I walk for a while through woods and across fields. Game time is matched to real time; in both worlds the sun is starting its slow descent. I spot some electricity pylons and change course to follow them, optimistic they’ll eventually lead to one of the larger towns. I check my inventory, contemplating my empty canteen. I’ve a nagging feeling that I should’ve spent some time in that village, that moving on so quickly could be a decision I’ll come to regret, especially once the nighttime comes.
I spot a building - a kind of large shed - and decide to check it out. My situation is far from desperate but I’m beginning to get anxious nonetheless. Inside I find a double-barrelled shotgun and some slugs. Useful, but I’d been hoping for something edible or drinkable.
I’ve barely got the gun loaded. I spin on my heels, wave it around like a drunk. “Friendly?” comes the text at the bottom of the screen. It’s another player. “Yes,” I reply, but I begin to back away slowly. He does the same. “Seeya,” he says, as he runs out the door.
But running in DayZ isn’t a good idea. It’s loud and it makes you visible over long distances. I move to follow him out, only to find that I’ve been spotted by a zombie, who lurches after me, slashing me across the back. Bleeding profusely, I panic and run, the zombie follows, screaming and growling. We sprint like this for a few minutes until we’re in the middle of nowhere. Finally, I feel confident a gunshot won’t attract anyone’s attention. I blow its brains out.
I bandage myself but I lost a lot of blood and I’m thirsty. I spot a barn in the distance. Now I have no choice, I need to risk it. Perhaps there’s a can of coke in there. Something, anything. I get inside with no incident; I’m pleased for this rare bit of luck. But I get complacent. I’m so obsessed with searching for supplies that I almost miss the guy lying prone in the corner. Is he dead or...? No, he’s standing up.
I’m flustered. “Frenly?” I mistype. I’m holding the shotgun, which apparently he sees either as a threat or a prize, I’ll never know. Regardless, he isn’t ‘frenly’.
Three shots rings out, I fall to the ground. I try to run but I can’t get up. I try to crawl but I pass out.
There’s a final gunshot. It's game over for me.
That was a fairly accurate portrayal of an early experience I had in Chernarus, the 225km2 map chosen by Dean ‘Rocket’ Hall to fall foul of a zombie outbreak in DayZ, an ARMA 2: Operation Arrowhead modification.
One of the first things a new player will notice is the seamless blend of elements from hugely diverse genres. It’s ostensibly a shooter, but it requires close attention to the environment, a dedication to stealthing around, and considerable patience. It is part sandbox, part roguelike, part ‘emergent narrative experience’ (Yes, I hate that phrase as much as you, but it’s accurate in this case).
The map is enormous. Most servers host around fifty human players and hundreds of computer controlled zombies. Join a game, and you’ll spawn somewhere along Chernarus’ coastline. A message will briefly inform you of the name of the nearest town to you, but after that you’re on your own. You’ll start with no navigational tools at all, so if you want to find your way around you’ll need to rely on a map from the internet, the sun and your wits.
DayZ is persistent, which means that you can take your character from server to server, so long as they are alive. When you die, you lose everything and will need to start from scratch. Like the Tamagotchis of the 90s, your character needs a good deal of care to survive, and the more effort you put in, the more attached you get. Losing the items you’ve struggled so hard for, losing the character you’ve struggled so hard for, can be crushing.
Accumulating stuff - looting - isn’t about gathering arbitrary collectibles, it’s about seeking out the items crucial to surviving in an unforgiving environment. You’ll need food, water and weaponry as a minimum, but there’s far more than that available. You can find vehicle parts that you can use to repair broken down cars, motorbikes and even helicopters. If you’re hurt, you’ll need painkillers, morphine shots or antibiotics; to navigate you’ll want a compass, map and perhaps a watch (the wiki had a guide on how to find north using just an hour hand and the sun!); and ideally you’ll get hold of the tools you’ll need for hunting, killing and eating wild animals.
The problem is that most of the best supplies are in the towns, which is also where the zombie population is largest. Caution is a must: Zombies can be extremely difficult to escape, especially if you get a number of them on your tail. The two largest urban areas, Cherno and Elektro, are both on the southern coast. They offer the greatest potential for loot but the risks are incredibly high - and not just from the undead.
A tendency over recent weeks has been for players to shoot each other on sight, something that I’ve fallen foul of a few times. Killing a couple of players earns you a ‘bandit’ avatar, so everyone knows what you’ve done, but that in itself has proved to be little deterrent and there are a growing number of people who play DayZ primarily to take out other players.
It’s still very early days in the mod’s development but as time goes by player interaction will need to be addressed. There’s currently no incentive to team up at all; killing someone and taking their stuff is always a better option. Debate has raged about whether or not this is reflective of how things would be in real life; I’d say that discussion is a red herring. The bottom line is that the shift towards player-vs-player has made the game less fun for many, and the dynamic should be rebalanced in favour of co-operation.
Death finds you in many ways: zombies, other players, thirst, hunger and even illness. To say DayZ is unforgiving doesn’t even come close to describing how steep the learning curve is, or how easily one poor decision can result in players getting killed. To play this game is something of a commitment. You’ll need to read the DayZwiki, browse forums, scan changelogs. But that’s okay because DayZ isn’t the kind of game you forget about when you stop playing; it’s the kind of game you strategise about while away from your PC.
None of this is to say its implementation is perfect; it certainly isn’t. Installation is easy for some, and a nightmare for others (I was fortunate, it was very straightforward for me). Finding a server can sometimes be a pain, and it can take a while to connect but this is steadily improving. The framerate can bomb at times no matter what your PC’s spec, with <10 FPS not uncommon. Problems inherent in ARMA 2 are evident in DayZ: there’s a fair bit of clipping, and occasionally zombies walk through walls altogether. The shooting mechanic is horrible, and from time to time the ‘death’ animation of an enemy won’t kick in until far too late.
But this is, after all, an alpha. You could argue that reviewing a game at this stage is unfair, but with more than 330,000 unique players it’s clearly far enough along to have caught people’s interest. If there’s something we learned from Minecraft, it’s that sometimes a review at full release is too late. The scores to the right should be taken in context, though - patching is frequent and changes are being made all the time.
There are plenty of other games along similar themes, some eerily so - Project Zomboid and Rogue Survivor, for example - but the Real Virtuality game engine, enormous map and multiplayer elements set DayZ apart. Dean Hall is onto something here, now is the time to get on board. Don’t let it pass you by.
This latest version of the DayZ mod at the time of review is v188.8.131.52/93965
- Radically original take on established ideas
- Steep but satisfying learning curve
- Great example of emergent narrative
- Regular development and updates
- Connection difficulties
- No incentive to team up
- Awful shooting mechanics
DayZ PC Review
DayZ is an ARMA 2: Operation Arrowhead modification that uses the huge Chernarus map as the setting of a zombie outbreak. With no endgame and no plot, the world is a sandbox for you and dozens of other players to live and die in. Server issues and awkward mechanics can frustrate, but they don’t detract from this fiercely original and engaging gaming experience. One of the year’s highlights so far.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.