Early Access reviews offer our preliminary verdicts on in-development games. We may follow up this unscored review with a final, scored review in the future.
Unturned is a DayZ-style survival sim with a Minecraft-inspired art style. I don't blame you if you've already tuned out. PC is awash with DayZ and Minecraft clones. But Unturned is notable in that it's currently the fourth most-played game on Steam, beating Football Manager, Skyrim, and Garry's Mod by many thousands of players— and it was developed by a sixteen year-old. It's an amazing story—the kind only possible on PC—but is the game itself actually any good?
You can play it for free, but with the option to pay $5 to access 'gold' servers, which grant you double XP, 'boosted loot drops', and other benefits. So it's possible to play the game without spending a penny, but the business model is clear—get players hooked on the F2P version and they'll eventually reach for their wallets. Free-to-play developers are starting so young these days.
The survival elements are what you might expect from a game with DayZ's blood running through its veins: hunger, stamina, and so on. But, unlike Bohemia's game, you don't spend half your time running through the wilderness, only to find a rotten banana. Loot in Unturned is much easier to find, and it was only minutes into my first life that I found a rifle. If you never had the patience for DayZ's drip-feed of rewards, this might appeal, but it does make stumbling across a firearm feel less special.
The Minecraftian landscape is chunky and colourful, scattered with towns, military bases, and even a golf course. Here you'll find loot and, naturally, zombies. Hey, this is an indie survival game after all. They're fast and vicious, and it's easy to get overwhelmed by them. But once you've found a weapon, and built yourself a base by harvesting raw materials in the world, you'll last longer and fight harder. It's a structure you'll have experienced in a dozen survival games before, but it works.
You can play solo, but the game feels tailor-made for multiplayer. A large number of servers already exist—you can find a list here —although there's no in-game browser yet. Teaming up with friends to battle the hordes and build bases undeniably enhances the experience, although hackers have, predictably, targeted many servers. Developer Nelson Sexton is combating these with frequent updates, as well as fleshing out the core survival and building mechanics.
There's no getting around the game's low production values. I mean, a teenager made it in his bedroom, so that's to be expected. You'll have to decide whether you can endure its lo-fi look and feel. If you can, you'll find a game with an impressive amount of features, including driveable vehicles and crafting, but also one that is completely derivative. Everything in Unturned has been done before, and better. But for the competitive price of nothing at all , it's worth a look. If it gets its claws in you might end up handing over that $5, but for now my wallet is remaining firmly in my back pocket.
Unturned has few real ideas of its own, but is a simple, accessible survival simulator. If you can stomach the low production values, you might find something to love around its rough edges.
The runaway success of the game means Sexton will no doubt be updating it frequently. If enough people pay for the gold upgrade, expect more elaborate new features to be added.
Version reviewed 2.1.3
Reviewed on i5-3570K 3.40GHz, 16GB RAM, HD 7890
Recommended 2GHz CPU, 2GB RAM, 1GB GPU
Publisher Nelson Sexton
Developer Nelson Sexton