State of Decay is a 3rd person adventure game set in a post apocalyptic open world… with zombies. The goal of the game is not unlike this year’s indie gem Don’t Starve; build a base, collect supplies, and survive for as long as humanly possible. Perma-death heightens the tension as each and every zombie battle could quickly turn you into worm food. In terms of survival horror, State of Decay does something that other titles of the genre have been trying to accomplish for years, it manages to make the losses real, and the horror truly horrifying.
This game holds a bit of significance for the NA crew. We talked about it on our very first podcast, envisioning a City of Heroes type of experience where you build your mutant from the ground up with the powers you desire. The game was developed by SiliconKnights who brought us excellent titles such as Eternal Darkness and the GameCube adaptation of MGS: Twin Snakes … but also Too Human, whose concept was interesting but execution was less than stellar. In many ways X-Men Destiny is sort of a mixed bag, excelling in some unexpected ways but falling short in places that seem too obvious not to fix. Let’s take a closer look.
Disclaimer: I think it’s important, especially with games based on predecessors or source material, to provide a prospective of the reviewer. For instance, fellow NA’er Ash recently gave a very honest impression of Skyrim as a first-time player of the series — and was quite forthcoming about it — and the hardcore Elder Scrolls fans still lost their shit. So let me be clear, I’m a casual X-Men fan. I don’t read comics on a regular basis, and my love of the Uncanny crew is based largely in the Saturday morning cartoon and recent movies (not to mention the excellent 90’s arcade game). So if I miss a plot point, or name a character incorrectly, you understand why. To that end, I’m going to focus largely on the gameplay and the manner in which the narrative is implemented into the game.
At it’s core X-Men destiny is a beat-em-up in the style of God of War. You play as one of three newly discovered mutant characters who can assume one of three power paths. Additionally, your character takes on additional abilities from other mutants by finding their “genes” scattered through the environments or simply progressing through the story (defeating bosses, etc.). In addition to your chosen power tree, you can equip up to four of these mutant “genes” (A “suit”, Utility, Offensive, and Defensive ability). For example, you could gain Iceman’s mobility with Wolverine’s regeneration with Colossus’ strength while wearing Emma Frost’s suit (nice). Equip four abilities from the same mutant and the suit grants a super ability akin to the character you selected. No one character is overwhelmingly all-around better than any other, so it’s really up to the player to either mix and match, or go all out for the bonus ability.
The individual items in the power tree as well as the mutant genes can be upgraded with XP, gained by defeating enemies. Same as GoW (not to be confused with GoW), you “fill” these upgrades until they unlock. This game deviates from GoW however in that you can swap out genes on the fly — obviously, you cannot use them all at once. On the other hand, this game is not as technical as sophisticated beat-em-ups like Bayonetta or even GoW in the button combos used to fight. For the most part you can mash buttons, throw in a few well timed dodges, and do well for yourself.
The game is fairly liner with a few wrinkles. As the game’s story unfolds your character is introduced as a new mutant on the scene. At various points in the game you will be asked to choose between siding with the X-Men or the Brotherhood. This, in turn, partners you with different mutants and opens different challenges. While I only did one play-through (more on that later) I can’t imagine the overall structure of the game deviating much based on the faction you select, but it’s a nice touch nonetheless.
The “Challenges” are mini battle arenas that you either find by exploring or are given by characters. These are fairly straightforward in that you either need to defeat X amount of enemies, or accomplish some task within a rather generous time limit. Completing these challenges also unlock additional “genes” for your character. In a nice move by the developers, if you fail to complete a challenge, you can replay it by loading the character from the main menu — you will receive the gene when you continue the story.
The battles are scaled well. If I’m given super powers, I want to be able to mow through hordes of enemies. In this respect X-Men Destiny doesn’t disappoint. Throughout the game you meet up with other mutants, who often assist you in dishing out ass-beatings. It’s highly satisfying. And I’m not ruining anything for you by telling you to stick around for the credits — why don’t more games do this? Maybe the only thing you’re left wondering then, is why this game doesn’t have a multiplayer component. Games in this genre traditionally don’t have it, but I think this game has the opportunity to do it.
A clever skill system, good source material, and multiple ways to shape the experience. What could possibly go wrong? I found that the combat leaves much to be desired at times. I often found myself failing to connect strikes to enemies that were directly in front of me, and even when punches do connect, the animation of your character often slides you off of your target. While
there is a locking system I found that it easier to not use it because of some intermittent camera acrobatics I needed to perform with the thumb-stick. That’s not to say this game has severe camera issues, but sometimes the camera is a little too close when battles in large spaces really get fired-up (damn you, Lakitu!).
Thankfully, there’s a tradeoff in the relative ease at which bosses can be defeated. I’ve always hated that powered up characters in these games do very little damage to boss characters, resulting in 15 min pattern-recognition-fests™ that have to be repeated when the boss destroys you with the instant kill death blast. There’s not much of that here, except when you are forced to restart a clearly divided 3 part battle from the first part. That being said, the game’s checkpoint system is quite forgiving, and constant dying (should you encounter it) is not so bad.
The game also lacks a bit of polish here and there. In a scene with Gambit is legs are very clearly going through is coat when he is sitting down. There was a Challenge Arena in which an enemy did not make it into the arena before the gate closed on him, leaving me no way to defeat him. The in-game upgrade menus are sluggish, maybe because there are auto-playing mini videos to illustrate what each power does. The game uses a dialog selection system which is fairly pointless. When you encounter a character you can talk to them about some plot points, then accept a quest or bolster your faction standing. I’d rather have just experienced all the dialogue, then given a pop-up when I had to make a choice about something.
So, where do I stand with the game? Yes, the combat is a bit wonky at times, and the introduction of characters and narrative seems a bit forced too (I really had no clue / interest what was going on in the story) but I adjusted, and had a pretty good experience with the game overall. Am I going to do another play-through with another character/power/faction ? Probably not. (A super-fan / achievement-hunter might tally three play-throughs, about 7-8 hours each). Unfortunately (or fortunately) this game does not exist in a vacuum — when other games exist like GoW and Bayonetta, you have alternatives in this genre. Honestly, I hope this game does well, because a sequel would provide the opportunity for refined combat and the possibility of a much missed multiplayer. My opinion — a solid rent (Redbox) or wait until the inevitable price drop.