Lifeline is the second add-on released for Undead Lab’s State of Decay, and takes the zombie-dodging fun out on the road for the first time. While prior DLC release Breakdown made use of the original game’s map for some endless survival mode antics, Lifeline furthers the State of Decay story in the over-run city of Danforth.
The military has lost control of the situation there and all-but pulled out of the city center. As the commanding officer (and, later, other soldiers) of a remaining unit, it’s your task to be shouted at by an unseen member of the top brass until you rescue enough important Danforth citizens to be allowed to return home yourself. Or until you, or too many of the VIPs, get torn apart by rampant zombies. Whichever comes first.
Lifeline has the same time-sensitive missions that State of Decay is known for, and the same sense of being pulled in multiple directions at once (metaphorically, although some of the larger zombies will do that to you as well.) Somewhere, a progressive corporate interview process is using State of Decay to vet candidates on their ability to prioritise tasks and cope with the sensation of being unable to solve every single problem that arises.
The military focus of this expansion means the day-to-day activities play out a little differently from those found in the base game. Your overall mission is to rescue key people, so you’ll spend the majority of your time locating and ferrying these important folks (as well as any stranded soldiers and civilians you can hoover up) back to your base of operations. There’s far less time available for you to scavenge up supplies, and more options for getting hold of resources by other means. Also, unlike the original State of Decay, your main base never moves.
As a military commander, you have the means to request (at the expense of Influence) additional supplies to be air-lifted in by helicopter. Specific resource types like materials, ammo and the like can be requested for relatively low costs, or you can go all-out and blow 300 Influence on a multi-resource care package with a couple of bonus guns thrown in for good measure. It’s also possible to use the new Ops Center building to order your troops to search nearby properties for resources (again, at an Influence cost.) This will periodically bring in a few random bits and pieces.
Spending Influence to bring in extra supplies makes a kind of thematic sense. You can imagine that your commander is convincing higher-ups to dedicate more resources to the mission, and at a certain point her credibility and persuasive powers will hit a wall. The system of spending influence to retrieve things like guns, ammo and medicine from your own military store, however, is now a very “videogame systems not quite translating to new situations” problem. While it’s quite funny to imagine a frantic soldier being unable to grab some spare ammo during a zombie siege because he’s too paralysed by a crippling lack of self-importance, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense.
Sieges happen a lot in Lifeline, because every time the helicopter shows up to lift out some of your rescued citizens it brings a huge clump of eager zombies in its wake. The DLC pretty quickly settles into a rhythm of rescuing a person or two, getting a couple of other minor tasks done (maybe a side mission or some quick, nearby scavenging) and then returning to base to fend off a hungry horde.
There’s a much greater emphasis on using firearms, something which always seemed semi-optional in State of Decay (and often undesirable because of the noise generated.) During a siege, noise really isn’t a problem as you’re already being attacked by pretty much every available zombie in the vicinity. With so many encroaching on your base at once, and valuable human targets in its center, assault rifles are just what you need to pop a row of zombie heads in quick succession.
What base sieges lack are options to position your troops, or at least give them vague orders like “cover the civilians” or “snipe from long range” or perhaps just “hey, guy who hands out side quests, can you maybe not charge that juggernaut head-on?” As things are, your AI friends are a little unpredictable in their behaviour, which can cause some frustration when they do something boneheaded (like running outside the compound and then refusing to come back in.) This goes for the people you have to rescue too, who sometimes act in rather bizarre ways.
The biggest disappointment of Lifeline though, is how much of the brand new map is basically off-limits. It’s entirely in-keeping with the narrative that large areas of Danforth are overrun with zombies and inaccessible, but it’s still pretty annoying to look at those huge areas of red covering something like half the map. These Kenny Loggins approved Danger Zones will spawn infinite zombies at you if hang around in them, so players are forced to stick to the highway ring-road and suburbs around the city. After one too many escort pick-up missions, it can begin to feel a bit like you’re just taxiing people to the airport along the Manchester bypass. Albeit with more undead roadkill smeared across your windshield.
Thanks to the addition of vehicle storage, your taxi of choice can at least be packed with goodies. After many requests, Undead Labs has added the ability to stash multiple rucksacks in the back of cars. No longer will you find yourself inside a building full of stuff wishing you could carry more than one backpack at once. Just do a couple of runs to the car and shuttle it all back to base. This feature has been applied universally so you don’t actually have to own the Lifeline DLC to make use of it, but it’s so incredibly welcome that it’s worth praising here.
Lifeline retains the same sense of mission urgency central to State of Decay, but changes the main activity focus from careful scavenging to firearm engagements and base defense. There’s enough story meat to keep you chomping away for the 5-6 hour length, and it provides the option to stick around rescuing civilians after your “main” mission has ended if you think you have the resources and manpower to do so. The same geometry glitches and occasional behavioural bugs that have afflicted State of Decay since launch are still here too, though most players are probably used to such things by now. Danforth is quite a disappointing new map, consisting mostly of a highway loop and some small community areas from the off-ramps, but as a relatively cheap ($7.00 USD) expansion Lifeline provides just enough of an alternative approach to the standard State of Decay gameplay that it’s worth consideration.