It’s worth wondering how George Romero would feel about all the undead content that has swept the media if he were alive today. Since Day Of The Dead, zombie outbreaks have become as common in gaming as romance subplots. Undead titles range from extremely serious to completely goofy in attempts to capture player attention. The developers at Vanimals are going for a sincere route with their game-in-progress Undying, following the mission of a mother trying to keep hope and her child alive in the midst of a global zombie outbreak. A dramatic narrative with survival elements makes for an experience not to take lightly.
Whenever a story revolves around zombies, it’s common to focus more on the people caught up in it rather than on the origins of the outbreak. Undying focuses on the story of Anling Moore, a debatably lucky survivor in a city besieged by zombies. Along with her son Cody, the two are separated from their survivor group during an attempted extraction. Wounded and isolated, the pair have no choice but to find another way to safety. Anling will need to use every skill she has to keep Cody alive as well as stave off her own growing infection. It’s a setup that heaps a lot of responsibility on you right from the start.
Though there are many books about how to survive in extreme circumstances, you’ll need to trust your instincts when faced with the real thing. Undying definitely makes use of these instincts in the gameplay and presentation. One of them includes the mother child relationship. It’s established very early on that Cody is not only Anling’s driving motivation, but necessary to survival. He stays close to Anling and is always eager to learn whenever you do anything, which allows him to earn experience points quickly. When out and about, you can lead him directly around, instruct him to help with various tasks, and help you out in combat. Despite being a child, he isn’t helpless and will avoid danger if he can, which prevents frustrating escort mechanics.
Then there’s the real threat of the zombies. They wander about aimlessly but will attack on sight and react to sound as is tradition. Though you won’t be dealing with huge hordes, even a few zombies present a very real threat. Anling is by no means defenseless, but suffering from infection and performing various tasks quickly drains her energy. She’s also not a trained fighter, which means her fighting style is sluggish and awkward. This adds to the overall threat and really makes even the weakest zombies feel dangerous.
Finally, there’s the sheer amount of detail to survival. You start off with practically nothing surrounded by various broken facilities. As you do what you can, your food and water will start ticking away as day fades into night. You’ll need different materials just so you can access the basics that will allow you to build yourself up. On top of that, some materials are more scarce than others which leads to important decisions over what you spend them on. Scrap metal and wood serve as base for most things, but they're used up quickly to both upgrade facilities and make tools, so it's up to you which is more important at the time.
Though it’s common for ordinary folks to make it quite far in zombie scenarios, it’s also quite common for them to make fatal mistakes. Undying makes a few of these mistakes, such as its clipping issues. The simplistic artistic design works with the somber tone, but it doesn’t always run smoothly. Anling and Cody will clip into things and the latter has a tendency to run wild in confined spaces. Zombies will sometimes behave erratically, grouping up in perfect sync one moment and getting stuck in corners the next.
Then there’s the issue with fighting zombies. Though the experience is realistically dangerous and hectic, it’s also imbalanced. There will definitely be moments when you’ll need to fight the undead, and if two of them catch you off guard, you may as well reload the last save. You have the option to sneak around, but most actions can’t be performed while sneaking, including attacking. Whenever you do fight, zombies can swing through your attacks easily as staggering them is slow and doesn’t always work. Anling takes huge wide swings that don't carry as much impact as they feel and leave her open to a quick mauling if she misses or is dealing with a sturdier undead.
Lastly, the crafting is pretty demanding. It provides a lot to do and goals to work towards, but it’s almost too much. It’s not like you can grind one area for the same materials, and some are far more valuable than others with no guarantees that you’ll find what you need. Everything starts out broken, needs to be upgraded so that it can actually be useful, and all items require a fair amount of materials too. Considering the limited inventory space, how quickly items wear out, and how fast the day progresses, it feels like you never really have a moment to rest.
Undying is a third-person survival game set in a zombie apocalypse with RPG and resource management elements. It captures mother-child relationships well along with the intensity of trying to survive alongside dangerous predators. Although it has some clipping issues and needs to work out the kinks with combat and resource requirements, the game is still being worked on and interest in it is undying.
TechRaptor previewed Undying on Steam with a copy provided by those behind the game's release. It will be launching for PC, PlayStation, Switch and Xbox.