A game review: Dead State(a tale of errors, a chicken, a murderess and a ghost.. and lots of zombies too)

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(Note: This review is about the Early Access version and not about the full release. I have not had the opportunity to replay the full release game. )

Welcome to my review of the game Dead State,  which is about to hit the market on the Fourth of December, according to their press release. I have to excuse myself for making a rather long post, but I have to because I initially made a review based on wrong assumptions and now, after playing, this game for about 70+ hours I feel that I can make a better judgement of the game.

First an introduction:

You are in restaurant. The waiter asks what you would like to eat and offers you the opportunity to select the ingredients yourself. In fact, you are invited to visit the kitchen and point out what you would like to have, to tell how much of it you think is sufficient and to describe how you like it to be prepared. After doing so you return to your table to await what must be a memorable eating experience.
Some time later the waiter enters the room holding aloft three plates.  He walks over to you, puts one plate in front of you and then tosses the ingredients of the other two on top of the first plate and then shuffles the heap of food. He leaves Then wishing you a most enjoyable meal.

This then, is the condition of Dead State at the end of early access: full of things that would make for a memorable gaming experience, but the overall result is a mess.

But first let’s get you an idea about what kind of game this is.

Dead State is an isometric role play game set in the zombie apocalypse where you take charge of a group of survivors holed up in a school in Texas. The game has two parts: one part is managing your group of survivors, the other part is heading a party of up to four characters to scavenge for supplies, do quests and deal with the various enemies.

Those who are familiar with fallout 1 and fallout 2 should be at home with the mechanics of this game.The game has two map modes that each come with a different way of movement. There is a strategic map that you use to travel from one location to another in which time progress as you move. This movement can be done in three ways: on foot, on horseback or with a car. Each mode has advantages and disadvantages: foot is slow, but cost nothing; travelling on horseback gets you there faster, but requires food for the horses and the car is the fastest of them all, but costs fuel; a resource that is scarce.

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The strategic map…early game(left) and late game(right)

The other map is the local map. Local map movement occurs on a tactical map and is real time until combat is imminent. In combat mode you move turn based. As far as I can tell there is no progression of time on the local map.

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Local map movement: real time(big picture) and turn based in combat mode(insert)

During combat mode actions cost action points. Walking cost one point for instance, fighting with a small weapon three, shooting a handgun perhaps four, up till complex attack movements which cost perhaps eight points. Therefore, the more action points you have, the more you can do in one turn and the more powerful you become, provided you have other good fighting statistics as well.

Characters have varied attributes and varied skills. Your main character can be customized at the start and can be developed further during the game. Other characters also develop, but you can’t control that directly. They grow over time on their own, although it seems as if you can steer this progress by assigning them to do jobs that require a certain skill which they will thus improve.

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Character sheet

You can improve your base by building various upgrades like a wall, a watch tower, a science lab and a recreation room. These upgrades often enable other upgrades or give the ability to create new objects, like the science lab, which allows you  to create such things as improved armor, antibiotics and ammunition for guns.

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The job board where you assign jobs such as building upgrades for your shelter. To the right an overview of various upgrades you can build.

The game has a kind of flow.. At first even a single zombie is a challenge, but gradually as you and your companions get better equipment and advanced skills they become less of a threat and you deal with looters, gangs, rogue cops, militia and finally the military.  This shift in enemies means also a shift in weaponry. At the start you deal with you enemies with melee weapons, later on you start to depend more on ranged weapons.

I would like to special mention is that the game has implemented that people killed by zombies become zombies themselves. Which is a great idea. In addition the game also makes zombies appear when you make a lot of sound and especially gunfire, most notably shotgun fire  draws in zombies. This is also a nice aspect of the game.

One important aspect of the game is handling the community of survivors. You become the leader and thus you have to deal with various challenges, like recruiting more survivors, getting to know your fellow survivors, assigning them jobs, bolstering their spirits, handling conflicts, dealing with community politics and making decisions, including those concerning life and death. It is up to you to deal with the situation.

Now doesn’t this all sound great?

Well,  here is the other side of the game…

The game is beset with many issues. Just a list of random examples: a character dies, but her avatar stays on the map the rest of the game; doors return to undamaged state when you reload a game and you haven’t bashed them open; the fresh food you gathered on the day is not preserved when you restart the game;  some doors allow no entrance after being opened; locations are unfinished; you have to reassign jobs to your characters every day even if you just want them to prolong the job; your fishing rod is removed from your inventory and put in the storage every time you enter the shelter and thus has to retrieved again when you want to go fishing again; somehow the fourth party member is afflicted by bad pathing which could make him/her run the other way and right into enemies.

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My four avatars facing off a group of zombies . There are plenty of zombies on this map, but nothing else. Note that one of my party members is Fiona.. We will have a special part about her further down.

A rather annoying aspect of the game is that there is no log of conversations so you can’t find out what you have heard the other day: you have to write it down yourself. Sometimes a character tips you on a location, this location might or might not appear. There is no check if a location has already been found nor does the location offer new things..
And more: you can build a chicken coop, but that requires a chicken, when you bring a chicken, it is slaughtered automatically because there is no chicken coop. There is quest where someone offers you to trade medicines for food, but you can’t bring food from the shelter as any food that you take to your shelter disappears into an inaccessible storage. Some quests are broken: like one where you are asked by Aggro to pick up her friend Alan at the Dublin bar: he never shows up. There is one where I got a tip to go to Eden next to the Wicked Lily. Whatever Eden is remains unclear and I could not find it.

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The chicken and egg problem: to make a coop you need a chicken, to bring a chicken to the shelter you need a coop.

One of  broken story line is the story of  Fiona Parks. At some point during the game Davis, the wheelchair guy who is your sidekick, comes up and told me how sorry he is about what Fiona did. I was left to wonder what he was talking about, but I through she was killed or commited suicide. But whenever I checked Fiona, she was alright and could be assigned jobs and taken along with parties, just like all the other party members. From that moment onwards Davis kept telling me every morning the same thing: that he is sorry about what happened to Fiona or was she did.

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Davis telling me about Fiona.. the same story every morning.

Then one time I am told she has killed someone. A trial is organized and after the trial I had her expelled, and just after the trial has finished, I am told another murder has occurred: Fiona had killed again!. After a second trial Fiona is expelled again!Then the next morning Davis approaches me yet again to tell me how sorry he is about what happened to Fiona or what she did, and the morning after that one and the morning thereafter:basically every morning I have this same conversation.

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Oh… you did do what???
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Funny detail: Fiona is a supporter of Sandy, who votes to have her killed…

After a while it becomes clear that there is no progressing storyline and there seems to be no finish to the game. There is a conflict brewing between the militia and the military, but you can’t do anything with it.. They even have accessible headquarters, but I never get the ability to talk to their leaders and even killing them outright doesn’t seem to do much. It for instance doesn’t even make the rest of the militia angry when you shoot their fellows at the militia hq. It seems like this part still needs to be worked upon.Just like for instance the suggestive skill of Karen. She can fly a helicopter and at one point this is brought up in a conversation, which seems to imply that it is something important. but what it is, has still to be revealed.

Now all of this and much more needs to be looked at(just another bone: the dogs in the game can only be attacked from the front and the back) and fixed, but we are to believe that game has entered Beta in Augustus and should be in state that will allow it to be released to market on the 4th of december. It could be that all these issues will be solved around that time, but it is strange that they haven’t been solved in the current version and I have my doubts if all these issues can be fixed in that time.

The final straw that makes me give this game the thumb down is simply the price. The developers asked to be funded via kickstarter and got more than double the money they asked for. In addition they ask a whopping 27 euro for an early access indie game(compare that to state of decay: 18 euro’s). Yet the game is not finished and I wonder in what state the game will be released. There is a lot of fixing to do and we have to believe that all this fixing is done at the time of the official launch.

Some random  things that need to be looked at:

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Some errors: at Coleman(left side) you can walk right through this barricade. Items still need icons(top middle). The interior of that shop is on the move(top right). And sometimes you are blessed with a random 5th party member(lower right). The door is no obstacle for this soldier(bottom middle)
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The ghost that haunts the shelter: Elaine killed herself early in the game, but her presence lingers on. Even the sun won’t chase her away.

Bookreviews: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

By Max Brooks: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War [Audiobook]By Max Brooks: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War [Audiobook] by -Random House Audio-
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(contains a section that can be seen as a spoiler: it is at the end and marked as such)

I decided to listen to the audiobook version of this book for two reasons: I have a interest in post apocalyptic settings and like to see how a book is translated into a movie.
The translation of the book into a movie is something that we need not consider here. Although there are similarities between them, they are superficial at best. Unless the sequel to the movie gets aligned to the book, that is.
There are three similarities: there is a zombie outbreak, the storyline plays out all over the world, and there is the same character that we follow: the UN investigator.
But the latter’s role is just totally different. In the book he has almost no personality as he is only used to give voice to the people telling their stories, while in the movie Brad Pitt takes the center of the stage.
The audio book adds an additional layer to story. A book that I read lets me give the voices their own characteristics in my mind. A ‘hero’ is to me something personal that I fill in. I read from various other reviews that many found the writings to be similar voiced. I did not experience that as such as they used distinct voices in the book that gave them color and personality.

Now let’s mention some good points of the audio book.

The stories from everywhere created an interesting jigsaw puzzle that not only pieces together an overall idea of what was going on in the world at the same time, but also build up to unfold the development of the zombie ‘war’. It is an interesting, and certainly fresh idea for a zombie apocalyptic story. The writer tries to keep the pieces fitted together by referring forward and backward to certain key moments, events or ideas, which is certainly helpful at the start of story as the jumping all over the place can also create confusion if not kept in check.
The voices used in the book helped a lot with fleshing out the characters and I was certainly gripped by some of the stories.I saw in the actor list that they used some respectable actors for various roles: Alan Alda,Jurgen Prochnow, Martin Scorcese, Bruce Boxleitner, Frank Darabont.
Some stories stand out for me. The one related by the Chinese doctor Kwang Jinghsu who tells about the first zombie case he runs into and the description is horrifying. The flight of the Indian Ajay Shah to try and escape by ship via Alang, the ships’ graveyard. The one told by the blind Japanese hermit Tomonaga Ljiro who seeks to die in a lone forest, but refinds faith. But I was specially gripped by the story of colonel Christina Eliopolis who is sucked out of her damaged airplane but manages to save herself by chute and lands in marsh full of wandering zombies hundred of miles from safety.

So to the bad points.

The first good point is also the first bad point, because all the stories are separate stories that tells but a moment in the whole war, there is little room for character development. This makes a character rather one dimensional.
There is some kind of attempt to give the ‘grunt’ Todd Wainio a kind of overall binding role as he returns several times and has most of the space in the story, but he is the least interesting of all characters as he is as fake as can be.
I am probably too European to like the way some Americans like to represent their military, and Max Brooks is one of those. Overconfident and smug. He is that guy that flattens your hometown and napalms the surrounding lands and then approaches your with a big smile to say: “So there missy, that should settle it. No need to worry. We got it all under control.. We’ll be heading over the next town now. But I might be around later on, if you feel interested.” Wink.
(Waino tells the interviewer on a side note that he is certain he has some kids fathered by some grateful ladies from the places he liberated. What a revolting man).

As much as there are likable characters -or at least believable characters- in the story there are also totally unbelievable characters.
The prime unbelievable character is General Travis D’Ambrosia, the commander in chief. At the moment the counter attack is ordered he is basically a defeatist and should have been relieved of command. He tells the interviewer some nonsense about three basic rules of war: men must be bred, fed and led. And then he explains how all these rules do not apply to the zombies. And then tells of more advantages they have, totally neglecting to mention all the weakness zombies have and which can be exploited(which they later do).
An almost equal unbelievable character is the Englishman David Allen Forbes. He was introduced as having experience with castles and writing a book about it and then goes to tell some nonsense about European History in which the middle ages are classified as institutionalized anarchy.

Say what?

But it got worse.. Next he mentions that there is a difference between a castle and a palace and he mentions how castles were often turned into palaces so they lost their defensive value.
And that is true enough.
And then he says the most profound stupid thing I have ever heard: ”.. like Versailles, that is why it was such a cock up.”
Did I hear him say: like Versailles?
I played it again: Versailles.
Again: Versailles.
Versailles?
VERSAILLES!!!!!!
%^%^&&**&*&
No student of any level of history of warfare would ever mention Versailles as a defensive structure. Versailles was not a palace converted from a castle. It was build from the ground up as a prestigious object to show off the power and wealth of Louis XIV, the 17th Century king of France, the ruler of the most powerful nation of Europe at that time. Versailles was exactly not a defensive place because Louis had a big army, and big navy to protect him and plenty of forts if he needed them. It was exact the opposite of a castle because he could say: I can afford such a place and do not fear my enemies..
It was never at anytime considered or converted or used as defensible structure, not by the French, not by the Germans when they occupied France, not by the Allies when they liberated Europe..
Nearby Disneyworld Paris is more defensible.
Only an utter clueless guy would mention Versailles or use it.

Another weak point in the story is that the style of story is distant, observational and in hindsight. You know that everyone is basically going to survive. There seems to be seldom any interaction between the interviewed of the moment and anyone else of the interviewed. It turns to matter of fact observations. This is perhaps intentional, but it creates distance. As if you are hovering above it instead of being in the midst of it. It also takes away any uncertainties doubts, or interesting complication. Nobody of all of the interviewed seems to contradict someone else. It is dry, distanced and faultless. Which might make a nice report, but takes away from the story.
But what I often missed is the anguish people would experience when they see one of their loved ones turned or sick. Or even see them back as zombies. Brooks describes that at the start somewhat. But soon enough he the zeds are zeds. That they are your friend, lover, partner, dad, mom or buddy is pushed aside fairly rapidly.

And then there is this.. this -how to tell it- this demonstration of a certain myopic mindset.
When public humiliation and corporal punishment(flogging) are reintroduced crimes are are no more, so we are told by the former vice president of the United States.. I see.
And when American soldiers ‘fight’ they suffer of course less losses than say the Russians and the Chinese man on man.. Of course.
And in Israel a rebellion erupts when the zombies start to show up, because certain extreme groups in Israel rather compromise the safety of the whole nation to further their own cause. Right. Patriotism is only for Americans.
And the Cuban problem is easily solved by having them take in five million United States refugees so that the western(=American) ideas of greed ( oh sorry: free enterprise) and democracy gets spread around and eventual restores Cuba to a democracy.
It is that simple.
And when a German officer(from West Germany) is ordered to abandon civilians by his (former East German) superior, he at first refuses, but when pressured buckles under anyway. without asking an explanation, consulting his staff or talking it through with the civilians. Noo. All he has gained is the benefit of fifty years of western inspired conscience. See how down on their morals those (Former) Eastern Jerries really are anyway, cause that guy kills himself afterwards.
But regardless of west or east: it is the same cadaver discipline of course and the same way out. They never change, those Germans: only their excuses.
At some point I was wondering if this was meant to be satire or that Brooks really thinks that is how you deal with the worlds issues or how the world works?

But the list extends into the story telling.
So the battle of Yonkers shows that the US army is not ready to deal with the dead yet. Mind you, they are shown to be extremely incompetent. Not even using things to hinder the advancing horde with, like say a wall of cars, barbed wire, cheval de fraises, minefields, stakes, ditches, wood fences, wires, fallen trees and anything else the books are filled with. And claymore mines! No Clymore mine. Easy to set up, deadly, shoot balls of metal that go right through you. But noo.. the army has been ordered to be incompetent.
Or has it been written?
For Brooks now tells us that there is a break between refugees and the zombies. Up till now he tells us in all other stories how they were mixed.
But the Battle of Yonkers is designed by Brooks to show of the incompetence of the US army, forced on them by who knows who? The press? The politicians? Their superiors? Why not blame them all!
It is a setup.
We are looking directly at the writer forcing an unbelievable twist in his story. You can see his hands grabbing it, twisting and turning, until it is disjointed enough so that the best equipped army in the world loses the first time around.
Mano-a-mano.
Zombies 1. Humans 0.
It is one of those fake wrestling matches.
They have to lose to have the US overrun, but also to have the army get up for a second round. As if war just consist of a few important battles.

—zzzzzz spoilers down here zzzzz ————-

Its a few years later, after this severe defeat the army counter attacks under command of mister defeatist D’Ambrosia via an offense from the rocky mountains. From the west to the east.
Wow.. how many people would that take? Well, they walk side by side, just like how they search for survivors and evidence after an aircraft crash, so we are told. So that’s something like 1400 miles as the crow flies. And assume for every ten yard one grunt. That is 300.000 men. Oh wait they got a second line: 600.000. And then you need replacements, backups, support, perhaps some more men per 10 yard really, certainly in denser area’s. Double that. Triple that. Quadruple that. You need to guard the flanks too, the liberated areas. You need logistics, repairs. replacements. 5 million? 6? And that from a country that has suffered 200 million dead and lost over ⅗ of it’s land. And most of it’s industry and food supplying area’s.
Brooks is basically unable to properly handle this. His stories are basically light weight and interesting, and work as separate instances, but he can’t tie it together in the end. He needs to twist too much to make it work. I assume he does. Because I hope that he does not really belief all these things that he wrote down. It is such an absurd look of the world.
But you got to give him credit for one thing though. Once the United States has won the victory at home, it doesn’t retreat into isolation and let the rest of the world to it’s own devices. Why should they anyway. What would the world do without them! They got a whole world to liberate… or conquer.
It is just the way you look at it.
It is..

—————spoilers end———————————–

One star extra for the great voice acting and the great colonel story. It gave me tears, honest.

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