Don’t stand so close to me
This is a review of a game that is currently in Alpha. Therefore many of our comments won’t be relevant in the coming months – but you can purchase the alpha right now for £19.99 so this is just a comment on whether or not that purchase is worthwhile.
If you haven’t played DayZ before – check out our look at the mod here. It was one of our favourite games when it was just a mod, but as the servers got overrun by hackers and support for the mod died down slowly we were all waiting for the next thing- the standalone. Finally it’s here, released quietly on Steam but immediately shooting up to the top of the Steam charts where it’s remained all the way through the sale – an impressive feat considering it was never on sale itself.
DayZ is a survival simulator, it arguably invented the genre. There have been attempts at similar games in the past from different perspectives but play any of the recent rush of survival sims like Rust, Nether or whatever they want to call WarZ now and you’ll see they have a lot to owe to Dean Hall for his work with DayZ. You start off on a beach of Chernarus – a fictional Eastern European country covered in forest and farmland with a few cities and mountains, numerous villages and towns and a few military bases. All of those seem impossibly distant when you begin, armed only with a torch and a battery, but they all become very important to you as time goes on.
Whereas the mod originally gave you a pistol and you desperately needed it while you fought off zombies and the horrible inventory system, much has changed for the standalone release. Looks can be deceiving, it appears to be essentially the same game but in reality everything has been overhauled and the game is much better for it.
The first new thing you’ll work out is that the menus are much simpler. You install the game like you would any other, no base game required to play. You create a character in a menu that makes sense and you join whichever server you want. From quiet little backwaters with a handful of other survivors to bustling warzones with tens of murderous villains out for blood. Once you spawn you can tap ‘Tab’ to bring up your inventory and see that each item of your clothing can hold different things. A hoodie can hold things where a t-shirt can’t, cargo trousers hold more than jeans (more pockets see). You can put the battery in your torch to use it (although this is a very bad idea because people will see you and then kill you), a much better idea is to immediately take off your t-shirt and rip it into rags to use as makeshift bandages. That feels different, I can’t think of any other game where I’ve been able to do something so basic but effective, forgoing comfort and appearance for a practical need.
Wandering into villages, veterans will be wary but in reality there’s little need, there’s hardly any zombies and now you can punch so a single zed is unlikely to bring you down. You can search through buildings at will, although due to the new loot system everything will be picked clean near the cost – even though you can now enter nearly every building you see. It changes the game dramatically when clearing a town takes hours because there’s so many places to get potential loot, but it feels much more natural as you progress. Things aren’t just hidden on the floor either, they’re under tables and beds or in the boots of cars. There’s nothing better than finding a rifle that someone else has missed because they didn’t look carefully enough.
At the moment the loot table is fairly limited, there’s a few weapons, a bunch of different clothes and hats, different types of food, loads of medical equipment and a plethora of tools. Much of it isn’t that useful at the moment, like the tools which will of course be for fixing vehicles, but vehicles aren’t in the game. At the moment your quest is really to find enough food and drink to tide you over and then to find a weapon to protect yourself with. Once you’ve got that much you’re pretty much set.
The food and drink meters are gone, replaced instead with a text prompt letting you know how you feel. At the moment it irritatingly reminds you how hungry you are every two minutes or so, but we’re sure that’ll be patched in the future. It’s much more effective than green bars or numbers, it feels more immersive and even panic inducing as your character tells you that you’re going to starve to death.
So, is the game worth the money? I’d say yes. If you liked DayZ at all, this is a vastly superior version. There’s still a lot of basic problems like poor zombie physics and pathfinding, no way to spawn near a friend, dangerous ladders and loot that’s far too scarce, but despite all these flaws it’s easy to have a huge amount of fun. Of course you do need to go into the game with full knowledge that it is an alpha, and loads of features are still missing. For some of us though, that’s part of the joy. My character is currently logged out on Green Mountain (Shudder) near Le Petit DoDo. We both have rifles (although I’m the only one with ammo and he doesn’t know you can split magazines yet), we both have decent gear and we both have a bunch of food and water. The world is our oyster, and yet there’s very little to do now, we’ve basically won. We could go down to the cities and help or antagonise newbies (two armed men met us when we had recently spawned in the city, they offered us medical supplies and went on their way so not everyone will kill you on sight), we could make a journey up to the Northwest Airfield in pursuit of more weapons and ammo, or we could just wait for the next content patch to see what happens. I can’t wait for vehicles, I can’t wait for the infection patch (if you use rags or syringes without disinfecting them you will get an infection that will require antibiotics. There is a lot of detail going into this game), I can’t wait for craftable buildings. For £20 it’s a steal, even if it was a free mod before, this version’s much better.