Undying (not to be confused with Clive Barker's Undying) is a zombie survival sim with a twist: There's no hope of survival. As the game begins, a young woman named Anling has already been bitten, and the undead infection is slowly overtaking her. Her task is not to survive—she's not going to, that's a foregone conclusion—but to spend the remaining few days she has left preparing her young son for her passing.
Many of the gameplay elements in Undying are familiar: Scavenging supplies, crafting tools, killing zombies, and trying to find someplace safe to start over. But the underlying narrative aims to make it a more meaningful experience. Anling's actions in the game have a direct impact on the ability of her son, Cody, to survive, in combat and through more mundane tasks like cooking and crafting. But the drive to ensure Cody's survival has to be balanced with the more immediate need to keep Anling alive in the short term: The longer she can stay alive, the more knowledge and love she can impart upon him.
As her infection progresses, Anglin will develop increasingly worse symptoms, which in some cases will actually grant her new "zombie skills" that she can take advantage of for as long as she can hold on to her humanity. She may lose physical strength, for instance, but gain automatic health regeneration, or the ability to restore hit points by eating raw meat.
But she'll also suffer from "episodes" that grow more frequent and intense the longer she survives. How long she's able to hold on to her humanity will depend on factors including fatigue, hunger, injuries, and plain luck.
Building games around supporting-character AIs is tough. The third-person stealth game Shadwen employs a similar mechanic, and it never really resonates emotionally because managing the sometimes-unreliable AI is just too distracting—it's too mechanical to be meaningful. Undying is clearly aiming for a deeper emotional impact, and it will be very interesting to see if developer Vanimals can make that AI-driven mother-son relationship work.
Undying is set to go live on Steam Early Access on October 19, but you can get a taste of what it's all about courtesy of a demo that's available right now. There's also a Discord server to jump into, and you can find out more at vanimals.net.
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Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.