Zombie games might be a dime a dozen at the moment, but there’s always room for something executed well with an interesting twist. Announced by developer Lightspeed Studios and publisher Level Infinite over two years ago, the zombie survival title Undawn is finally shambling toward a release date, and we’ve even played a couple of hours of the game.
Undawn is an open-world zombie survival title, coming to mobile devices with a PC companion app as well. Battle zombies, maintain a settlement, and even build your own home with the materials you find on missions. The title mainly has a mobile focus, however, and the PC app is more complimentary and designed to help you when building structures and gathering resources.
There’s a lot to do in Undawn, and the title already feels quite challenging, even in those opening moments. The game has a robust character creator with a lot of different options, and shortly after completing the game’s tutorials and opening cutscene, the game thrusts you into the zombie-infested world. These opening hours are still heavily filled with tutorials, with constant objective markers, but given how much you have to learn, this is a good thing.
Considering the size of Undawn, our time with the game is just a drop in the ocean, but we have a pretty good grasp of the loop, the action, and what this brutal world is ready to offer gamers very soon. The world is bleak and dark, but there is still room for humor with characters quipping snappy dialogue and the zombies themselves offering up some laughs when destroyed.
It feels like a mixture of Fallout 76 and Dead Island, and I mean that in a complimentary way. There are clearly a lot of different missions ready for players in Undawn, as well as the promise of raids to tackle larger zombies, hordes, and even some additional monsters. The pull here is definitely zombies, but there are much larger and more interesting enemies also waiting to tear you apart.
Our first missions involve integrating the custom-created character into a settlement of survivors, and earning their stripes by going out into the wild and taking out some of the undead. The developer Lightspeed Studios is based in China, and the characters are clearly a balance of Chinese and Western design. They do have some amazing regional American accents, though, that I hope are intended to be as funny as they are.
You quickly unlock your own home within the settlement, and this is what interests me the most. As you complete missions and explore you can find different materials, and use them in a very deep building system to make the post-apocalypse house of your dreams. I might not be able to afford a home now, so you’d better believe I’m going to build a snazzy one when the world ends.
It’s a bit early to see just how well the missions and the building elements feed into each other, as after two hours, I still feel like I’m only getting started, but I’m excited to see more. The amount of building materials ready is staggering, and anyone who is keen to go into great detail when putting their home together will be very happy.
This is also where the PC app is handy, as while building on mobile is serviceable, I imagine popping your save up on the computer and using a mouse and keyboard to build is going to be a godsend. The sheer amount of different craftable materials and possible pieces of furniture is staggering, and folks trying to unlock them all are set for a mighty challenge.
Now while I really enjoy building in Undawn, the combat is yet to wow me. It’s pretty simple 3rd person action, and the early weapons are fine. The variety of enemies, even in the early moments, is nice, and some gruesome abominations are waiting to make your life hell. One early mission also introduces grenades, and I quickly had fun dispatching zombies in bulk, so I’m sure the potential is there.
Traversal feels pretty good, however, as your character can bolt over objects and climb up surfaces, all in the hopes of evading enemies. There are also multiple vehicles to unlock, as our early impressions involved some time riding a motorcycle through the wood and avoiding the clutches of zombies. This is a big world with lots to explore, so vehicles are sure to be essential.
There are plenty of different weapons to unlock and ways to customize them, so I’m sure the potential is there. There is no motion aiming at launch either, and no guarantee of its implementation, but publisher Level Infinite confirms that controller support is in the works, which is sure to be a massive help. Between combat and traversal, the on-screen UI is a bit messy.
Undawn also really goes into the minutiae of survival, as your character has several different things to track. When home you have to check on your hygiene, your metabolism (if you need the toilet), as well as keeping an eye on your general health and status effects.
Some zombies secrete poison gas, and other enemies are sure to make your life difficult in multiple ways. It’s a lot of systems to, keep track of, but if you like your survival games with a bit of challenge, like the Metro series, you are sure to find it here. It’s hard to gauge just how tough it’s going to be, but we definitely died a few times in our preview, so we hope to see a hefty challenge.
One thing I want to stress is that performance feels good, and while I am slightly worried about a fiddly UI without controllers, the actual combat does feel satisfying, guns feel responsive, and while graphically it definitely looks like a mobile game, this is in the higher classes of graphical fidelity. There’s obviously a fine line to walk when wanting your mobile game to work on many devices, but Undawn certainly looks impressive so far.
There’s still a lot to learn about Undawn and it’s a little rough around the edges, but so far it is looking promising. The most impressive thing is the depth and the huge potential, as I can see myself getting helplessly addicted to bashing zombies out in the world and gathering wood all to build my perfect zombie-survival home. The game also has a lot of charm, with a bit of the Resident Evil-style cheese, and I think gamers will find a lot to love after just a short time in this world.
For more information on Undawn, you can check out our article covering the Undawn Will Smith collaboration, and if you need something to play while you wait for Undawn’s release you should check out our guide to the best zombie games on Switch and mobile.