Monday, December 29, 2014

My favourite game this year was...Dead State

You need to repair the fence before raiders trash it. A quarter of your group is sick with food poisoning. The one science guy you have needs to make antibiotics for the infected members of your team, but you're low on ammo so he needs to sort that out instead. The car broke down so you're on foot for today, but if you walk to the nearest supermarket to pick up as much food as you can carry you won't be back until after midnight and hit a fatigue penalty. That one racist guy is picking a fight with the kid ready to up and leave and take half your stuff with him. There's a militia at your gate asking for food in return for a safe evac within a month, assuming you can last that long.

DEAD STATE, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN.




This turn-based combat zombie apocalypse sim has gobbled up 90+ hours of my time this year, and I'm surprised to see only one other person on my Steam friends list who owns it (and that was because I bought it for them).

Staggering out of a burning plane, you're asked to choose from a wide range of attributes and in no time at all go full Rick Grimes as you battle to keep a school filled with survivors well fed and safe from the zombies and a variety of increasingly crazy humans. If you want to roll a science buff, you can. If you'd like to talk your way out of an endless stream of tricky scenarios you can do it. Long range sniper survivalist? Baseball bat swinging tough guy? Mechanical genius more suited to the large selection of base upgrades on offer? Be my guest.

Imagine State of Decay, but without the utterly generic placeholder "characters" in your crew who can easily be replaced should they die. That isn't the case here, and losing people with particular sets of skills can hurt you greatly in the long run. Everyone here also has a personality beyond "the guy with the green vest" and "the woman with the brown jacket". Doug is an IT geek. Vic is a backwater cop with a nice moustache. Priscilla likes chickens. Davis might be the best character in a wheelchair in a videogame you'll ever see on account of how well written he is. It's entirely possible to miss picking up additions to your group and that can significantly change up how things pan out inside the school. I think you'd need 2 or 3 playthroughs to see everything it has to offer.

The game takes place inside the fictional city of Splendid, Texas, and the map contains 100+ locations for you to pillage and / or run away from. You may find survivors. You might see traders. There'll be random encounters on the map. The environments all tell a story, and often it's fun to guess what went wrong and allowed all hell to break loose. It might be the car which overturned after ploughing through the barricade at the truck depot. It might be the flimsy fence which shattered and let the hordes in at the residential complex. It could be the looters which tore up an otherwise secure neighbourhood. Does that house have "keep out" painted on the wall with bullet holes peppering the windows? There's a good chance you'll want to steer clear unless you want to run into looters, or aggravate people just trying to survive and incur a morale penalty for killing them all.

Keen observation of the map you just entered can save you from a swift death, without taking a single footstep. Zombie infection can come from a single bite, and if you wander into an aggressive gang stomping ground before you're ready you may as well reach for the reload button now. The worst thing I probably saw was when I took the mother / daughter combo out on a food run, watched the daughter get her throat torn out, rise up as a zombie and have to smash her head in with the mother's sledgehammer immediately afterwards.

That was just wrong.

The writing is focused and well done, and the scenarios that unfold between your varied selection of survivors is both mature and often uneasy to listen to or attempt to resolve (usually pissing off one or the other in the process). Later on you'll become embroiled in group debates and have to make decisions which keep the majority of the survivors - and the all important second in commands - reasonably happy. Just when you solve one problem, another one crops up. It's all to easy to leave something hanging for a day - like specific requests to visit locations or perform certain tasks - then annoy your companions no end and watch them jump ship.

The game does have a number of bugs, but then I believe it contains something like 50,000+ branching lines of dialogue and a complicated set of event triggers which depend on certain events taking - or not taking - place. The devs seem pretty proactive about fixing these, and Dead State continues to receive attention.

Here's some screenshots I've taken while playing and the Steam page is here. I'm still finding new things to do and new ways to play, and haven't completed either of my two playthroughs yet (there are multiple endings, from what I've read). If you can deal with some bugs and the occasional script misfire (and, er, the occasional character returning from the dead in your shelter as if nothing had happened to them) then you should definitely consider giving it a go. The game isn't massively intensive on a laptop and works great even on a mid-range i5 rolling a Geforce 820m. If starting a second playthrough, I'd suggest increasing the animation speed to maximum so you can just get on with things at a faster pace. Everybody will be walking around like they're in a Benny Hill sequence, but that just makes a zombie apocalypse better.

Dead State: my favourite game this year.

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