If you take a look at Steam's most-popular games right now, you'll see some familiar faces: Dota 2, Counter-Strike, Team Fortress. You might also notice an anomaly amid those giants: a game called Unturned. What's the deal?
Well, Unturned is a free-to-play zombie survival game made by a 16-year-old Canadian, Nelson Sexton. The game has the sort of qualities that made games like DayZ and Minecraft popular -- from the game's description on Steam:
Unturned is a sandbox game in the emerging multiplayer apocalypse survival genre. Rather than focusing on being an MMO it provides players with easy systems to sit down and survive the zombie infestation with their friends. Over the course of a typical adventure, groups will have a blast fortifying locations, scavenging for supplies, trying to live off the land and negotiating with other people. The game is being developed entirely with the community in focus, and tons of features are based entirely on feedback.
I've played it a few times -- and I'll be frank, the game seems rough. Here's a screenshot from the game's tutorial:
Then again, this isn't surprising: Unturned is in early access, and games on Steam repeatedly show us that polish means diddly-squat. That's not a bad thing, mind. Still, based on the highly-detailed development logs, it seems clear that Sexton is dedicated to improving the game. Plus, the game is compelling despite the rough edges -- you're tossed on an infested island with nothing to defend yourself, and you have to figure out how to survive. This means scavenging, building forts, exploring, harvesting the environment, and fending off other players who might see you as a threat.
The first few times I played, zombies destroyed me within minutes. I couldn't find anything to use to defend myself, and while I would often find a car -- which is useful for getting around the island -- the vehicles never seemed to have much fuel. I kept running out of gas and would then have zombies rip me out of the car. The last time I played, I managed to stay alive for a long while, only to eat a weird berry that made my character hallucinate...and then I was killed by an errant crawling zombie. Yuuuup. I haven't even gotten a chance to explore residential areas, or use the crafting system. I'm also really curious about what the game is like in multiplayer, too.
All of these elements are part of the reason why a 16 year-old seems to have stumbled on a winning formula: the premise is similar to that of many other huge games right now. I can't count the number of games that could be described with the phrase "Like Minecraft and DayZ, but..." Plus, unlike both of these games, Unturned is free. It's hard to beat free!
Another part of why Unturned has exploded like it has is because YouTubers have taken a liking to it -- the game has plenty of videos online with thousands views each.
The last piece of the puzzle here is that the game is inspired by a Roblox game called Deadzone...
...and Deadzone is a highly-popular game that has been visited a staggering 5,296,352 times on Roblox, a kid's MMO that lets users create their own games. The situation seems tricky. Deadzone's Wiki says that Unturned is made by the same developer as Deadzone, and that Unturned was even originally called Deadzone II. We can't confirm this right now, but we've contacted both Roblox and Sexton to inquire about it. We'll update this story if we hear back.
It's worth noting that according to its Wiki, Deadzone is based on The Infestation: Survivor Stories (which is the renamed version of WarZ), a game that is infamous for sharing lots of elements with DayZ. Not only that, but Deadzone also caught flack for being similar to another Roblox game, Apocalypse Rising.
Regardless, while Unturned might be similar to Deadzone, its continued development means it diverges from Deadzone in key ways. Namely, Deadzone seems to focus on combat against other players, whereas Unturned seems to go for the more atmospheric survive-against-the-zombies thing.
If you're interested in trying Unturned out, you can check it out on Steam. Be warned: there are microtransactions:
And the perks aren't all cosmetic, as you can see -- and this will have an effect on your game, should you choose to play against other people. Still, when the experience is free, who can complain?