Title: Unturned Released On: November 12, 2020 Genre: Survival Reviewed On: Xbox One X Also Available On: PlayStation 4, PC Developer: Smartly Dressed Games Publisher: 505 Games MSRP: $24.99 USD / $33.49 CAD
Six years after its initial release, blocky zombie survival game Unturned has shambled its way onto Xbox One and PlayStation 4. While the game doesn’t present any exceptionally unique takes on the open-world survival or base-building genres, there is a charm to the simple design that is immediately apparent, and a depth of gameplay that was wholly unexpected by this reviewer. While it may combine many elements that we’ve seen before, Unturned is sure to scratch that itch for a new survival experience on consoles.
Unturned is still a free-to-play game on Steam, but players will have to fork over $25 to play the console port of the game, which is arguably a fair price for the depth of the title. Unturned began its life as a Roblox game called Deadzone, which was essentially a Blox-version of DayZ, with some base-building elements, assuming that you can survive long enough to craft a base. It was released initially on Steam Greenlight in 2014 by one-man Canadian developer Nelson Sexton, who started his work on the title when he was only 16.
Unturned follows the general formula for the open-world zombie survival games we’ve seen in the past generation, with a blocky twist. You’re dropped into a location with only the clothing on your back, and you must scavenge for supplies in infested areas so that you can craft the necessary items, keep yourself alive, and eventually (hopefully) craft a base to keep you safe from the shambling hordes. You can venture into one of the eight maps solo, or join the online community for up to 24 player games if you’re feeling social.
One of my favorite aspects of Unturned are the eight decently sized maps that take you across the world, including to Prince Edward Island, a little province off the Eastern coast of Canada. The diversity of the different biomes is fun to play through, and work has been done to bring these regions to life with essential landmarks and topography. After spending some time in each map you will start to notice a handful of similarities between some of the structures and layouts, but each map has unique locations that are as fun to explore as they are useful. There is an exceptional amount of charm to each map, and I had a lot of fun exploring every area.
While I was admittedly skeptical of the Roblox-esque graphics and that perception that this was a “kid’s game”, those sentiments immediately faded away. Even though Unturned may have a more colourful, Minecraftian veneer to it, it’s easily as punishing as any other zombie survival game. I died the first half-dozen times because even armed with a solid melee weapon it can take a good few strikes to the head to take down the blocky-zombies, and they don’t stagger easily. If you’re playing solo and happen to get swarmed, it’s pretty much a death sentence without high-powered weaponry.
Apart from not being an easy game, the Unturned console port can be a little frustrating to control at points. The context sensitive actions, such as picking items up, can be off from where the item is, making grabbing weapons in a hurry an issue. Occasionally items will be stuck halfway through a surface and impossible to grab. There are a handful of small bugs like this that permeate through much of the game, and even though they’re slightly annoying nothing severely detracted from my experience, apart from having to constantly reset the tutorial early on because it kept freezing.
As well as scavenging for crafting supplies and weapons, you have to find food and water to keep your health up. When you take damage your health depletes substantially, and it will only automatically heal if your hunger and thirst levels are above 80%. If you’re having trouble finding food you can even find crop seeds in certain areas and plant them to grow your own, which was a pretty neat idea especially if you were planning to shelter in place. Items in Unturned spawn randomly but after often contextual to their location, so while you’ll have to spend a bit of time looking around you can usually expect food in restaurants, or guns at the police station for example.
Shelters are relatively easy to craft in Unturned, that is if you can find yourself a bladed weapon or saw to chop trees down with. Personally I was only ever able to make rudimentary shelters before I opted to explore the rest of the map, since sheltering in place as a solo player did not provide as many advantages as it does when playing online. Once I ventured into the online, I never ended up needing a shelter to defend against players, because all of the players I ran into were friendly and just wanted to team up against the horde. Maybe that’s because we were on the Canada map.
There are some different features in Unturned that aren’t as characteristic of other open-world survival games, such as each character having a special Class that provides them will unique skills. When you are in-game, you’ll gain experience points for killing zombies — or other players — which can immediately be allotted into your skills, giving you additional damage or survivability. At the main menu, you can also outfit your characters — of which you have four — with your own unique style. Once the update has been added for consoles, players will be additionally be able to complete Daily Rewards to gain currency to purchase new weapon and body skins, but the feature has yet to be implemented.
If you’re playing a custom game, you can modify almost all of the base spawn rates, damages, and a plethora of other factors when you are setting up your world, allowing you to tweak various settings to create your preferred survival experience. While it’s not a feature that I played around with too much, just so that I could experience the proper resource allocation and difficulty as intended, it’s an extremely useful feature for setting up custom worlds.
Unturned is a neat take on the open-world zombie survival game, and with a dedicated group of friends I have no doubt the game would shine even brighter. Playing solo or with random players on the official servers was still a lot of fun, but just lacked that personal attachment that you would get through a sustained effort to build up on a single server, similar to a game like Rust or Ark. I found the online community to be a rather inviting one, as opposed to the aforementioned games where running into a random player often meant swift and immediate death.
While the game is definitely still a little rough around the edges on console, I had a colourful and immersive experience that completely upended my initial skepticism around the graphical style. I can comfortably recommend Unturned to anyone looking to scratch that open-world survival itch in 2020, especially if you can round up a few other survivors to join in the fun. With a wealth of weapons to experiment with and locations to explore and make your own, turning the world into a blocky zombie playground still feels good even after 6 years.
Final Score: 7/10
Unturned is a fun, blocky take on the open-world zombie survival genre, but doesn’t offer anything substantially new for its console port.
The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the publisher.