Undying (Early Access) Review
Undying begins in a post-apocalyptic world ridden with zombies. On one particular day, government soldiers attempt to escort mother Anling and her son Cody to a safe encampment. However, they are attacked by zombies, and Anling is bitten and infected when she shields Cody. Although a soldier is able to provide cover fire for Anling and Cody to escape in an abandoned car, the two are now on their own.
Not only must the player control Anling and ensure she survives, but they also must teach Cody skills that will help him and his mother live another day.
Playing as Anling provides a unique perspective that is rarely seen in survival horror games. In fact, the closest comparison to Undying’s Anling and Cody is The Last of Us’s Joel and Elle. What’s more is that there aren’t many horror survival games where you play as a mother and child, and only a small handful where you play as a woman of color. And as you scavenge for supplies, you’ll also need to fight off zombies as the duo, while searching for the whereabouts of a safe encampment.
Given Anling’s condition, there is a delicate balancing act when it comes to controlling both her and Cody. You can’t go too far from Cody in case a zombie is nearby and you also won’t be able to travel to another area on the world map unless Cody is behind you. Sometimes, Cody will be able to hide from zombies in a trash can so you can kill the zombies before moving on. At the same time, Anling can’t take too much damage from zombies because there are little supplies to replenish health.
Survival is tough
The point is to guide Anling and Cody through different locations, as you search for supplies and clues to where the safe encampment is. Although their house serves as a base, it is riddled with fixable broken equipment and lack of basic necessities such as food, clean water, and medical items, which you’ll need to get by.
That said, you have a bag for carrying raw materials and rations, and a menu to monitor Anling’s and Cody’s status, even if these features are somewhat limited. If you want to fix broken equipment, you can track the amount of wood or scrap metal you need. You can also track Cody’s skills to see what he needs to do in order to level up abilities such as carpentry or patience. For instance, Cody may need to learn to make food, recycle, or scavenge a certain number of items to grow his stats.
However, you have to choose between either nurturing Cody’s stats or overseeing tracking equipment, because the game doesn’t allow you to keep tabs on both at once. Not only does this make fixing multiple equipment inefficient, but this also makes staying ahead of your circumstances particularly challenging.
While gathering items and clues to the encampment’s whereabouts, you have to use your in-game time carefully. Time is measured in days and as it passes, Anling and Cody will suffer from hunger and thirst that affect their movement speed. Since Anling is infected, she will also suffer fatigue in the evening, which can only be cured by having ample rest, as well as status effects that appear after two days, such as gout, which limits travel and causes Anling’s health to drop every time she rushes in to save Cody from a zombie.
However, these statuses are not random; they can be chosen by the player. The status effects were a nice touch that showed how Anling’s initial zombie bite is affecting her. At the same time, Cody’s mood is also affected by dialogue choices when he converses with Anling. Picking a calm response will keep Cody composed, but a panicked reply will make Cody feel doubtful or collapse from fear entirely.
As I started teaching Cody vital skills, such as making clean water and collecting scrap metal to build useful objects, I noticed how desolate the world was: the abandoned cars a reminder of a pre-apocalypse world, and the streets littered with blood and defeated zombies. Enhancing this atmosphere was a bleak piano score, memos that served as tiny clues about the encampment, and short cutscenes with Anling and Cody.
One particular cutscene added a touch of humanity to Anling and Cody as characters as well as the game’s story. When Cody picks up a slingshot in the backyard of their home, Anling decides to teach him how to use it, since Anling’s missing husband never got around to it. Cody happily responds, with the duo bonding for a brief moment, rather than just struggling to survive.
Undying is about characters who care deeply for each other while desperately clinging to survival. This mother and son’s survival journey is filled with challenges, but also a lot of heart. Despite some minor hiccups, Anling’s and Cody’s story is achingly compelling, as they find ways to help each other stay alive, as well as reasons to live in the moment.