Dead State: Reanimated
Doublebear Productions / Iron Tower Studios
Genre: Horror Strategy Role-Playing
Zombies are everywhere.
You honestly can’t turn a corner without running into something related to The Walking Dead or Resident Evil or World War Z or some other pop culture phenomena waving the undead flag proudly. That’s not to say that it’s a bad thing necessarily. There are two reasons why zombie media can thrive- intense action and unapologetic drama. Games like Left 4 Dead and Call of Duty have cornered the market on the ‘action’ facets of digital zombie slaying.
Some games have attempted to play at the emotional aspects of a zombie apocalypse, though. Subjects like dealing with lost loved ones, trying to trust people that you run into, and balancing resources amidst demands of survivors are just the tip of the mountain that these games tend to run on. Dead State: Reanimated is not any different on its surface. It approaches some of these topics in different ways, but after how many times this scenario has played out, how much more can really be expanded on?
Trust that finding an airplane is not going to be your first ticket out of trouble.
Dead State opens with your main character- a survivor who you create before the curtain opens- sitting on a plane on your way to some destination that is never made clear. The news report playing out on the screen embedded in the seat before you begins to talk about some strange occurrences but before they can be fully expanded on, the plane begins to rattle. Warnings from the pilot signal that the plane is losing altitude and amidst the chaos, everything goes black.
Waking up in a field just outside of the burning wreckage of your plane, voices belonging to some law enforcement begin to guide you toward them and in the illumination of flames and haze of the smoke spreading from the crash, you learn how to arm yourself, search through rubble to find useful items, and take care of oddly hostile folks who were once deceased. As you reach the police tape, your world goes black again.
The next time you wake up, you are in the basement of a school, surrounded by survivors talking amongst themselves about what to do with you and about the creatures walking around outside of the school. Once you come to, you get to ask and answer questions that both determine your current situation and give a little bit of insight into your character.
What you learn is that you are in a high school in Splendid, Texas, and a small group of people have managed to survive and fortify the building until they can figure out a way to progress. As expected, it isn’t long into you are asked by Davis, the current organizer of the group, to go out into the world and scavenge for supplies so that your little haven can thrive. This is what the game’s plot revolves around- searching neighbors for supplies, keeping your community running and in high spirits, and most importantly trying to survive the many dangers that exist now that the world’s gone to hell.
The bulk of the experience in Dead State plays out like many grid-based RPGs like Fire Emblem and Shining Force. When your party of up to four survivors (including your character) is ready to go out into the world, you are shown a map with a number of locations. You can choose a location to go to and upon reaching it, you will be able to explore it through a point-and-click based interface. You can search through any indicated area (which is oddly only indicated by pressing the Z key, placing icons over searchable areas) to find resources like weapons, armor, food, or luxury items for your shelter. These are very important for one area of the game, which I’ll get to shortly.
Of course, there is combat involved in most excursions. Once you have enemies within a reasonable line of sight, they materialize on screen. Get within range of them and all of the characters will drop into a combat stance, ready to battle as a grid appears across the environment. Combat plays out a lot like early Fallout games with each character having a set number of ‘Action Points’ that dictates how far they can move and how many times they can attack. Smaller weapons might not do much damage, but you can probably attack a few times and inflict some status effects on human enemies. As you might expect, the undead aren’t really hampered by status effects, relentlessly pursuing until they are incapacitated. Once all of the immediate threats are taken care of, the grid disappears and your party can continue on as they had before.
There are some neat mechanics at play in the field that make use of the many stats your characters can have. Locked doors can be picked open if you have the right tools and a high enough Mechanical skill. You can also bash them in, and the higher your Strength stat, the sooner they fall. Bashing in doors, however, creates noise which can draw hostiles around your party to your position. A ‘decibel tracker’ lets you know just how much sound you are making through your actions, and while most of the time it will just call some easily dispatchable enemies, the common adage about ‘strength in numbers’ can prove to be your downfall if you aren’t careful.
Once you are back at the shelter, the other half of the game becomes a management simulation. A few days into your game, you are given a job board where you can assign your characters to do things like maintaining the shelter, fixing broken amenities, or building new facilities. These projects take a number of factors- parts for building, capable people for doing the job at hand, and an amount of time that reduces if more people are working on them. By managing certain items in the shelter, speaking with your survivors, and providing new means for gaining food and morale, you can keep your shelter functioning. If the overall morale goes down too far for too long, you can rest assured that your game will end on a sour note.
Last but not least, every day when you go to sleep, you will almost always wake up to some new crisis or issue. Sometimes, a character will be sick from food poisoning and can’t work for the day. Other times, a meeting will need to be held to decide the best way to handle issues at the shelter including food rationing and water filtration methods. How you handle these situations affects your relationships with your fellow survivors, and if handled incorrectly, they can end with characters leaving, becoming uncooperative or even murdering one another.
There’s a lot to juggle in Dead State, and it constantly feels like you’re one wrong move away from a loss at all times.
The Good, The Bad, and…
A note I feel the need to mention here is that the Reanimated part of the title indicates that this is an update from the original Dead State. Combat has been rebalanced and a lot of bugs from the original have been fixed, making this the definitive edition to play. With that, though, there were still some bugs I ran into that made for some frustration. Every so often, my characters would engage in combat mode despite my not being able to see any enemies. Moving turn by turn to get across the map until I could find out what had triggered it was a bit of an ordeal. Once in a while, I would come back to my shelter and find that all of the people I had assigned to a job were suddenly unassigned, leaving a mystery as to whether they had ever done what I had assigned in the first place. Nothing broke the game, but these kinds of issues came up frequently enough to be mentioned.
Despite the ever-growing amount of conflicts and stories you can help unfold in your story in Dead State, the game also becomes incredibly repetitive. New locations and trying to hoard as many resources as possible become much less exciting when you realize that you are listening to the same music, using the same combat methods, and running into the same ‘do I trust them or take advantage of them’ choice trees ad nauseum as the days roll on. I played this game for about 17 hours but while I binged through about the first ten hours or so over a couple of days, coming back to the game felt like a chore to reach the next milestone rather than excitement to get through the game.
The game’s start is strong drama, though, and if you get hooked early, the right person probably could find reasons to come back. Every conversation has a variety of choices for the response, and the characters are dynamic when they are introduced or happen into your room to speak with you about issues. If you enjoy watching relationships between characters unfurl, for better or worse, this will probably be the factor that keeps you interested.
Plot Analysis and Therefore, Spoilers
The overarching plot of this game is completely transmitted in the description: zombies have overcome society and you must navigate the ups and downs- mostly downs- of that situation. Dead State doesn’t discuss the actual catalyst for these events much aside from characters speculating. The survivors, however, seem resigned to their fate and now, they are trying to keep themselves and their loved ones alive. The real meat of analysis is with some of the survivors and their stories. While discussing these won’t spoil much of the story, the narrative is not much different from most other zombies games offer so these are the curveballs and spins that Dead State offers so your mileage as to the word ‘spoiler’ may vary.
A number of survivors have interesting stories that are hinted at throughout your ordeal. The one that stands out the most to me is the story of Elaine Martin, a woman who is taciturn and labeled as ‘uncooperative’ on your job board until you speak with her enough. Each day, she opens up a little more, but she is an inconsolable mess. Given the state of the world, it’s excusable but not effective in helping the shelter you are trying to fortify. After a few days, if you try to keep speaking with her, she says that she doesn’t deserve your sympathy. A couple more days and she explodes emotionally about why she’s been in the state she’s been in: she’s the reason the plane crashed that you were on because when someone was found to be infected in flight, she attempted to warn the pilot. When he opened the cockpit, he was attacked, causing the plane to crash.
At the conclusion of her story, you can either sympathize with her and dictate to her how you want her to help the group or you can really drive the point home to her that what she did destroyed your life. Should you choose the second method, she will become so overcome with grief that she will end her own life. If not, though, she becomes a strong member of your group, either in the field or supporting your shelter. It’s one of the more involved storylines, and it’s also one of the more unique given the routine plot surrounding it.
Two other sets of survivors also carry interesting stories- though really, everyone will find something to empathize with or that strikes their fancy given how many survivors you can find and bring into your crew. You run across both randomly on the world map so you can go your entire game without finding them which is a bit of a shame.
The first small story revolves around a couple you find, Karen and Craig. It isn’t long before Craig begins to ask you to give Karen special treatment and make sure that she’s not out in the field. This isn’t a strange concept by this point in the game, as your first few survivors include a mother and daughter who appeal to you about the same considerations for one another. Soon, though, Karen approaches you and confesses something Craig hadn’t disclosed: she’s pregnant. While this has been played over and over in zombie materials, the twist turns when she appeals to you to help her safely abort the child. You can always leave the storyline if it’s something that you aren’t comfortable with, but should you choose to retrieve the items and help her, it sets up for an interesting scene with Craig and Karen that makes a potentially heavy-handed and preachy topic turn into a fairly well-handled narrative that really gives both characters some depth that a lot of other characters lack.
The last story that I want to mention involves an incident where you come across a car crash where a man named Paul seems to have given up on survival. As you approach, he even asks you to just let him finish mourning before you pillage and kill him. With very little prodding, you find out that his boyfriend died in the car crash. It’s not treated as a major event (unless you treat it that way), and once he’s back in the school, you find out plenty of other facts about him- he was an Army Ranger, he was discharged due to his sexuality being revealed by a rival, and he is probably the best moral compass you have in most situations. Outside of his explanation to you about why he was discharged, there is no effort to make a huge issue of his sexuality, and he’s one of the more active survivors in the story given his high stats and being linked into the plot much later in the game. It’s actually one of the better representations of homosexuality I’ve seen in a game attempting this scope.
In the end, everyone will walk away with different impressions on each of the stories, and Dead State excels at one point pretty well- letting the player create their own story.
The music and sound are decent in this game. Given its “indie” nature, there’s a small amount of quality issue, as some of the voices sound canned- if not still convincingly terrifying in some cases. A lot of the resources are used consistently throughout the game, and while they are ambient, you will be hearing the same tracks throughout almost the entirety of your time with Dead State. You won’t walk away from this game with any earworms.
Graphically, Dead State is solid, if not simple. There are lots of little details put into the environments and the maps all feel pretty unique ranging from a resort hotel to a congested downtown area and the shelter that changes with each upgrade you install. Aside from the opening cutscenes that are presented as captioned storyboards, you actually don’t get much in the way of ‘extra’ visuals. Character movements are natural and smooth, and the game shouldn’t be too taxing on most gaming computers, either.
In the end, Dead State is probably good for a playthrough or two but whether it’s two hours in or twenty, you’ll definitely feel like you’ve been playing at a zombie apocalypse. The game doesn’t give much of an indication that you’re approaching an ending and there is very little in the way of a feeling of victory even when goals are achieved.
Really, the game does what it does well but the repetition and the amount of time it takes to do it at times is not a reason to look into playing the game. If you like want a game with a bunch of interesting characters placed in a largely explored scenario, Dead State: Reanimated is worth the price of admission. If tedium or extensive environmental searches are not something you’re interested in, you will probably find better options to whet your narrative appetite.