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Dead State Early Access Preview

10 Mar 2014  by   Peter Parrish
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To state the bleeding, shambling and rotting-ly obvious, Dead State isn’t finished yet. The build available through Steam’s Early Access system right now lets you play through just the first seven days of the game, with the final version said to span months.

Early Access titles seem to come in all forms, from those that are basically a near-complete beta to alpha versions with barely functioning menus. Dead State is playable, but the days that will eventually follow the game’s opening week aren’t the only things missing. DoubleBear’s most recent update post should give you an idea of what I mean by that. The next patch plans to add a “save” option to the main menu (right now you’re limited to a quick save key.) The one after that will add some character creation options.

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Guaranteed food sources also mean guaranteed looters.

Even within this slightly skeletal structure, Dead State’s main attractions of keeping a base secure from roaming zombie hordes, maintaining morale among your flawed, argumentative survivor pals and leading raids for food and supplies on the surrounding areas still come through.

It is, as is so often the case, a bad time to be living on planet Earth. A terrible infection is sweeping the globe (or Texas, anyway) and all those people you always suspected would go nuts given half a chance have grabbed guns and started looting everything in sight. There’s no point judging them though, because the only way you’re going to survive is also by choosing a sturdy weapon and stealing everything that isn’t nailed down or covered in zombie goop.

Day one introduces you to the school shelter dwellers of Splendid, TX and to the fact that your family are all dead (if you decide to give yourself a family in the dialogue options, that is.) Your very first task is to rustle up some parts to mend the school fence and decide whether you should, against her mother’s wishes, take the only medic in your group along to help you.

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Tennis balls are now considered a luxury, thanks to their chewy and delicious centers.

As an opening sequence, it provides a great little overview of the game. You have a bit of self-characterisation, an incentive to venture outside and a fun little party dilemma to deal with.

Dead State’s base also has a jobs board, which is your method of assigning various tasks to people. Many of the choices are unavailable in this Early Access build, but it’s clear that in the final version you’ll be constructing make-shift buildings and patching together weapons from gas cans and bits of old string. Regular repair and maintenance tasks can be doled out too, in order to prevent your new home falling apart. In general, it’s looking like a more in-depth version of the base interactions found in State of Decay.

But to build all of these helpful things you’ll need to scavenge the necessary parts to do so. Your party members are quite keen on regular meals, and without moral-boosting items like books, games and (above all) toilet paper may begin to wonder what point there is to their continued survival. Feeding people with insects and rats (dubbed ‘apocalypse chicken’ in the game’s wry text) is an option, but venturing outside to find a few intact tins is preferable for everybody. Medicine is always pretty high on the list of needs too.

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Well, at least I can make some molotovs.

All of which forces you to make regular forays into Dead State’s dangerous streets. NPCs will mark locations on your world map, but if you like you can also just cruise around and make points of interest pop up by going near them. It works rather like it did in the original Fallout games.

The movement, isometric-ish camera and combat systems owe a fair bit to Fallout as well, which is no bad thing. Your party can walk around in real-time, with the game switching to a turn-based grid whenever a combat encounter is triggered. If you use this to your advantage, it can mean quietly approaching a zombie from behind and getting a good swing of a sledgehammer in before they can react.

Looter groups can prove a bit trickier, especially if they’re better armed than you. It pays to make sensible use of the special attacks most weapons have as secondary options. Using these, you can expend a few more action points to inflict status effects like bleeding or dizziness that will help you eke out a victory. If you’re feeling smart, Dead State’s recognition of loud sounds (gunshots, for example) can be used to lure some zombies into the mix. It potentially means more foes for you to fend off, but there’s a good chance they’ll be fighting one another rather than you.

The looters tend to carry around handy bits of equipment like hockey masks and machetes stuck on the end of a washing poles, so before too long you’ll be dressing like a Mad Max extra. Oddly, looters always seem to be knocked out at first rather than killed outright, and to steal their stuff it’s necessary to administer a lethal blow. This may change in later builds, but for now it makes your group seem kind of psychotic.

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That blood drop means they’re bleeding out. This isn’t going well.

The town of Splendid is put together in some rather neat detail. Residential homes still have children’s toys scattered across living room floors, and so far I’ve not run into too much repetition in the storefronts of the town’s main streets. If you see a house daubed with messages like “stay the fuck away,” chances are high that you’ll find a crazed survivor holed up inside with some back issues of Soldier of Fortune.

At the close of every day, Dead State gives you a round-up of how much food remains at your shelter and what actions have affected the moral of the group. By the looks of things, it’s not so much a case of boosting morale as attempting to prevent it tumbling to levels of near-suicidal misery.

There’s enough in Dead State’s Early Access demo build to give you a strong sense of the title DoubleBear is trying to create. Tactical, turn-based combat, party management and shelter organisation are all present (to an extent) to play around with. If you do plan to pick it up, be aware that you’ll have to deal with a fair few crashes, bugs and user interface quirks at the moment. It may take several months and a whole lot more updates before Dead State is fully re-animated, but the signs of a absorbing, traditional RPG are already there.

Dead State is currently available through Steam Early Access, priced at $25.00 USD.

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