It's challenging to create a game with a popular theme while still managing to add something new. In the case of zombies, there are plenty of avenues that have already been explored with action games, solo RPGs, and even a few funny offshoots that use the undead as participants in sports and tycoon titles. Few have attempted to create a true survival RPG revolving around zombies, and that's where developer Double Bear Productions comes in with Dead State. At this year's PAX Prime, Double Bear showed off a pre-alpha demo of the title.
Like a good number of zombie titles, Dead State starts at the beginning of the zombie apocalypse when the slow shambling undead arrive and overwhelm. You and a bunch of survivors have banded together and use a nearby school as your shelter until the expected government help arrives. As the likelihood of government support dwindles, you realize it's up to you to plan for long-term survival.
The game differs from other titles by focusing on how the group survives instead of jumping into zombie genocide. Killing zombies is still a good thing since they can become a serious threat if they grow in numbers, but the focus is on resource gathering. Weapons, food and medicine become more important as time goes on, and they are the primary reason for you to venture outside since you need to gather these items often.
Diplomacy also becomes an important aspect of the game. You not only have to deal with the survivors you have, but you also interact with other survivors and other groups that have banded together. Individual survivors can act hostile, indifferent or seek your help. You can decide to leave them if you lack the resources to support another person, or you can add them because their skill set is valuable. Likewise, larger survivor groups act the same way, and whether you view them as threats or a potential alliance determines how your group views you as a leader. Despite the choices that need to be made, there's no specific good or bad path, so morality is never part of the game mechanics. Instead, the choices forge a unique experience for the player, and it's up to you to determine whether the choices are morally correct.
The inner workings of the game are much deeper than most zombie games, and the same can be said for the combat system. Dead State uses a more freeform click-based system for movement outside of combat, and it uses a turn-based grid system for combat. All actions in combat are governed by movement points for each character in each party, and the grid shows how far one can move and how encompassing each attack can be. Enemy and item detection is done via line of sight, so turning a blind corner isn't recommended unless you want to go into a battle unprepared. Aside from line of sight, noise is also a factor. Using noisier weapons, such as firearms, or taking a long time to kill a zombie or opposing human usually results in more noise being generated, and that may bring more zombies and adversaries into the fight.
Permadeath is also a big part of the game, and much like ZombiU, it makes for some very interesting situations beyond the loss of team skill sets. At PAX Prime, the writer and designer of the game was telling us about how she had carefully tried to keep one of her party members alive but ultimately failed. Moments later, that same survivor had shown up ready to fight, and while she felt a little guilty about having failed her, she had to go on and take her out. The above scenario would be something that many might experience, but permadeath caters well to the more hardcore strategy buffs who enjoy the classic XCOM method. Of course, the game allows for multiple saves, so those who aren't fond of losing anyone can save at every step if they wish.
Even in this early stage, Dead State comes with a very intriguing premise and an approach that hasn't been used too often in other titles. It'll be interesting to see how this all fleshes out when the game hits Steam this December.
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