On this Memorial Day, when we stop to pay our respects to the fallen, I think it’s apt to remember the veterans of a wholly different war, a war in which the fallen got back up and began wandering around, looking for people to eat. I present to you: THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE!
Z Nation is yet another low budget SyFy series, this time about a group of survivors of the zombie apocalypse who wander the country fighting zombies. Well, what the hell were you expecting?
The most surprising thing about Z Nation is that it is better than The Walking Dead. TWD might have the production values, and better actors, but Z Nation doesn’t have the luxury of wasting time for an entire season. It has to entertain the audience every episode, and by gum and by golly, that’s what they try to do. The plots are sometimes ludicrous, the new zombie breeds which pop up are occasionally eye rolling, but they kill zombies every episode and work their asses off to make it entertaining.
One episode features a caravan of vehicles being attacked by a new breed of fast zombies while bandits try to steal one of the convoy’s vehicles. The main characters crawl along the outside of the tractor-trailer in the vanguard, shooting bandits and zombies, being forced back as the zoms jump on the truck and come after our heroes. As should have happened, many a zom is splattered by the 18-wheeler’s wheels. The action is clearly shot, and the chase suitably entertaining, so it works.
Then there’s the episode that features multiple mercenary groups having a shootout in a small town, all the while creating new zombies from their competitors or releasing old ones someone wisely locked away behind closed doors. People get blown away or blown up, eaten by zombies, or just turn zom and start chomping on those what done them in. The main characters have to sneak through the mess, pursuing the same target as the mercenaries, a man they’ve dragged across the country, just to have him escape.
Every episode is packed full with a maximum of zombie killing action, or other kinds of kinetic entertainment, and a minimum of talky-talky bits. Zombies get shot down, blown up, piked by a spiked aluminum baseball bat (later upgraded with electricity), or just stabbed in the cranium. After each kill, the survivors say “I give you mercy”, a small reminder to honor the person the zombie once was.
I’m not claiming this is great or legendary television, it’s no Justified or Firefly, but it is earnest, entertaining, and for fans of the zombie genre, well worth watching.
State of Decay 2 is not nearly so entertaining. A sequel to 2013’s zombie apocalypse open world sandbox base management game on Xbox Live, the developers have gone the unusual step of listening to fan’s complaints and fixing nearly every one. Tired of playing on the same map over and over? BAM, SoD2 gives you three! Tired of people in your settlement running off every five minutes and getting themselves et by zombies? BAM! Now they stay in place, doing useful things back at base. Tired of getting charged “Influence” to pull out a few bullets to save the entire settlement from a zombie horde? BAM! Now there’s no charge to fill your pockets with sweet zombie killing lead.
They removed most of the annoyances, but they also removed most of the heart. State of Decay had a story. A thin story, but it ran through the entire game and made all your searching for supplies and building bases and killing zombies mean something. Your actions saved people. People you hated turned into allies, people you thought friends became bitter enemies, and through it all more and more secrets of the zombie plague killing the citizens of Trumbull Valley were revealed.
State of Decay 2 has no story. Most of the main quests are procedurally generated and quickly become highly repetitive. Each type of leader—Warlord, Trader, Builder, or Sheriff—has a unique series of events culminating in an epic final showdown, but none of them feature recurring NPCs, either as allies or protagonists. They’re pretty much just another set of procedurally generated missions, not notably more involving than those that were actually generated at random.
The gameplay can be fun, but usually it’s just kind of grindy. Here’s why it can be entertaining:
I’m on a routine mission, like the dozens of others I’ve already completed, and I’m running zombies over with my truck (preparatory to dismounting and killing a special zombie). Then something goes wrong with the truck, and I’m stuck. Zombies start tearing doors off my vehicle. I get dragged out of the driver’s seat by a zombie and dumped on the ground. Just then, another mob of 8 zombies show up and surround me. “I’m dead,” I say. Then I dodge away from a score of grasping hands, and start running backward, pot shotting zombies in the head with my last 10 bullets. I kill all but three, and have to take them on with my sword that’s already breaking. It breaks while I’m chopping limbs off the zeds, and I have to kill the last zom with the screwdriver in my pocket. (This really happened during play, exactly as described.)
These kinds of chaotic moments are nerve-wracking fun, but for all its flaws, the original State of Decay was better at providing them. Most of the fun of the first game was in sneaking across the city, avoiding zombies because even one could prove a difficult fight that might draw in more and more, quietly entering buildings and rummaging through boxes, drawers, and crates to scavenge a handful of bullets or a packet of potato chips. It was tense, and that’s why it was fun.
At any moment your character could die without hope of restoration (no reloading previous saves), meaning all the time invested in leveling up his skills had now gone to waste and your settlement might be forced to depend on a different character who might be injured or falling asleep on his feet, hence simply incapable of fighting a zombie or fleeing from one. Yet they’re the only character you have, and your base is short on food and meds, meaning the people are starving and getting sick, so someone has to go out into the ruined city crawling with Z’s…
The second game is just not as tense, just not as nerve-wracking, and that leeches most of the challenge and enjoyment from the game. I played State of Decay a lot, and unfortunately its successor doesn’t seem to have the same staying power. Even with the Legacy bonuses (permanent bonuses provided to later settlements, if you beat the game) and persistent characters (you can pick up to three survivors from previous games to start a new game with. Of course, if they die they’re gone forever.) These do add replay value, but not enough to compensate for flat, uninvolving, and repetitive gameplay. (Or the bugs. So many bugs, but not as much as the first game.)
Z Nation is consistently entertaining, State of Decay 2 only entertaining in spurts, and then only for a short length of time. In a zombie to zombie deathmatch, Z Nation wins hands down.