Posted Fri, Jan 17, 2014 by gunky
I'm a big fan of the whole "zombie apocalypse" genre. It's been huge these past few years, bigger than just TV and a few video games. There are firearms manufacturers and custom shops making zombie-themed guns and shooting accessories, mostly colored garish green and red and all "tacti-cool." This speaks of a deeper fascination than just a pop culture fad.
Zombie stories represent a lot of different things. They can be a representation of our collective fears about natural and man-made disasters, or apocalyptic plagues straight out of the bible. They can be dark satire of mindless consumer culture and social conformity. They can be a commentary on how reliant we have become on certain technologies that will be rendered useless or irrelevant in a crisis. They can be a frightening look at the darkest version of ourselves, stripped of reason and emotion and reduced to raw, animalistic hunger. Zombies are the personification of our own mortality, a fear that is perverted and turned against us. Or, in video games, they can represent man-shaped targets that can only be killed with challenging head-shots - an extra level of challenge for the twitchers out there.
I am a fan of AMC's The Walking Dead in particular. The TV show, anyway - I haven't read the comics or played the licensed games, in large part because I don't want to spoil the surprises coming up in the TV series. But also because the comics don't have the Dixon brothers.
Merle Dixon, the racist redneck goon you love to hate and hate to love.
It's an awesome show, and if you haven't seen it, you should probably be deeply embarrassed. Get on Netflix, go pick up the season box sets at Target or Wal-Mart, make nice with a friend who has the current three-and-a-half seasons on his TiVO - do what you gotta do and watch it. Start from the beginning and get all caught up before you continue reading, because I'm gonna be dropping spoilers. You've been warned.
The Walking Dead does two very important things: firstly, it puts the zombie apocalypse on television instead of just the big screen (or the direct-to-dvd bargain bin); and secondly, it examines the huge, bewildering array of emotions and personal conflicts surrounding great tragedy. The survivors have lost so much - family, friends, home, hope - but they dig down deep into that primal nugget of id, down underneath all the emotions and everything else, and they try to carry on living and rebuilding what they can, however they can.
As The Walking Dead is to zombie apocalypse movies and television, so State of Decay is to the slew of zombie titles on the market now. Most of them are just shooters, or games with a primary focus of killing all the zombies. You carry around a ridiculous amount of ammo and an arsenal of rifles, SMGs, pistols, axes, bats, chainsaws and various other skull-smashing/head-and-limb-removal devices, and the whole point of everything is to score a bajillion head-shots. Some of them are horror-survival or adventure games where you solve puzzles in dark hallways, occasionally get startled by sudden loud noises, fight your way through fixed groups of mobs and then fight a boss monster every twentieth or so encounter.
State of Decay is much richer and grittier than that. It's the Walking Dead of the zombie apocalypse video game - even moreso than the actual Walking Dead games, which are adventure stories and not sandbox RP-survival games. The Walking Dead TV series is the very essence of "sandbox" - the characters are basically free to do whatever they want because the rules of society are dead and gone. They can boost cars, desecrate corpses, go live in a jail, go out exploring, root around in peoples' houses for supplies, start a new town, declare war on another group of survivors, or whatever, and they generally do all of those things all the time.
The story of State of Decay is about a group of survivors rather than just one character in particular. While Rick Grimes is very much central in The Walking Dead's story, the show explores the group dynamic, spending a lot of time with the other characters to show how they are reacting to the world around them, and it makes you care about them. Usually, immediately before killing them off in the most devastating way possible.
The same is true in State of Decay, only the story is less centralized. You're not playing just one character the whole way through - you play pretty much all of them. Most of the survivors in your group end up being playable, or recruitable as companions, or both. Each character has his or her own backstory, revealed in snippets during quiet moments between scavenging and skull-bashing. You spend a lot of time with each of them and get to know them.
And, just like The Walking Dead, it seems as though all characters in State of Decay are expendable. As soon as you get attached, that's the moment you stumble into a horde with a Feral planted in the middle of it, without any backup. That's what seems to happen to me, anyway. And when that character dies, the group carries on without him. If your character dies while out on his own without backup, the game switches you to whoever is next in line back at the base, and you get a little snippet of Lily saying a few words in remembrance.Then she gets back on the radio and reminds you that there's some shit that needs to get done.
Here's a quick comparison between a few State of Decay characters and their Walking Dead equivalents:
|State of Decay character||Personality||Walking Dead equivalent|
|Alan Gunderson||Hard-liner who mistakes his own psychosis for pragmatism, eventually needs to be "dealt with"||Shane|
|Sam Hoffman||Prickly warrior-woman who masks her humanity behind a wall of scowls and anger||Michonne|
|Lily Ritter||Core member of a survivor group, looking after her family; has a good heart and acts as the group's moral compass, keeping the members grounded||Hershel|
|Three Random Survivors picked up early on in the game||A group that has been having a rough time surviving on its own, and needs the security offered by a larger, more established group; they aren't afraid of some hard work and tough rules, but they are also entirely expendable||The new guys who have joined the prison group at the start of Season 4|
There are other similarities with the storylines, too, beyond the obvious zombie apocalypse setting. State of Decay starts off with Marcus Campbell and Ed Jones returning from a 2-week fishing trip vacation on a remote lake, only to be attacked by zombies immediately after making landfall. This sort of mirrors Rick waking up from a coma only to discover that the world went all the way to hell while he was unconscious. Both Rick Grimes and Marcus and Ed have to blindly stumble forward to figure out just what in the hell happened while they were away.