Posted on December 10, 2014, Marshall Lemon Dead State Review: The Old-School Zombie Apocalypse
Dead State was supposed to be one of the first true zombie survival games out there. Designed by Obsidian Entertainment veterans in the style of an old-school RPG, Dead State, we were told, would give players complete freedom to explore the wasteland, scavenge resources, and defend their shelter from internal and external threats.
But that was five years ago, when indie zombie projects weren’t nearly as common. We’re now inundated with zombie survival games, resource management mechanics, and gripping storylines keeping the undead fresh and interesting. Where Dead State was supposed to break new ground, now it’s inevitably going to be compared to games that launched during the last console generation.
The good news is that, despite the wait, Dead State is very good. Its old-school mechanics and turn-based combat set it apart from the competition, and the open-ended narrative allows for some fantastic emergent stories. The bad news is that with so many zombie games to compare it to, any flaws we might have forgiven tend to be far more noticeable.
Dead State opens with your character waking up in Splendid, Texas, a week after surviving a horrific plane crash. It turns out that while you were comatose, that virus you’d been hearing about on the news turned into a full-blown zombie pandemic, leaving ordinary citizens to fend for themselves without government or military support. Players now finds themselves in charge of a band of survivors holed up in Splendid’s high school, and must make scavenging runs and coordinate shelter upgrades so their group can survive over the long-term.
Mechanically speaking, Dead State is an old-school RPG through and through, right down to the isometric perspective and tabletop-inspired combat system. The closest comparison would be classics like the original Fallout games, where the world is open-ended and players are free to develop characters in whatever way they see fit.
The main difference between Dead State and other RPGs is the emphasis on resource management. Instead of taking on defined quests, players gather supplies to match the shelter’s various needs, upgrading it over time. Outside of accounting for your home base’s supply and demand (or neglecting to account for it), you’re free to scavenge and explore as you see fit.