September 26, 2021

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State of Decay 2: Xbox One X looks better than S – but frame-rate is lower

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Exclusive to Xbox One and PC, State of Decay 2 blends four-player online co-op with a well-worn zombie apocalypse setting – and the concept is sound. Survival is the name of the game: you explore a seamless, open area for weapons and items, claim safehouses, and scout new spots for your community of survivors to migrate to. It expands on the original’s ideas, but the technology behind it gets a full reset this time. Built on Unreal Engine 4, State of Decay 2 abandons the CryEngine 3.1 of the original game – perhaps partially explaining the five-year development time. It’s a fundamental overhaul in rendering technology, but with that transition comes a fair share of teething troubles, requiring some pretty fundamental work in improving what is clearly a lacklustre showing.

But let’s look at the positives first. On Xbox One X, State of Decay 2 is noteworthy for a fully open-ended design with a dynamic time of day, a pleasing use of object physics simulation, and some beautiful lighting effects. Pop-in is surprisingly well hidden on the enhanced console too – and once a lengthy initial load is complete, everything that follows is seamless. It’s not a showcase for the system per se – a shame given it is a Microsoft exclusive – but there are some eye-catching moments in there. Unfortunately, while the Xbox One X rendition has these visual niceties, our first experience of it was on the base Xbox One console, where to our eyes, State of Decay 2 looks somewhat dated for a current-gen game.

There’s a lot here that just doesn’t hold up on the regular console. Whether it’s the pop-in on shadows and zombies while driving, the soup-like texture quality, the heavy, dithered motion blur, or the low-grade lens flare effect – every facet feels compromised in some way. The last aspect sticks out like a sore thumb; panning the camera around, the lens flare effect’s trajectory across the screen updates at slow intervals – out of sync with the game’s frame-rate. It’s not an issue on Xbox One X where we get a smooth, clean rotation. It’s curious that such a seemingly simple effect gets dialled back, and you need a full console upgrade to solve it.

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