in the zombie apocalypse, and went on a hit and run spree.

While State of Decay's action-packed moments can be fun, Undead Labs' Strain says the game aims to be more than just about action and gunplay.

"We're all zombie fans and we really wanted to capture what was cool about the genre," Strain said. "It's not about shooting zombies, it's not about fighting. Those things are fun to do, but it's really about survival over a long period of time. It's about managing the human relationships of people in your community, about making strategic decisions about how to invest the resources that you scavenge, and start gaining a level of self-sufficiency."

"The long-term base building and strategy behind the game is a whole hell of a lot of fun."

Strain says the Undead Labs team, which is comprised of developers previously from Blizzard, ArenaNet, Valve, Bungie, and other studios, has plans that are grander than the single-player persistent world of State of Decay.

State of Decay is laying the groundwork for a future project, the "full online incarnation" of a survival-based, zombie-infested world, Strain told us.

"We want to bite off what we can chew," Strain said, building out the design mechanics and core features of their vision for the Xbox 360 and PC, then seeing how players react to their brand of open world "driven by simulation rather than scripts."

State of Decay, which has been in development for two years, is planned for release sometime early next year.

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