The village of Spencer's Mill and the small town of Marshall in the original release of State of Decay, and its first expansion, Breakdown, were great settings for a zombie apocalypse. That's where survivors seem more likely to be found, see - small, isolated communities where the exponential spread of disease vectors and whatnot grow more slowly. In cities, where there are way more people, plagues can spread more quickly, and entire communities can be overrun incredibly quickly.
Well, friends... guess where Lifeline takes you. You got it: right smack into the infected heart of a big city. Well, not quite the heart - a mini-mall just outside the heart of the city of Danforth. The city is ringed by a big multi-lane freeway, littered with vehicles and crash sites, and the freeway branches out into small outlying neighborhoods all around the city. The zone inside the circle is a blood-soaked hellscape of zombies - the "danger zone." There's also a handy tunnel running underneath the city core, but if you think it's a handy way to quickly get from one side of the city to the other, think again. It's packed end-to-end with zeds, like a giant zombie enchilada.
Lifeline, which launched for PC today over Steam, takes the perspective of the army, trying desperately to evacuate valuable citizens and contain as much of the chaos as possible. It becomes apparent very early on, however, that containment is not really going to be possible. A doctor who has been researching the outbreak proves... reluctant to leave, there are zones of the city where even the best-armed soldier has no chance in hell of surviving, and even the well-armed, fortified landing zone is frequently besieged by zeds.
Lifeline has WAY more zombies than the original game. It also has way more cars, guns and ammunition. You start out with a fully-stocked supplies locker at the LZ, with tons of guns and ammo, and the ability to call in more supplies as required. But survival is about more than just amassing stuff. Your job is to get people safely out of Danforth - bring them to the LZ, call in the chopper and get them safely aboard. There's just one problem with that: the sound of the helos is essentially a dinner bell for the zombies. As soon as they hear one coming, the landing zone gets swarmed. And if the zeds breach the gates, they make a bee-line right for the helo pad, where your evacuees are usually waiting for pickup.
Undead Labs explains in their blog that this is the reason that the LZ is code-named "Black Friday." The zombies rush the mini-mall trying to get inside, just like shoppers crashing into shopping centers the Friday after American Thanksgiving. The shopping mall motif is a common one in zombie stories - possibly a subtextual critique of Western consumer culture, but pulled even closer to the surface in Lifeline.
And if the shopping mall setting is a tribute to Romero, it's not the only tribute Undead Labs has snuck into the game. The big zombie-filled tunnel under the city is called "Horvath Memorial Tunnel," almost certainly named after one of my favorite characters on the Walking Dead, Dale Horvath. I also saw a sign for "Green Arbor" (Hershel, Maggie and Beth Green), and an exit to Resident Evil's Raccoon City. There's a sign on the fence around the LZ picturing a winged skull, with the mock-Latin phrase, "illegitimi non carborundum, mors ad te venit," which translates as "don't let the bastards grind you down, death has come for thee"; the first half of that expression is the motto of the US Army Special Forces 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), based out of Undead Labs' home state of Washington. Look around enough and you'll probably find loads of these little "nods" hidden all around the game.
Lifeline also adds a neat new feature that is retroactively applied to the original game and the Breakdown expansion also: trunk space in vehicles. You can now stash rucksacks and other items in the trunk of your car, the bed of your pickup or, if you're Lewis B, the boot of your lorry. Trucks have more space than cars, and compact cars have the least amount of storage.
This enables you to stash at least 4 rucksacks and carry one more, plus a full bag of loot, for major supply runs. It always annoyed me when I was making a long-distance scavenge run and would find two or more supply caches in one building - you would have to choose which one you would take and leave the other for later (meaning you would have to go home, come back, clear the whole place out again and take the 2nd cache), or abandon it altogether. Now you can just run 'em out to the car and bring them all back in one go.
It also adds latrines to the list of possible outbuildings you can build for your base. It's actually more useful than you might think.
Lifeline is a finite story-based expansion, rather than a sandbox like Breakdown. And it feels faster-paced than the original game... like, brutally so. Plus, you get multiple opportunities to fail at your main task of getting the evacuees to safety. You can get them killed during the initial pickup, or you can get them killed during a siege when they're just standing at the helo pad and the zombies bust in. And when you fail, you get chewed out. Lily Ritter was kind of naggy at times, but she's nothing compared to the military. I've already restarted the games many times to remedy critical failures.
So my weekend is basically all planned out - I'll be trying (in vain, I'm sure) to save Danforth. Expect a full scored review of State of Decay: Lifeline next week once I have done so.