State of Decay: Lifeline Review
of Decay launched last fall - a small-package Steam game from
a small indie studio headed by the co-founder of ArenaNet - it took a lot
of people by surprise. It sold a million copies within the first three
months, without the benefit of a giant marketing budget to promote it, and
despite being banned in Australia (though, to be fair to the Australian
Classification Board, using morphine and methadone pills to apparently
close and disinfect wounds does send a pretty bizarre message). They
released the Breakdown DLC expansion almost immediately,
and announced the next expansion, Lifeline, shortly
Lifeline is a different kind of game from the previous two iterations.
It's more story-based and runs on a schedule, as opposed to the more
open-ended style of Breakdown. It's still all about the zombies and the
surviving, but instead of building up and lasting out, you start out
strong and fight a war of attrition - last long enough to get all the
high-value assets out of the city, and then get out before the whole thing
goes to hell.
It's a zombie game. There's violence, gore and frequent swearing.
Especially when you find Sasquatch. Oh, and you still use morphine as
band-aids. Absolutely not for the squeamish or easily-startled.
Gameplay - 90 / 100
There are a number of things that set Lifeline apart from the previous
two iterations of the game.
The original game was story-based, with some missions needing to be
completed in a timely fashion. There was a definite progression of events,
culminating in an escape - of sorts - from Trumbull Valley. Breakdown, on
the other hand, is essentially open-ended. You can take all the time you
want to scavenge and scrounge, and missing out on a mission here or there
won't usually set you back much. Someone might get miffed at you, and you
lose some Influence, but it's usually not fatal, and there are no story
consequences. Because there's not really any story.
Not so with Lifeline. If you dick around too much trying to loot every
garage and camp site you come across, people die. And if too many of the
wrong people die, you fail, and have to start a new game. When people die
on you, it's usually disastrous - if you lose one of the civilians you are
trying to rescue, you get chewed out over NPR by Vienna Chow, the
left-wing nutjob who alternates between telling everyone how crappy the
military is for running away and then demanding that her radio-show
callers be rescued. If you lose too many of them, apparently she stops
taking calls, and you no longer get the option to rescue anybody. You
might not know whether to be happy or sad about that.
Losing military assets is even more catastrophic. Every soldier is needed
for the defense of the base (called "Black Friday") during sieges. And the
more sieges you endure, the worse they get. You are also tasked with
rescuing civilian doctors and scientists, and, in one case, the stoner son
of a restaurant chain owner who may agree to supply the military with his
fleet of food trucks. Lose any of those and command tears a strip off your
Ultimately, Danforth is a no-win situation. There are far too many
zombies and not nearly enough soldiers to contain or kill them all.
Greyhound One wasn't sent there to re-take the city; they were sent in to
extract anything of value, and then get out alive. It's an interesting
reversal of the previous two games, where the goal was to build bigger and
bigger fortifications, gather up as many survivors as possible, and keep
on keepin' on.
The sieges are a new mechanic, similar to but slightly different from the
sieges against neighboring enclaves in the previous iterations. You get a
"danger counter" on your minimap, and when it reaches stage 3, that means
it's siege time and you need to get your ass back to Black Friday. The
sieges are regular occurrences, and they are one of the bigger
resource-drains you will face - especially later in the game, when they
get longer and more difficult. The zombies come in two waves. The first
wave is usually fairly standard and nothing to get too upset about. The
second wave is the "oh shit" moment - that's when the Big 'Uns and Ferals
start coming out, after the first wave has already chewed through your
mines and weakened the gates. My usual strategy has been to save the
fireworks bombs and propane tanks for the second-wave assaults, since the
mines and our snipers can generally handle the first-wave assaults without
The second-wave assaults are also when you call in the artillery strikes
- another new feature, and one of the benefits of being a member of the
armed forces. For the first couple of sieges, when you are taking orders
from "the Doghouse," you have access to an array of artillery barrages -
incendiary, mortars, attack drones and others. Later on, when you are
forced to go a little higher up on the chain of command, you have to establish
outposts at artillery and comm stations around the city in order to gain
access to artillery strikes.
When the zeds break through the gates, they bee-line for the helipad
where your civilian evacuees are waiting. And if you let more than one or
two slip in, your evacuees are pretty much dead, and you get chewed out by
Vienna Chow and/or command.
Some players are claiming there are too many sieges, some that there are
not enough. The sieges can be an aggravating distraction when you're
trying to complete other objectives, but it can be equally aggravating
later on when you are waiting around at Black Friday for a siege to start
so you can get on with your work and advance the story. If you find the sieges
are happening too quickly, you can stretch them out a bit by ordering your
soldiers to "thin the herd" via the Ops Center at base. If you find they
are not happening often enough, make sure your soldiers are doing
The playable area of Danforth is not nearly as big as it looks on the
map. Much of it is occupied by the multi-lane highway encircling the
mostly-off-limits city core, and the rest is divided up into little
isolated neighborhoods connected only by the highway. Hopping the fences
around the edges of these neighborhoods is sometimes possible, but usually
a really bad idea. Most neighborhoods are ringed by "danger zones" where
the zombies are packed almost shoulder-to-shoulder and never stop
spawning. These can be useful if you can find a good sniping spot, have a
ton of ammo and want to improve your Shooting skill, but going in with a
pipe wrench and hoping to slug your way out is ill-advised.
I found that I spent a lot more time driving between missions in Lifeline
than I did in the other two iterations. There are no back-road shortcuts,
so I was always taking the Danforth Beltway and dodging pileups. This
isn't the most engaging gameplay, even with the cool new army trucks.
I also found that there were too many "Too Many Hordes" missions. You get
4 hordes for each of these missions, and it essentially involves driving
all the way around the Danforth Beltway and plowing into them with your
truck before they infest a house. Not doing these missions is almost the
same as doing them - there's little consequence for skipping them because
you're probably not going to be spending a lot of time worrying about infestations
or house-prowling anyway. I did them whenever time allowed, but they kept
popping up over and over, and eventually I got annoyed.
There are a lot more zombies in Danforth than there are in Trumbull
Valley. This can be a mixed blessing - it certainly makes the game more
challenging, but at some points it almost feels like punishment for
something. At one point, I was scouting the neighborhood on the other side
of the highway from Black Friday while the siege alert was at stage 2.
There had to have been 30 zombies shambling around on the short stretch of
street between the overpass and the T-intersection. Just on the street,
mind you - that wasn't counting the ones inside the office buildings and
A number of players have expressed disappointment with the new Danforth map,
and a lot of the complaints focus on the fact that you never get to go
into the heart of the city. Basically, you're stuck in the boroughs, which
all look a lot like Marshall or downtown Spencer's Mill. If you're
expecting re-enactments of epic scenes from I Am Legend, or the Atlanta
moments from Season 1 of The Walking Dead, you're in for a let-down. The
playable areas of Danforth, connected by the expressway, make for a much
smaller game environment than Trumbull Valley.
Be aware that there are a few bugs and glitches still being worked out.
NPC AI is occasionally troublesome - soldiers may end up just standing
around during sieges instead of shooting or attacking zeds. And you will
probably get annoyed by civilians' utter inability to fight off attacking
zombies. They'll often cower when being attacked by even a single zombie
and won't try to fight them off. This can be problematic when you are
delayed during a rescue attempt - often, the rescue target is already
being swarmed by the time you get near, and if you have to fight off
another group on your way to the target's location (or if one of the
attackers is, say, a Feral), you'll probably end up trying to rescue a
heap of shredded guts surrounded by hungry zeds.
Graphics - 65 / 100
Because this is an expansion, and it uses the exact same graphics engine
as the original game, we can only really judge this new expansion's
graphics by what it adds to the game world. For the most part, this is
limited to a different cityscape backdrop and a bunch of new weapon models
and a new vehicle or two. I believe the Lifeline character models look a
little better than the ones from the original game - less frumpy and
droop-drawered. And I like the new army trucks. They look pretty badass
and handle better than any other vehicle in the game.
The expansion doesn't really address any of the flaws that held the
original game back. There are still no sliders to tweak the settings, and
the super-high contrast makes it almost impossible to see at night
sometimes. It still looks like a low-budget 70s horror movie.
Sound - 87 / 100
There are a few new musical elements, and the best bits from the original
game are still part of the expansion. It sounds like they recycled the
same voice actors into new roles, just like Frank Darabont does. Whatever
you thought of the voices in the original game, you'll think more or less
the same of the voices in the expansion. I happen to like them.
Value - 90 / 100
At $6.99 on Steam, you're getting plenty of game. The campaign is
challenging (if a bit brief). This DLC also introduces cargo space in
vehicles, which carries over to the original game and the Breakdown DLC as
well. You don't need to buy Lifeline to get that particular benefit, but
it was introduced with the expansion.
This DLC adds to the overall value of the original game, which is
currently priced at $19.99 on Steam. For about 35 bucks, you get the
original game and both DLC expansions, which provides more total gaming
hours than a lot of $60 "triple-A" titles.
Lasting Appeal - 87 / 100
The campaign is fairly short, but you can play it over and over and get a
different experience each time because of the random nature of the quests.
You really never can tell when a random Feral is going to completely alter
the course of your game.
I had a really spectacular Feral-failure: I had rescued a story-important
NPC from a building and everything went fairly smoothly. We had gathered
everything we needed and were getting ready to leave when I got a
notification about something. I don't remember what the notification was,
but it caused me to pause to check my map when we got out into the street.
I closed the map just in time to see the Feral - which had likely spawned
in the Danger Zone, behind a tall wall just a few feet from where we were
standing - pounce upon my partner and rip her in half.
Luckily, we didn't need her - we just needed her lab notes. And zeds
don't eat lab notes.
That's exactly the sort of thing that makes each play-through unique, and that uniqueness makes you want to play it again after you've beaten it the first time.
Pros and Cons
- Unique style of play, different from previous iterations
- Challenging missions
- Each play-through is different
- MOAR ZEDS!
- Still some lingering early-launch bugs
- Danforth map is kind of disappointing
- NPCs are abject cowards
- Too many hordes!
A worthy addition to the State of Decay universe and the zombie-survival
genre in general. If you are a fan of the original game and want to see
what kind of shenanigans the army gets up to, it's absolutely worth
Overall 83/100 - Very Good
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