By: L. Sahara McGirt (DarthSagaSwag)
Publisher: Skystone Games
Developer: Vanimals Games
Available on: PC - Steam, Epic Games Store
Before we go into the rest of my review, I want to get my one complaint about the game out of the way. I am not a regular PC gamer, but I do play enough that I usually adjust to controls for new games fairly quickly. Unfortunately, with UNDYING, I had a little trouble adjusting to the controls for most of the time I played. There's also the fact that I couldn't get used to the attack controls on the mouse, and the game's response times to my click-and-release were a little slow, making combat a difficult task in the game, which added another level of difficulty to the survival goals of UNDYING. If you are not a regular PC gamer or find the controls to be a bit counterintuitive to what you are accustomed to, I advise opening the settings and changing the controls around before you start the game.
UNDYING opens up with a voiced cinematic narrative in which we get the lowdown on the backstory of the game's protagonists. A line above the cinematic tells us that the cinematics are still in progress, which feels a little unnecessary as UNDYING is in Early Access, so I'm not expecting everything to be perfectly polished. The game starts off already pretty bleak: Anling and her son Cody rush to be extracted, only for the extraction to fail and Anling to get bitten by one of the undead. This sets the premise up for the rest of the game: Protecting and teaching Cody how to survive within the zombie apocalypse.
What makes UNDYING engaging is the tone. The artful faceless aesthetic and light but sad soundtrack add to the bleak feeling of the game as we play. The colors are muted as you guide Anling and Cody through a dying world. I might describe the overall feeling of UNDYING as an "emo zombie survival game" in which the goal is to help Cody grow to be more useful rather than remaining a potential hindrance to both characters' survival. The relationship between the mother and son is the focus of the narrative, and UNDYING plays on the theme of parents teaching their children what they know to survive in a very stressful environment.
Cody, at the beginning of the game, can only rummage through stuff at Anling's direction. To teach him, the player must actively engage him in learning a task with the space bar. If you want Cody to grow more useful over time, you have to remember to teach him as you craft the items you'll both need to live.
If you're a fan of resource gathering and management in games and looking for a little more challenge than usual, then UNDYING may be perfect for you. Water, food, scraps, gasoline are not scattered aplenty. Resources are midway between scarce and enough in a way that pushes you to think about how often to use what you gather. With Anling on the verge of becoming one of the undead should she become much too fatigued or injured, there will be moments when you realize you may have to prioritize her needs over Cody's, at least until he starts doing more useful activities.
Managing Cody in and of himself is a form of resource management. Teaching Cody isn't only crafting and making sure he watches. There are moments in the game in which Anling must speak with Cody and give him one of a choice of answers. These answers shape Cody and how he reacts to the dreadful world he is growing up in. Cody cowers in fear of the undead in the first few days, especially when Anling "zombies out" when too fatigued. It is up to you to comfort him and build up his courage against the dangers he will face while also teaching him how to fight and prepare for your inevitable end.
While UNDYING is in Early Access, it shows a lot of potential. An update addressing a few bugs has already been released. The Halloween update added some Halloween-themed zombies for that touch of Halloween spirit for players to enjoy over the weekend. It was quite fun to engage with, and I'm curious as to whether they'll be doing more updates like it for other holidays. Updates like the Halloween update sometimes take me out of games like UNDYING by altering the tone, but if anything, this one added to the bleak element underlying Anling and Cody's journey.
UNDYING receives a solid 8/10 from me, the combat is a little clunky at points, but the game's tone overall, while stressful, held up solidly the whole time I played. It's definitely a game for fans of Zombie survival and resource management genres to check out whenever they get the chance. It's also looking to be worth a few replays as players understand and get better at managing their resources and Cody.