DayZ: the Mod and the Emergent Stand-Alone

Zombies are everywhere these days – The Walking Dead, Resident Evil, World War Z — you name it. There is something titillating, unnerving, indefinably addictive about the thought of a zombie apocalypse. Consider the way one feels watching creatures who only know unquenchable hunger, whose only reason to exist is to devour and infect.. There has to be some powerful psychology at play.

DayZ will soon join Operation Arrowhead as a full-fledged expansion pack to Armed Assault II – one of the most intense military survival simulations ever made. I say “survival simulation,” as opposed to “multiplayer game” because this creation is not a game, and the people who play it do not treat it as such. This mod is about survival. Pure and simple. One must combat exposure, hunger, thirst, disease, zombies and the deadliest adversary of all; human beings.

One is thrust into the immersive sandbox known as Chernarus – a delightful little place in rural Russia. The zombie outbreak has killed most of the world’s population, and you are ( Random Military-Looking Survivor X ) standing in a random spot with nothing to your name except the clothes on your back, a bandage, a can of beans, and a flashlight. Now, start walking and don’t die. Seriously. That is it. You start with nothing and your goal is to survive as long as possible. There are little villages, hamlets, lighthouses, and a couple of large towns, where supplies should be plenty. One’s first priority in the game is usually finding a weapon, becaus,e unfortunately, you do not know how to fight with your hands. So, no QTEs or button-mashing will make your character crush a zombie’s skull in a fit of hyper-steroidal, testosterone-induced rage. Even a simple axe or crowbar is good enough to defend yourself, provided that you do not get swarmed by more than three Zed-Heads. Also, should one discharge a firearm, then – like in any good zombie movie – one will be beset upon by every zombie within the radius of sound, making silence and concealment one’s greatest weapons, as opposed to that fancy rifle with limited ammo.

It’s funny how the simplest and most straightforward things can turn out to be the most frustrating and difficult. To get food and water, one needs to scavenge. To scavenge, one must venture into places infested with zombies. To survive, one needs to be smart, quiet, and extremely patient. There will be times when you acquire all of your necessary supplies and skip town, feeling like you’ve just completed one of the most nerve-wracking ventures of your life — when a smarter, more-equipped player snipes the your character from a nearby hilltop. Now, he has all of the other player’s stuff, plus, whatever he had been lucky enough to find or steal. The playing character who has just been killed now respawns at another random location with only the basic gear that he started with. Yep, that’s right. Permadeath. This is the prime example of how DayZ works. One needs to survive not only zombies and nature, but other humans. Now, common sense would dictate that the best hope for survival would be to band together at a defensible, fortified building and send out teams to recover supplies, while making sure no-one in the party falls prey to the undead. Apparently, common sense goes out the window when it’s every man for himself. Never have I seen a more explicit example of this “survival of the fittest” mentality. It is frightening, repulsive, yet utterly addictive and fascinating. In this game, nine times out of ten, it is safer to run the other way when you sees another player, which adds an even more horrifying aspect to this post-apocalyptic world.

ArmA’s familiar third-person cover-shooter perspective is generally far superior to first-person for the situational awareness it provides. Also, the notoriously unpleasant, clunky feeling of ArmA’s engine adds new heights of intense immersion – with imprecise aiming, motion delays, and other sloppy defects that only seem to reinforce the survival-horror mood the game strives to give. There is very little sound in DayZ. Mostly ambient nature sounds, the sound of substrate underfoot, and the noise generated by zombies and players. There is also a very faint ambient soundtrack that does wonders to enhance the thrilling atmosphere. The HUD consists of a small number of icons that tell you some very basic information about your character. The eye and ear symbols that tell you how much noise you’re making and how visible you are. Then, your health, food and drink meters, as well as your body temperature. There is also the pistol icon that denotes your characters weapon and ammo state. The colour of these will gradually shift toward red as things get worse. And yes, things will always get worse.

That is what seems to draw me back and back again. To try to see how long I survive before it all goes belly-up. Things come out of nowhere, and no two sessions are the same. Complete randomness, unpredictability, and an overwhelming sense of danger brings out that survival nut inside of me. I am constantly at war with myself, making decisions that I believe are logical, only to be thwarted by an event or person that I had no way of calculating. It is maddening, glitchy, unforgiving and one of the best zombie survival simulations ever created. All you need is the original ArmA II and Operation Arrowhead, then go to the main website, and download the mod installer for free. To all you hardcore survival nuts, zombie hunters, and ruthless PVPers out there, I say, “come and test thyne mettle!”
For, if you have not survived in Chernarus for at least two hours, then you really aren’t the badarse that you think you are.

Entertainment: 10

Design: 8 for appeal and aesthetic, 4 for functionality

Replayability: 10

Cost: 10

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