Lifeline is the second standalone expansion for Undead Labs’ zombie survival sim State of Decay, and achieves what very few pieces of DLC ever do by actually being better than the original game. It’s small steps rather than giant leaps that elevate Lifeline above the vanilla experience, but every change is welcome.
Unlike the Breakdown DLC, Lifeline has a narrative of its own. You begin the game as Alicia Hawkes, a military veteran in command of Greyhound One, a special forces team sent into the city of Danforth to help with the rescue and evacuation as the mysterious zombie epidemic spreads. You begin with two other soldiers by your side and fight your way to a makeshift HQ in the south of the city. The map is immediately troubling, as so much of it is coloured in red to highlight quarantine zones that are brimming with the undead.
Luckily, you can initially reach most places you need to go by way of a ring-road that circles the central zone, allowing you to capture strategic artillery sites and rescue stranded soldiers and civilians. As days roll around, a meter beneath your mini-map counts up to a crescendo event called a siege. At this point a helicopter will fly into base bringing supplies and picking up any rescued civilians, but the staggering zeds will spot it and follow it, beating down your fences and breaking into your compound. Defend for a set number of waves and the siege will end, leaving you with fresh supplies, more ammo, and a few days grace before the next one.
The narrative sees you rescuing VIPs and securing important areas as you attempt to establish a fully functioning forward operating base from which to overcome the infected horde. A decent stockpile of weapons, ammo, and medical supplies means you can always tool up before leaving the base, and as long as your fellow soldiers aren’t too tired you can ask them to accompany you on missions and supply or rescue runs. As with the original game, you can switch between the other characters when your primary protagonist needs to rest or heal.
Setting up the base is straightforward enough provided you have the right materials, and supply runs are easier now, as you can load goods into vehicles to transport larger caches (this update has also been applied to State of Decay and Breakdown). Aside from that, the mechanics remain almost entirely unchanged, though the shooting feels as though it’s been tightened considerably and vehicle handling seems smoother – though that could have been my imagination. You’ll often have to be quick when going out to explore and resupply, as failure to complete critical missions can have an adverse effect on the game or even cause a game over.
The writing isn’t much different in tone to the original game, but the characters seem more interesting, and rescuing random civilians is more affecting as they discuss their personal stories with you en route back to HQ. Conversely, the bad-tempered, foul-mouthed officer who gives you your orders and berates your failure is often amusing, even when he’s bellowing down the walkie talkie.
Sadly, Lifeline doesn’t do much to fix the horde of bugs and glitches that have plagued State of Decay since day one. Zombies still appear out of nowhere, NPC companions will vanish for ages only to reappear back at base, and the collision detection is all over the place. While the game rarely slows down, even during bigger fights, you’ll often end an altercation with at least one dead zombie vibrating all over the floor or sinking into the scenery.
VERDICT: State of Decay: Lifeline takes the original’s sense of urgency and heroism and dials it up to eleven. As soldiers, you’re armed and trained, and the fact that the onus is on rescuing survivors and fighting back rather than simply surviving changes the dynamic of the game. The siege events are always fun, and there’s an odd catharsis in seeing rescued civilians air-lifted to safety as you stay behind to fight the good fight. Although it doesn’t do much to fix the original’s technical issues, Lifeline improves on many of its gameplay elements to deliver a more fast-paced, objective-focused experience.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.