Undying Early Access Review – I Could Really Use a Copy of The Zombie Survival Guide

Developed by Vanimals

Published by Skystone Games

Available on PC

MSRP $19.99

In the realm of survival games, zombies are a dime a dozen. It’s hard to differentiate yourself in a churning sea of zombie bodies. It takes something truly unique to stand out in this very crowded space. Thankfully, Undying does that. It provides an unparalleled survival experience set to the backdrop of an emotional story of parenthood, loss, and passing down knowledge to the next generation.

You play as Anling, a woman living in an emergency shelter with her son Cody after the zombie apocalypse. Things aren’t completely lost yet, and the military is transporting people to more permanent camps in safe zones throughout the country. Anling’s extraction goes wrong, and in a moment surrounded by the dead, she is bitten. It’s a nice change of pace from the normal protagonists of a zombie game. Anling isn’t a hero. She isn’t an unstoppable force of nature. She’s a mom just trying to do right by her young son.

Undying Intro

Realizing the predicament a zombie bite puts her in, she realizes she needs to start teaching Cody how to survive without her. She knows a day will come when she will turn, and Cody will be left to survive in the harsh, zombie-filled world of Undying. To that end, they escape the botched extraction and head back to their home in the suburbs. Here, you take over as Anling, and go about the business of teaching Cody. Undying is played from a semi-top-down perspective, and you’ll move through the world with Cody.

The first order of business is setting yourself up for the long haul. The house needs to be repaired. There are numerous crafting stations, such as a food prep area, a recycle bench, and a workbench to get fixed if you want to have a chance. Every action, no matter how small, is a teachable moment for Cody. As you sneak through the ruined neighborhood, you can dig through piles of junk to find crafting materials. With the push of a button, Cody can observe these actions, gaining experience in the process. Initially, all of Cody’s skill trees are locked. The three trees all have a three-step prerequisite to complete before they can be customized.

Undying Starting Out

For say, survival, Cody needs to watch Anling kill 15 zombies as one of the prerequisites. These prerequisites allow you to get a feel for how Cody learns, and what you’ll need to do to teach him before it dumps you into proper customization of his skills. He’s a pretty fast learner, though, and soon you’ll be doling out experience to build his skill trees. This serves an important purpose. As Cody learns, he’ll be able to help with tasks. Initially, he’ll learn to root through junk piles, and eventually, he can be taught to help fight zombies, or prepare food, or generally anything Anling can do. All you have to do is let him learn. Undying makes this process very simple, but deep.

Cody can’t learn anything if he’s not healthy. You’ll be watching over his health, as well as Anling’s own. Anling is dying, no doubt about it. Every day she inches closer and closer to becoming one of the mindless horde. Each morning, you’ll have to choose an illness that will affect her for a set amount of time. These run the gamut from simple; like the inability to read, to more complex; like the inability to force doors and containers open. Anling’s deteriorating health adds a new level of challenge to simple things like collecting food.

Undying the cul-de-sac

The things you teach Cody should balance out these illnesses. You need to consider what he can do before you pick an illness. If you decide to take an illness that makes Anling unable to open containers with a crowbar, then Cody had best know how to do it, lest you waste a day. Undying quickly becomes a game about managing expectations from day to day. A frantic television broadcast will give you a set number of days until rescue comes to a nearby area. The problem is, you don’t know where the area is.

You’ll have to get information, and outside of the cul-de-sac where you start, there are a surprising amount of areas to explore in Undying. Some of these areas are zombie-ridden hellholes, existing only as a place to scavenge for supplies and get out. Other areas have their own NPCs and stories to tell. In these small settlements, you can pick up missions, and find amenities that you might not have at your home base. For example, the national park area has an outdoorsman who will trade you fresh meat for…whatever you want to trade him of value, really. This meat can be cooked on a nearby open fire, which you don’t have at your home.

Undying symptoms

The sheer scope of things you can do in Undying is insane. Cody mentions that he learned to fish from his dad. This throwaway line is actually meaningful. If you craft a fishing pole, he can fish at fishing spots throughout the game, providing a new source of food. He is just a child, though. Zombies will initially freak him out into being frozen. He’ll get stressed, and need reassurance. Thankfully, there’s a button to grab his hand and drag him out of dangerous situations. As he learns and experiences more, he’ll get to the point where he no longer sees zombies as something to be afraid of; but something to destroy.

It’s a bit sad watching a hopeful young child turn into a hardened killing machine, but that’s kind of how the zombie apocalypse work. Anling will do her best to keep him centered, but as the days wear on, and she gets worse, it will get harder and harder to put on a brave face and keep Cody’s spirits up. It’s heartbreaking. Currently, the Early Access build has a lot to offer. I noticed that some skills in Cody’s skill tree aren’t implemented yet, but what’s there is more than enough for now. The only real issue that I’ve had with Undying is that occasionally you can get into a “no-win” situation. The game automatically saves when you enter a new area, and if you aren’t paying attention and enter the area while at low health, low food, and low water, you can die as you enter the area. The game will reload, and you will die. This causes an infinite loop that is only solved by loading your manual save (if you made one) or restarting the game.

 playing music

On day 25 I ran into this issue and now I’m staring down the barrel of a restart. Undying is a difficult game at times, and if that doesn’t appeal to you I have good news. When you start a new game you can select a difficulty that just lets you experience the story, without all of the crazy survival elements. It wants you to experience the story first and foremost. Anything else is just added challenge for the survival game lovers. All in all, Undying tells a grueling story, sprinkled with a huge dash of hope.