DayZ is an open world survival horror game mod for the tactical military shooter ‘Arma II.’ It places the player in the fictional state of ‘Chernarus’ where a zombie virus has infected the general population. Players must search for supplies, weapons, medicine and food while avoiding or killing both zombies and other players in an effort to survive. DayZ was created as a concept by Dean “Rocket” Hall who suggested as a training tool for soldiers through exposing them to situations provoking emotion and relevant thought processes. A soldier himself, Hall used his experiences in the army in order to develop a game that forced the player to experience emotion and tension as a part of the gameplay. Indeed, the mod has drawn comparisons to The Walking Dead in that it similarly focuses on interactions between characters faced with such a desperate situation. Needless to say, gamers were keen to experience the mod and those who didn’t previously own Arma II flocked to buy the three year old game, propelling it into the top seller charts.
Like The Walking Dead, DayZ has not only proved popular with audiences but with critics as well. Kotaku described it as ‘possibly the greatest zombie game ever made and the most interesting PC game of 2012.’ Additionally, PC Gamer said it was the most important thing to happen to PC gaming in 2012. Amongst the abundance of zombie video games released in gaming history, then, what is it that makes DayZ so utterly compelling? First of all, you have to commend Dean Hall for choosing Arma II as the base for his mod. Arma II is a hyper realistic shooter where the player can do what they want. All the components of the game handle and react as they would in real life. Falling from a height can break your legs, you will lose blood if shot and you can obtain nasty concussions. All these variables make DayZ the most ‘real’ zombie apocalypse simulation you’re ever likely to experience.
It is a bleak and brutal game where salvaging supplies is a necessity to survive. You have to find maps to discover where you are, there are no prompts to alert you of zombies or other survivors and you can only take something if you can carry it. The pure sense of isolation is highlighted by the minimal use of sound in the game. There are no sequences of music. All you hear are the sounds of wind, birds and the ocean, making for an incredible emotional experience. What’s more is the fact that the game runs on real world time, if night falls it becomes pitch black and only a flashlight guides your way. It is the intricate realism that makes DayZ a completely unique and tense experience.
The fascination with DayZ is not in the shooting of zombies but with the interactions between other players. Despite the minimalism of the player’s gear, group chat and in-game voice chat is still a functional aspect in DayZ. Sometimes players will broadcast their location in an effort to find a group to survive with, other times it will be a trap and a ‘bandit’ (the name given to survivors who shoot-to-kill other survivors) will just shoot you in the face and take all your stuff. In DayZ, death is permanent and you have to start again from scratch. This mechanic effectively adds another layer to the palpable tension of the game as you not only fight to survive zombies and other players but also for the precious items you have picked up along the way. It can become frustrating when you are killed by other players, but then, isn’t that what would happen in a real zombie apocalypse? Some people would band together but others would be overridden by a selfish desire for power.
However you choose to play the game, there is a community feeling to the shared DayZ experience, one that is emphasised by Hall who perceives DayZ as an ‘anti-game’ and more of a social experiment that breaks the normal video game boundaries of balance and not frustrating users. This is perhaps where the game falls down. As more and more players become bandits, it may drive away users who want to play the game for the experience of banding together to survive rather than as a player vs player format. It is an issue that will be a challenge for the developers to get around, without taking away the core style from the game.
For a mod still only in the Alpha stages of development, DayZ is impressive as hell. It is highly recommend to get the mod, it is definitely worth it. See you in Charnarus, please don’t shoot me.