2012 was the year the humble Xbox Live Arcade game stood up, squared its shoulders and said: "Hey, games industry - I'm not just about arthouse curios and three-hour-long retro escapades. I can do Serious Games, too, games intricate and voluminous enough to swallow hundreds of your precious recreation hours. I'm coming for you, so-called triple-A blockbusters! The writing's on the wall!"
The key game in this regard is, of course, Minecraft, but there are bigger clouds on the horizon even than Mojang's famous world-building sim. One is Terraria, touched upon in today's round-up of the most-promising, least-known 2013 releases. The other is State of Decay from Undead Labs, an open world zombie popper in which you found a base, populate it with recruitable survivors, and do your best to weather the attentions of a flesh-eating army.
Look out for more on the game in a forthcoming issue of OXM - in the meantime, here's a round-up of reasons to be very, very excited, collected during my aimless wanderings of the internet.
1. Tonnes of characters to experiment with
There are scores of terrified refugees to find and enlist in the titular State of Decay, each with his or her own unique attributes and skills. Main story characters appear in the same locations each time, but there are also semi-randomised characters who pop up all over. Once gathered unto your bosom, they can be assigned to the areas under your control, appointed to base tasks like building construction or item repair, and sent on missions.
You can also take control of a character simply by talking to him or her, or by way of your handy Journal. This is crucial, given that different missions require different skills - if you're planning to pick off a bunch of zombies from afar, you'll need somebody who's good with a rifle and possibly equipped with the Surveyor skill, which allows long-distance reconnaissance. Coupled with the randomisation element, the range of skillsets in play promises to boost State of Decay's replay value by a fair few hours.
2. Loads of combat options and tactics
Guns tend to attract the attention of those pesky deadheads, so you may want to avail yourself of the "hundreds" of melee weapons on offer, which range from truncheons and axes to makeshift implements of brain mashery, such as the ever-dependable rusted drainpipe. Resorting to guns also costs you precious resources - as in Metro 2033, bullets serve as currency in the benighted world of State of Decay.
The melee combat system appears to be rather robust, providing the character under your hand knows how to open a can of whoopass. Among other things, you might knock down a zombie before finishing it off, get behind it and shove the filthy thing's rotten head into a wall, or duck under its flailing arms and land a messy counterkill.
Of course, there will come a point when hacking, punching and bludgeoning doesn't quite cut the undead mustard. The game's roster of firearms includes shotguns, revolvers and rifles of varying calibres, many of which can be modified (e.g. by screwing in a suppressor). NPCs are capable of firing guns too, but thankfully, they'll wait for your cue before letting rip.
3. It's a struggle for resources
Few things can be relied on in State of Decay. Weapons will jam or degrade, base defences will deteriorate under frenzied assault, and critically wounded NPCs will suffer cuts to various statistics, such as movement speed. Save for energy-boosting snacks, food will eventually rot if you don't refrigerate, cure, salt or pickle it - all of which entails recruiting somebody with the relevant skills, and building an appropriate facility. The question of resource management isn't an entirely literal one - keep the morale of your fledgling zombie-bopping army topped up, and you'll benefit in the form of gifts and advice.