At first glance, Unturned looks like a terrible game. It features graphics ripped straight from Minecraft, blocky clouds and all. It’s an egregious DayZ clone. It’s an early access game and it’s also free-to-play. However, despite everything going against it, Unturned still manages to be an extremely well-made game, and it’s way more fun than it has any right to be.
The setup is simple and familiar: you are a survivor of the zombie apocalypse and are forced to scavenge for items in order to survive. The map isn’t too big, but at only a fraction of the size of DayZ’s map, it’s still populated with enough places to explore and zombies to kill that it never feels too small. The small map, however, is made up for a wealth of items to loot. You can outfit your character with a variety of different clothing items, from cowboy hats to ninja outfits. The amount of weapons doesn’t disappoint, either; everything from double-barreled shotguns to long-range sniper rifles are present and accounted for. Each weapon can be customized with a variety of attachments and each weapon, despite their simple textures, feels surprisingly satisfying to fire. Ammo is handled in a realistic fashion, with each magazine needing to be filled with bullets individually. The game strikes a great balance of accessibility and realism that I haven’t yet seen in any DayZ-style game; veteran DayZ players will be happy to see a lot of hardcore elements come into play, such as having to keep track of hunger and thirst, yet food and water sources are plentiful enough to prevent it from becoming a hassle.
Unturned does have a few welcome features not currently seen in DayZ. It includes a multiplayer function, which features player-versus-player action as well as character persistence between servers. However, Unturned also features a single-player mode, which I enjoy immensely. There’s something very cathartic about surviving all on your lonesome, and it’s nice not having to worry about another player gunning you down at a moment’s notice. Also included is a leveling system — where you gain experience from killing zombies that you can use to improve your character — as well as a crafting system present, giving players the ability to gather supplies like wood and stones to create their own shelters and weapons. However, at the moment, the crafting system sucks: the UI just isn’t built well for it, and building a simple wooden house requires more resource gathering than it’s worth.
Even though Unturned is indeed another game that tries to emulate DayZ, it’s surprising how many things it does better than the game it’s trying to copy. First off, the game runs incredibly smoothly, which may seem like a cop-out considering its simple graphics, but the game features some surprisingly good lighting effects. The updates for the game so far have also brought significant changes to the game, and they come frequently.
It’s also important to point out that the game’s free-to-play model is very fair; a one-time $5 investment will net you a “Gold” membership to the game, which comes with a few UI tweaks and the ability to play on servers that give out extra items to find. I haven’t yet paid for a “Gold” upgrade, but I’m inclined to simply because there’s so much content available at no price. It’s a terrific value as compared to many free-to-play games that bog the game down with nagging microtransactions. In Unturned, nothing is behind a paywall.
Unturned’s greatest asset is simplicity. Zombies are pretty easy to kill. It’s easy to manage your character’s health, hunger, and thirst. It’s easy to find useful items while scouting around. However, none of that easiness prevents the game from staying incredibly engaging. It’s always fun to raid a zombie-infested military base in search of a new scope for that sniper rifle you got earlier. And even though the map is small, there are some neat hidden areas to find better loot in. Of course, given the high frequency of meaningful updates, Unturned is bound to provide even more great content, all for no price at all.