Game Developers Ate My Brain

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

After several hours played, I can safely say that State of Decay would have been a good game if not saddled with some absolutely horrible design choices.

The most obvious is that it pretends it’s running when you’re not playing. So you log out as part of a group with maximum morale and stores full of resources, but, when you log back in, morale has collapsed, half your survivors are ‘missing’ (hint: they’ll almost certainly be in exactly the same bloody garage as all the other ‘missing’ survivors), and all your resources are gone.

I can’t believe anyone thought such a brain-dead design was a good idea. It’s supposed to be fun, or something, but really it just punishes you for playing; if I start the game for half an hour I have to clear up the previous night’s mess and then I’ll get another mess the next time I start. So why bother?

But Repetition should be the name of the game. Go and collect supplies… AGAIN. Go and kill hordes of zombies… AGAIN. Go and find the missing survivors… AGAIN. Go and clear out a horde of zombies that’s moved into a house… AGAIN. Go and protect another group of survivors in a house as they’re attacked by zombies… AGAIN. And so on. Most of the time spent in the game is spent doing things the game wants you to do, not the things you want to do.

The other huge problem with this game is that nothing is explained. For example, the game tells me to build more beds for the survivors. OK, so all I need is some wood and stuff. But I don’t have any. I’m living in a wooden house, surrounded by wooden houses, but I don’t have any wood.

There’s an option in the game to create barricades over the windows to keep zombies out. It shows me hammering wood over the windows. Why can I do that, when I don’t have enough wood to make more beds?

Where can I find wood if I can’t just go to another house and rip it off the walls, or, heck, dismantle their beds and move it over?

Eventually, after reading web pages for a while, I discovered there’s an option in the map of the building to select the radio and ask the radio person to send out a message to see if anyone knows where there’s a stash of wood.

Why is it there? Why is it hidden in the building map, when I’m standing right by the radio? Why I can’t I select it from the radio? Why I can’t I select it from the talk menu when I talk to the radio operator?

Why does nothing in this game make sense?

Characters get tired over time, but, if you switch to another character, they rest and recover. So I kept trying to switch to my other character, but the game kept telling me they were on a mission, so I couldn’t.

What mission? Where were they? How did I get them off the mission so I could rest, as the game kept telling me to do? Why couldn’t I just go to a bed and select ‘rest’ to rest?

Eventually I discovered she was standing on a tower with her gun, and her ‘mission’ was being sad. So I had to kill a few zombies with her so she’d stop being sad, so I could then switch and let this character rest. Very intuitive.

I think you can select rest from the building map screen, by selecting the area with beds. But why? Why not just go to the bed? Why is it completely non-interactive, when it’s the obvious place to put such an option?

On a mission soon after, I had to find a car to take one of the other characters back to the base. I found a car, and drove in, stopping about ten feet away. The character’s opinion of me dropped, because, apparently, I was ‘driving recklessly’.

One amazing aspect of the game is that it makes killing zombies boring. A small number of zombies are easy to kill and just requires clicking the mouse or pressing a button a few times. A large number of zombies requires running away or running them over with a car. So you either succeed with minimal cost or die.

So in another mission, I had to help defend a house from zombie attack. They all attacked, I killed about twenty, and thought it was over. But there were more.

And more.

And it was boring as heck. We barricade the windows, they run up, we shoot them, they die, we barricade any damage, more run up. The only effect was to reduce the amount of ammunition in the building’s stores.

As I travel around the map, the radio operator keeps giving me things to do. That’s OK, I understand you’re not supposed to be able to do everything in the game, so I don’t mind missing some. But they keep sending me places, and then keep telling me that I’m tired and should come back. That’s annoying.

They also send you to places to collect things, you get there, and it’s not there. You wander around, looking at everything, trying to get the elusive ‘Search’ icon to appear so you can collect it, but nothing triggers that. You’re right on the map icon, but the stuff just isn’t there. Is it a bug? Am I not looking in the right place? Does the game intentionally send you to places when the resources aren’t really there?

Who knows?

One of the main parts of the game is collecting crap. But the backpacks are tiny, only holding a handful of items before you have to run back and unload them. This basically just adds a time sink. You can reduce it by building outposts with storage areas, but there’s no reason why I should be limited to carrying a couple of weapons and a few rounds of ammunition and medical supplies before I have to run back.

To make it worse, there’s no distinction between your equipment and mission items. At one point in a mission, one of the characters tried to give me something, but… all I got was a ‘your inventory is full’ message. I couldn’t take it, and the game hadn’t checked whether I could. Fortunately it wasn’t essential, so I managed to complete the mission anyway.

I could go on. But, really, I can sum it up in one sentence: don’t buy this game.

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