'State of Decay 2' Preview: New Jank City

Undead Labs State of Decay 2 is a game I desperately want to like. I have fond memories of 2013's State of Decay and hoped the sequel would build upon the solid foundation of open-world survival mixed with Sims -esque community management. State of Decay 2 stays true to that basic formula, and this time there's also going to be multiplayer.

If it works. Based on some of the performance issues I've seen, that's far from a guarantee.

I should point out this is just a preview, and all of my buggy woes could be resolved with the all-too-common Day One Patch. But after spending about 15 hours in State of Decay 2, I experienced four crashes and a copious amount of jank. There is a lot of pop-up, especially when driving. Zombies literally fall from the sky. This Xbox One screenshot illustrates one of the strange bugs I encountered, where huge black polygons would occupy space meant for, well, anything else:

state of decay 2 preview
Uh, what? Undead Labs

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Mostly, you venture into the wilds and look for survivors, resources or potential outposts that make up the core of the gameplay. You are tasked with managing a group of survivors in a zombie apocalypse and meeting their needs isn't easy. It's a low-key grind and the roguelike nature of the game raises the stakes. If one of your survivors dies on a run, that's it. They're gone. There's no save scumming either. You can't reload a previous chapter or checkpoint to recover your losses. Harsh but fair, unless of course something happens to you that's because of some buggy nonsense or clunky controls (looking at you, ladders).

When State of Decay 2 runs smoothly, it's fantastic. The story unfolds by way of found narrative moments brought to you by any number of random survivor groups who reach out to your radio for help, or through personal goals of the survivors in your community. You change home base locations frequently, always looking for better digs to accommodate more people or facilities like workshops, infirmaries, watch towers or kitchens. Everything feels like a balancing act.

state of decay preview hands on xbox one 1
Building, and managing, large survivor communities can be a bit of a grind but its a really fun one. Undead Labs

There's no pausing, either. It's a design choice I would respect more if I didn't encounter crashes as a result of exiting the game because life happens around me. Someone rings my doorbell or my dog needs to go out to pee, but I can't comfortably leave the game for a few moments, so I try to exit and it freezes. It's annoying in a single-player experience, which is all I had available during the preview period without anyone on my friends list able to jump in as a guest and watch my back. Perhaps when it's easier to link up with fellow survivors at launch, this won't seem like much of a problem. But based on the current state of the game I don't have a lot of faith multiplayer will work smoothly.

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Why? Because some major systems still need work. For example, vehicles are incredibly important to your survival. They can batter and splatter dozens of zombies before being damaged beyond repair, and provide valuable trunk space for storing heavy rucksacks of vital supplies (ammo, medicine, food, construction materials or fuel). So it's especially rage-inducing that vehicle physics are so, so, so insanely wonky, as illustrated by the following GIFs.

This is my personal favorite. I backed my truck into a pole to smash a zombie hop-on, only to have it get stuck on the pole before taking on a life of its own.

Again, these bugs and performance issues might be patched out right away. I hope so. But I expected a lot more from State of Decay 2 and, frankly, so do many Xbox owners. The console is struggling at the moment, getting walloped in sales by PS4 and sitting on the sidelines while its chief rival releases critically-acclaimed exclusives like God of War and titles with white-hot hype like Marvel's Spider-Man . Microsoft badly needs a win. ( Especially after Sea of Thieves fell flat once the preview period for Xbox Games Pass holders expired. ) State of Decay 2 looked like a solid contender, but its current state is not what I expected from a Microsoft Studios release.

State of Decay 2 has promise, but needs to resolve its technical issues before its May 22 release. I want to review the game that it should be, not the game that it is right now.

'State of Decay 2' Preview: New Jank City | Gaming