You’re out on a routine supply run. Your objective is simple; duck into town, keep a low profile and gather as many essentials as you can carry before heading back to base camp. It’s a mundane trip than you’ve run through a thousand times before without any hassle. Today looks to be no different as you scrounge around a ruined supermarket, tiptoeing through the aisles as you silently pocket canned goods. Your backpack starts to bite down into you, suggesting you should quit while you’re ahead. You turn for the exit, the momentum of which sends a tin hurtling out of the bag. There’s a moment of dreaded silence before the shuffles turn to hurried gurgles. It’s not long before a horde of the undead start to flood down the aisle behind you. Time to go.
The zombie apocalypse is a strange thing. Its coming would obviously signify a violent and efficient end to mankind, yet that doesn’t stop just about everyone from fantasising about surviving in such a harsh world. Few videogames realise that world as well as State of Decay, the persistent sandbox title from Undead Labs. This week sees the title return to player’s screens as it releases on Xbox One for a first time. With that in mind, it’s time to take a look at what this popular franchise could do for virtual reality (VR).
There are already plenty of zombie-based VR experiences out there, with promising additions such as a VR version of Dying Light still to come. But none of these experiences have the sheer commitment in their portrayal of the bleak, brutal excuse of a life that players will take on in State of Decay. This is a very real world in which players must think very seriously about each and every action, managing supplies to make sure that you and those you care about don’t starve while conserving ammo and weapons with the thought that worse trouble could be right around the corner.
Coming into this world in VR would essentially be the final step in creating the full zombie apocalypse without watching the real planet turn to ruin. VR could do wonders to enhancing State of Decay’s emphasis on survival as players start to feel a very real danger as they creep through hostile environments. With every zombie presenting a significant threat thanks to a permadeath system, players need to be extra-careful when picking their battles. Using VR to sneak around buildings, risk a quick look from behind a wall and desperately scanning environments at the slightest noise would allow players to live out the kind of intensity only seen in the best zombie movies.
There’s also the chance to add some new elements to State of Decay using VR. Wii U exclusive Zombi U boasted some intriguing features that kept it as something of a grounded experience, forcing players to shuffle through inventories in real time, for example. Imagine the same concept brought into VR, with players now frantically yanking their bags off and scrambling through the jumbled contents to find a magazine clip as a gruelling undead, dripping with blood stumbles towards you. You grab the clip at the last second and stop the zombie, now mere inches away.
Of course, when a zombie bites you, it’s more than a little bleeding players have to worry about. Searching your body for bites and scrapes after close encounters could be a unique way of managing health in a title such as State of Decay. Users could even keep tabs on their state by checking these injuries and seeing them evolve over time. It would create an unbeatable sense of dread to realise that you’re miles away from base camp without medical supplies and that that cut under your arm is swelling up. It’s also a more natural way of displaying health than a traditional bar, which isn’t ideal for VR.
The zombie apocalypse isn’t going to happen any time soon. That will be a relief to many, but some still dream of a world without rules in which survival is the main priority. State of Decay is the perfect venue for players to act out those dreams, and VR could be the essential next step in making it even more of a reality.