So, after dissing the DayZ standalone based solely on the reviews of others, I decided to take the plunge and try it out for myself.
My review is: this is a game worth keeping an eye on.
To be fair, the overall experience was a little glitchy, prone to control issues, and generally substandard when compared to the performance of major projects released by large, AAA studios. On the other hand, most of this is easily excused by the huge “Early Access Alpha” warning labels plastered all over the materials for the game.
Quick exposition: as I mentioned in my post about the problem with “Early Access”, DayZ began as a mod based on the successful ARMA 2 game released in 2009. A standalone version (not dependent on the ARMA franchise) was released as a pre-alpha (good god, they’re coming up with terms to forgive even earlier releases…) on December 16, 2013.
I loaded the game, and spent a few minutes playing with the video and rendering settings – i.e. lowering them all – to (hopefully) ensure as few problems as possible. I’d like to see a few more settings available to players when determining the appearance of their “survivor” beyond gender and skin tone. I feel like one of the major conversations in gaming right now is an attempt to get developers past thinking of characters in these precise categories. Granted, if you’re close enough to another DayZ player to be able to see their facial features, they’re either a friend of yours, and so you don’t care, or else one of you is about to be killed by the other, so… ditto.
Joining a server (all servers use the same map of Chernarus – a fictional Soviet region based heavily on the geography and towns of the Czech Republic), the player spawns in with an inventory empty but for a flashlight (and the battery to power it), and wearing nothing but a t-shirt, some pants, and simple shoes. You have no weapons, no food, no medical supplies, and the knowledge that (almost) every other ambulatory entity in the gameworld is going to try to kill you. Have fun.
In my first hour or so of gameplay – all I could manage the first night – I got hit by two massive glitches that dramatically effected my ability to properly play the game. The second issue didn’t kick in at first, so we’ll leave that for a moment. The first problem actually worked to my advantage. For some reason, new players were only spawning in to one of two initial locations. While that could have been infuriating for an experienced player, it allowed me to become familiar with these areas at exactly the time when I needed something familiar to hang on to.
I learned which houses to enter in search of loot – that one has a can of soda, that one has a motorcycle helmet – and which ones to avoid. I learned where there was a water pump, to satisfy my need to drink (Yes, I know… you’re thirsty. Now shut up about it for five seconds, ok!?), and where I was likely to find a zombie looking for a victim.
The second major problem was less forgivable. About an hour into playing the game, I started dying without knowing why – my character grunted in pain, and a pop-up message informed me that I was bleeding all over my clothes. A short time later (despite running off and bandaging my wounds), I died. Repeatedly. It turned out, according to an internet search, and reading through the game’s forums, that a glitch was causing the game’s zombies to spawn invisible. Wait, what? Fantastic. Invisible zombies. Awesome.
Needless to say, that was the end of my attempt to play DayZ that night.
And yet, I’m optimistic. I enjoyed myself well enough that DayZ will be one of the first two “Let’s Play” series I’ll attempt once my nascent YouTube channel becomes a reality. (My hardware has been picked out, and once Amazon comes through with the delivery, we’re good to go – and yes, Kerbal Space Program is the other LP I plan to lovingly devote time to.) The game is compelling. The attempt to survive against not only a world-ending zombie plague, but also against the other human survivors, is a riveting experience. Knowing that both you and another player are both heading towards a gutted house at the edge of a ruined street, zombies on your heels, and that the prize awaiting you is a single can of beans, and maybe a filthy shirt you can tear into improvised bandages… it makes the risk/reward questions gamers put to themselves take on new urgency.
The developers of the ARMA franchise built a wonderful platform. The DayZ team has built a game that surpasses expectations, and looks to be one of the greats in this generation of hardware.
Assuming, of course, that I don’t keep getting killed by invisible zombies.