The Lighthouse Customer: Unturned

Can you smell what the chefs are cooking?

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.”

He ain't after a hug. Though there should be more hugging in games.

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.

Cinderella story. Outta nowhere.

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.

He died as he lived: nude and grinning like a chimp.

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.

Nice suit. It'd be a shame to ruin it.

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.

Block and load.

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.

Add a bed, do a little farming, and suddenly the apocalypse doesn't seem so bad.

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.

Profiteering has really gone unchecked.

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.

Guess I won't have a problem finding my way back.

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.

Aw man, I just washed this car. Oh well. *SPLUMP*

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.

The safest way to view zombies: from very far away.

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!


  1. rustybroomhandle says:

    Don’t you mean… propz for that?

  2. cyrenic says:

    “Starting the game naked, however, means you have only four slots to carry all that loot.”

    I don’t wanna know.

    • Tallfeather says:

      My father threatened to double my slots when I got mouthy as a lad.

  3. Raztaman says:

    I’d prefer it to be more akin to S.T.A.L.K.E.R than Day Z… Give me some radiation fields!

    • The Random One says:

      I’m surprised there isn’t a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. style Day-Z, with anomalies instead of zombies and artifact-seeking instead of survival-gathering and faction sabotage instead of n00b griefing.

      • DelrueOfDetroit says:

        Just find a dude who worked on Clear Sky so you can say “From the people who brought you STALKER.” Buy a prefab Unity environment. Get that shit Kickstarted.

        • untoreh says:

          Check out suvarium

          • jeeger says:

            Meh, I’m in the survarium beta, and so far, it’s nothing special. A regular shooter with some experience. Nice levels though.

  4. Freud says:

    The whole block graphics thing has lost its charm. I can understand why teams on a budget use it though, since it saves a lot of resources. Still, it feels very derivative at this point.

    • The Random One says:

      I think it’s OK in certain occasions. But this game… the clouds just look like the Vogons are invading.

    • Chuckleluck says:

      I think it’s art style is akin to Nidhogg – butt-ugly in still photos, but pretty good looking in video or in practice.

    • DelrueOfDetroit says:

      I often find games like these feel like you are looking at code running.

      • Harlander says:

        Whenever you use a computer, you’re looking at code running.

        *sits down in lotus position, levitates away*

    • EveryoneIsWrong says:

      The whole attempting photo realism thing has lost its charm for me. It just seems very derivative to not have a stylized look.

  5. conlon says:

    “Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories”

    It feels like it has been forever.

    • Paul B says:

      Eh, no-one’s forcing you to read them – and there’s no limit on how many there should be. I’m rather enjoying them, and long may they continue. Toodle-pip old chum ;)

      • ruins72 says:

        I’m pretty sure he meant it felt like forever since the last one

        • DelrueOfDetroit says:

          Hey man, nobody’s forcing you to read the comments.

        • Paul B says:

          Reading it again, it looks like I was mistaken. Ah well, someone jumping to conclusions on the internet – I’ll let myself out.

  6. Ayasano says:

    Played this a little today and it very much reminds me of that zombie apocalypse roguelike Cataclysm. I can see myself sinking alot of hours into this.

  7. The Godzilla Hunter says:

    Frohman lives! And he got teleported to a weird, blocky dimension.

  8. Chuckleluck says:

    I was super-cynical when I saw this game. “Bah, it’s hopping on two big fads – survival exploration crafting whatnots, and blocky games.”

    But the game is genuinely fun! I think I had more fun with it than DayZ. The zombies feel like a formidable enemy (not too easy nor potato AI) and it certainly has a charm. I noticed some aspects seem very kid-designed – my most common drinks are apple juice, orange juice, and milk. I’m tired of the gritty “I take the apocalypse seriously” nonsense. I’m going to play Unturned.

    • thebigJ_A says:

      Not until you’ve finished your apple juice and cleaned your room!

    • neckro23 says:

      I was all ready to be cynical too, but I tried it anyways (because hey free game) and it’s really quite charming. Crafting is a pain in the ass but the survival and exploration was quite fun the first few times around.

      I also really appreciated the Crysis-style weapon modification interface.

      Survivor protip: Just like in DayZ, your first priority should be finding a melee weapon. And then a backpack.

    • EveryoneIsWrong says:

      I didn’t expect much from this game either. I noticed it on steam and figured I’d give it a whirl since it was free. I was blown away. This game is SO much better than it has any right to be. There is a surprising amount of competence and care that went into making it (something extremely rare in this subgenre).

  9. Janichsan says:

    I know that’s supposed to be the mouth, but the zombies look like they are sporting some pretty spectacular moustaches…

  10. xcession says:

    Got absorbed by this game until the wee small hours this morning and i’ve got to say this is better than DayZ in many ways.

    DayZ may look nicer and may at this point have more functionality, but I just can’t get over all the bugs, animation glitches etc. Unturned has no uncanny valley to cause problems, so anything that doesn’t look right can be ignored completely and you’re just left with the “gameplay”, which is just simple and enjoyable.

  11. heyhellowhatsnew says:

    I logged in to say that I appreciated the Caddyshack joke in one of the pictures. Also that i’m the first person to note it. Which means i’m freaking awesome and should win a prize of a high-five

  12. heyhellowhatsnew says:

    Also, The Lighthouse Customer is one of the best recurring things on RPS, along with the grognardy bit thing they do so I don’t understand how people can complain about it unless you have bad taste because it’s always well-written and very funny and gives people an insight of how far developed a game is.

    Never get rid of Lighthouse Customer, or I will tell Obama.

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