By Christopher Livingston on July 14th, 2014 at 9:00 pm.
Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, surviving a few free-to-play DayZ days and Minecraft nights in Unturned.
Don’t let their looks fool you. Yes, the boxy zombies of Unturned are utterly adorable. On farms, they wear straw hats and overalls. In towns, they dress like chefs, construction workers, businessmen, and police officers. Creeping around a golf course in the middle of the night, I even spot one wearing a sweater vest and slacks. Adorable? Abso-cutely! Dangerous? Abso-deadly!
Are we done with this yet? This zombie slash survival slash crafting thing? Bludgeoning zeds, finding supplies, eating, drinking, hurting, healing, chopping, collecting, combining, building? Have we had enough? I keep thinking so. I keep thinking “That’s it, we’ve done it, we don’t need to keeping done-ing it”, but then I’ll start playing yet another one and, more often than not, I’ll be all: “Mmkay, we’re not done yet. It’s still fun. I’m still in.”
Unturned is no exception. It’s got a Minecraft look and a DayZ feel, yet unlike either of those games, its zombies are a genuine threat. They’re deceptively quick and will surround you before you know it. They hone in on noise and light, meaning that to avoid them you need to slink carefully around and keep your flashlight off. They pursue fanatically, they chomp enthusiastically, and just a few swipes will free your presumably blocky soul. Even escaping with your life means you’ve been infected to some degree, and while curing yourself is possible with vaccines or antibiotics, such items can only be found in places zombies love to lurch.
Character creation in Unturned isn’t exactly robust at the moment, but even with so few options it’s not hard to make an adequate representation of how I’d most likely look during a zombie apocalypse: stark naked and with a panicky grin plastered on my face. My first few lives end quickly and unceremoniously, falling to zombie claws and maws, but at least it’s easy to spot my discarded corpses when I come across them.
There are plenty of weapons to find: knives, crowbars, pistols, shotguns, axes, bows, and even mailboxes, plus lots of supplemental items to pick up including binoculars, chemlights, gas cans, and flashlights. Then there’s all the crafting materials: wire, nails, cloth, bolts, rocks, duct tape, and so on. Starting the game naked, however, means you have only four slots to carry all that loot. Finding a clip for a gun you don’t have and carrying a gun for which you have no clip leaves you little room to be the packrat you need to be in this game.
On my eighth or ninth life, I finally find something of real use: a sledgehammer. Even guns require two shots to the dome to put down a single zed, but my personal Mjölnir can kill a zombie with one big, heavy swipe. It’s so effective it actually feels like an endgame weapon. After clearing a golf course without so much as a nibble, I march right into an army base and pound my way through all the dead, armored soldiers. The game has changed. The nail has become the hammer.
I also find a roomy backpack and can finally begin collecting in earnest. I grab a machine gun and wads of ammo, start snapping up crafting supplies, stockpile food, drink, and medicine, and even manage to put on some pants. After the base, I find a small town littered with buildings and crawling with zombies. I clear it out and stuff even more into my pack. Even night holds no fear for me now.
While I’m still up for zombie survival crafting games, I believe it’s on record that I am generally a bit bored of knocking trees down. Still, it’s time to get on with it. Just outside town, along a dirt road, I mechanically chop down a tree, gather the logs, enter the crafting pane, use the axe with the logs, turn the logs into boards, turn the boards into planks, turn the planks into a foundation. Nothing new there, and I’m not particularly interested in putting together an entire house at the moment. The floor is plenty. I can live on a floor.
I tear some spare clothing into rags and combine them with duct tape to create a nice-looking (yet uncomfortable-sounding) sleeping bag and plop it onto my foundation. Combining purification tablets and expired milk gives me a drinkable beverage. I find some seeds and plant a few crops next to my wood square. I put some gas in a car and park it nearby. Home sweet home! And, naturally, now that I have a home, there’s nothing to do but leave it and look for something else to do.
I drive around, spotting some entertaining bits of environmental storytelling. There’s a bridge clogged with cars. The bridge has a large gap in it. A tank parked in the road pointed at the bridge completes the tale: the army tried to stem the spread of the infection by destroying the only way off (or onto?) the island. To no avail, of course, and now scores of army zeds come lurching and crawling toward me. Mjölnir? Nah. Gun. The resulting scene looks a bit like I’ve done something unforgivable at a baseball catcher’s convention.
I visit a few small farms and pummel some rustic zombies into paste, refuel, and gather seeds to plant later. I find another town, loot the buildings, and continue to abuse the living dead with my hammer. And, just when I’ve started to feel like it’s all gotten way too easy, I find myself surrounded by a deceased construction worker, a moldy sailor, and two crawling chefs. Before I can go all Asgardian on them, they’ve chewed me to within an inch of my life.
I pop my remaining painkillers and jab a vaccine in my arm, but my screen has still become desaturated in the manner that we take to mean: ow. Back home, I harvest my crops: a tomato, a potato, a carrot, a chunky cabbage. Still, I’m only 35% alive and almost 50% sick. Somewhere out there are meds and painkillers. No time to enjoy my foundation, my farm, and my sticky sleeping bag. I’ve got get back into my boxy car and roll off on octagonal wheels.
Unturned was in version 2.0.7 (updated July 10th) when I played it. I wasn’t able to check out multiplayer as the server browser was out of commission due to the sudden and massive popularity of the game (at the moment, it’s in the Steam top 10). It’s free, it’s fun, and most importantly, it’s a zombie game that doesn’t cram a Z into its title. Props for that!