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State of Decay: Breakdown review

Everything falls apart.

When the dust settles on December 31st, State of Decay will have been responsible for some of my most entertaining and memorable gaming moments of 2013. That probably makes it one of my favourite games of the year, though that's an honour it constantly battles to justify thanks to its hilariously shonky game engine. It's a real unpolished diamond, requiring a forgiving eye but rewarding you with rough-hewn pleasures galore.

Now we have Breakdown, the game's first downloadable content, and it's an appropriately troublesome thing. The DLC addresses a leading complaint from fans: once you've completed the game's story missions, that's it. You're kicked out of the sandbox and if you want the experience to endure you need to reload that last save and studiously avoid the final mission.

Breakdown, then, is a more true sandbox mode. The Trumbull County map is the same, but all the story content has been stripped out - no Army intrigue, no sinister neighbouring enclaves, just acres of desolate Americana and hordes of the undead to survive.

The location of hero characters and the escape RV is randomised each time you return to the map.

As you'd expect, the goal is to set up a community, fortify it and forage for supplies while finding and repairing an RV that can allow you to escape the valley, taking a limited number of characters and resources with you. You then roll up into a new town and start the process over.

Except here comes the first of Breakdown's disappointments. This isn't a new town. You escape and simply arrive back on the exact same map, Groundhog Day style, only it's now stocked with more zombies, more mutant freaks and less resources to pillage. Settle, fortify, escape, repeat. Each time you repeat the process, the game gets harder until there's virtually nothing to find and virtually no way to survive. When you die, you can at least restart at the last level you reached, using any earned heroes, but without any stockpiled resources.

What Breakdown does add that can genuinely be called "new" is slim. You start the game assigned a random character and must then earn additional playable "heroes" by finding them in-game or completing objectives. These characters, some drawn from the story mode, others completely new, have specific skill sets - soldiers, paramedics etc - and sometimes boast unique weapons. It's fun collecting them all, and while some of the challenges are more than a little grindy, they do add an enjoyable meta-layer to the game's grisly core.

The story quests are gone, but you'll still get all the same side missions as before.

As an addition to State of Decay's gameplay roster, Breakdown certainly gives fans a lot of what they wanted. As I argued earlier this year, the game is at its best when you're simply allowed to get on with the nuts and bolts of survival in its creaky sandbox, and Breakdown delivers precisely that.

As a paid update to the game, however, it's harder to enthuse about. This is DLC where there's precious little C to DL. What you're actually paying your five pounds and change for is little more than a slight remix of an experience that already cost the best part of 15 quid. It's the passion of the fanbase that has carried State of Decay past a million downloads, despite an often broken game engine, so offering so little while charging so much is a little hard to stomach.

I'm no fan of the gross sense of entitlement displayed by some gamers, but when the core game is still blighted by outrageous glitches and glaring bugs it's hard to see how State of Decay justifies charging almost 50% of its original asking price over again for a game mode that arguably should have been implemented at launch.

6 / 10

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