Fighting monsters isn’t quite as scary when you know that you’re supposed to win. This is the case with the zombies in many video games; no matter how great the odds were against Chris, Jill and the rest of the gang in Resident Evil, the Player knew that the humans would eventually escape the tide of undead. By the time games like Left 4 Dead and Dead Rising showed up, zombies were no more of a threat than the tin ducks at a shooting gallery. The new mod Day Z has a different take on survival horror. The undead foes in Day Z are to be feared. Mowing them down with an arsenal of assault weapons and unlimited ammo isn’t an option. Running with blind panic is usually the best course of action. Sneaking and hiding do well too. Crawling inside a dog house and whimpering softly works sometimes too. But the last thing you want to do in Day Z is think that you can actually win.
Oh no, in Day Z, your death – your horrible, brutal, pointless death is a given, and anything you do is just delaying the inevitable. As of the time of this writing, the average lifespan of a character in Day Z is a little over an hour.
Day Z is a player-made mod for the game Arma II. With over a million players, it has been successful enough that the developers of Arma II, Bohemia Interactive, took note and have announced that it is coming as a stand-alone game. But for now it’s just a fledgling Alpha build. While waiting for the final version of the stand-alone game to arrive, players can get a taste of what’s to come by trying out this early build of the product, bugs, hackers and all.
It’s a multi-player-only experience, set in a persistent world like a MMO. Players start off unarmed with just the barest minimum of equipment. No guns, or food, just basic first aid supplies.
Day Z is a cruel and realistic world. It has a free roaming structure that lets players explore 225 square kilometers of Russia, and the players on a particular server are left to fend for themselves and make their own rules. Join forces with other players, sneak around on your own, try to clear out a town, or repair a vehicle. This is up to each player or group.
When civilization falls, the few survivors will have a tough time equipping themselves to subsist in the aftermath. Guns are rare and have to scrounged from abandoned buildings, or the bodies of less fortunate individuals. Even once a gun is found, ammo can be scarce, and actually shooting at a zombie is like ringing the dinner bell for any others nearby.
Until armed, players only have two choices, Run, and Hide. Even then, there is the constant need for food and water. Players have meters for both of these, and running low drastically weakens the character. When injured, there is blood lost, and the bandages do no more than halt the bleeding – in order to recover, players must rest, and finding a safe shelter in this game is difficult indeed.
All of these elements result in terrific emergent gameplay as players decide what to do for themselves, however Day Z‘s lawless wasteland can often result in frustrations. Players can log on to a heavily-populated server and get gunned down by a well-armed griefer in minutes. Other players might run through deserted wilderness for hours before finding useful items or having interesting encounters. Some unfortunates might have the bad luck to find plenty of loot, but not the one food/water/medical item they need to survive and thus die a slow death of bad luck.
When Day Z launches as a full self-contained game it will most likely have a tutorial or single-player campaign to get players familiar with it mechanics and controls, however the current build has no tutorial or helpful NPC’s to explain the mod, it just dumps players into a random spot of Russia and leaves them to fend for themselves. Given that Arma II has an unusual control scheme, it’s highly recommended that players familiarize themselves with Arma II’s regular campaign before jumping into Day Z.
The stand-alone version of Day Z is still in the indeterminate future. Pricing and release date aren’t available. Gamers who want to step into this gruesome, fatalistic experience can try it now as a free mod that requires the retail version of Arma II and its expansion Operation Arrowhead.