Unlike most Steam Early Access games, Unturned doesn’t have a lot of potential to be good, because after playing it this week, I know that it already is.
The trials we went through to get Unturned’s co-op mode to work were worth it. After a few minutes of exchanging IP addresses and port numbers we gave up and downloaded Hamachi, a service that makes all that stuff work almost instantly.
Success. We had made it into a game we knew nothing about…
“I’m 16 and I make computer games as a hobby,” reads Nelson Sexton’s Twitter profile. Sexton is making his first game, Unturned, on Steam Early Access. For a game that is what my friends and I have named the Steam All Game, which describes anything where your goal is to survive in an open world where maybe the other players are the real monsters, Unturned is humble. It’s a game with zombies and survival and it hopes you might give it a try.
It’s free, which considerably helps making that decision. Sexton is optionally charging $5 if you want a gold name in chat, some experience boosts and extra loot in “Golden servers”, a “sleek darker” user interface, and the ability to customize your Minecraftian block man better.
I now know that the bonus character customization options for your $5 is completely unnecessary. I know this from my own mistakes.
This is my character. I guess I gave him the name amorbis because that’s the only thing I typed into the game besides a “dk” to test the chat in a later moment of desperation. I will wink for you if you know where’ that name is from before you Google it. I was 14 making my first World of Warcraft character: a Tauren warrior. Forgive my adolescent creativity. To stop using it now would be to break tradition.
I chose the facial features that looked the dumbest. I was playing with a friend, so nothing about my avatar would be role-played. Finished, (I’m skipping the 20 minutes before Hamachi) I hosted a game and my friend, Scott, joined. He asked to be called “The Artist Formally Known As Skribzy” for this story, but if I can’t use my young World of Warcraft name, he doesn’t get to either.
We loaded into a bright, green-grass-and-trees Minecraft (you’re going to read this a lot) world, sans blocks. I circled around in search of Scott. Over voice chat we called out for each other.
We had our first goal: find each other.
Good world design, to me, is about letting the player find his or her own familiarity in a space. This is usually done through landmarks, like pillars or buildings or caves. Unturned doesn’t have a map, at least not that we could find, so landmarks are the only way you’ll get around efficiently.
“I see a bridge,” I informed Scott.
“I don’t,” he said.
Without any knowledge of how big Unturned was or if it even could be defined, like the near-endless Minecraft worlds, discontent took over. Maybe this is what breaks our experience with Unturned.
We went through the list of tests that video games have taught us. We pressed “M” for a map and got nothing. We climbed hills to try to see each other. We looked up and deemed the direction the clouds moved in as north. We followed the shorelines. I crossed the bridge and got an achievement, but no Scott. As a last resort, I typed “dk” in chat as if that would summon him to me.
Remember the zombies? They eventually killed me.
I woke up somewhere new, but still without Scott. I was on an island with a lighthouse.
“I see a lighthouse.” I told him, still trying to bring us together before we exited this game and left it in our Steam libraries to Rust.
“I just died,” he said, and I could sense he too was losing hope.
“Wait, I see a lighthouse!”
We bounded for that lighthouse like Booker Dewitt for his trashcans. There we no hotdogs but there was a ladder.
It was getting dark by the time I entered the rectanglular lighthouse, which didn’t seem to have an actual light now that I think about it. Early Access, I guess. He was already up top grabbing items when I arrived. We were two naked men on top of a lighthouse. I would read that romance novel. This is when I discovered I’d made the wrong decisions during character customization.
“It’s a mullet.” he said as he dropped and crawled in front of me.
The mullet became our third party member over the course of our Unturned journey. I was jealous of the mullet. At one point we were swimming and due to the weird intersection of his blocky body in the water, his mullet looked like it was impaling his stomach. I think I was laughing too hard to remember to take a screenshot. I’m sorry. In the heat of our many battles with the undead, I would look at him and quickly know he was not my enemy because of the mullet.
How To Golf
It was time to survive. The meters on the bottom of our screens suggested we had to eat, drink, stay away from radiation, and learn to conserve energy with careful use of jumping, attacking, and running. We learned later that when they fill to 100 percent, you lose your health and die. Since items are pretty scarce, this happens a lot.
We waited night out. It took what seemed like 15 minutes, but I didn’t time it. As soon as morning broke we set off to find supplies.
That’s when Scott screamed.
“I broke my legs.” he said, meekly.
I asked how, he explained his misuse of the ladder. If first-person games have taught us anything is that your initial experience with a ladder is always awkward. Do you press a button or do you just walk into it? I’m still not entirely sure which strategy to use in Unturned as I went on to break my legs too.
We were now two crippled naked men on a golf course, unable to run or jump. (I’d still read it.) This is what I found most fascinating about Unturned. It makes an effort to provide a tease of environmental storytelling. On the golf course for example were pink, neck-collared and slacks-wearing zombies. Later we would find a broken bridge with cars piled up facing a tank with military fortifications behind it, like some kind of disastrous quarantine. I found a ruined survivor camp on a docked boat too.
We found golf clubs and whacked the golf course zombies until they blinked to the floor in the only way a video game enemy could. The chunky arms and legs of everyone tampered what could be described as a pretty horrific event. Our next step, naturally, was to try to hit the rectangular object one of us deemed a golf ball with our bloody clubs.
I don’t think this is how you golf.
We discovered that in Unturned, items like golf clubs don’t deteriorate like in many survival games, but your health does if you spend five minutes hitting each other and the ground. We soon died and started another round of killing ourselves until we respawned somewhere near each other. This is Unturned’s commentary on life’s worthlessness without a buddy with a mullet.
I forgot to mention that the golf clubs made bullet-hole-like impressions on surfaces that we hit. So, maybe I should try to learn how to properly play golf now.
We never really touched Unturned’s crafting systems. It seemingly functions like Minecraft or Rust. You need an axe to break down trees and a pickaxe to break rock. You can take the raw materials and craft them into fortifications and other wild creations. Just look at the stuff people are building. There’s clearly a lot Scott and I missed.
Sexton is updating the game frequently. He, like Notch did in the early days of Minecraft, plans to tweak the game based on community feedback.
If you follow any game on Early Access, it should be Unturned.
Unturned is so content with itself that it’s hard to nitpick at its problems. You forget them because it’s so good at creating interesting stories in spite of how good or bad it is technically speaking. It’s not trying to be anything but what it is. Its modesty makes it magnetic.
Writing this, I’m eager to go back. This time with my own mullet.