I am running. Running for my life. With two bullets remaining and a pair of zombies hot on my tail, the likelihood of getting out of this one is slim to none. Besides, even if I do manage to score a pair of lucky headshots, I’ll then be out of ammo, out of food and with absolutely no idea where I am or which direction I’m going in. In short, I’m screwed. Welcome to DayZ.
DayZ is a ingenious ArmA 2 mod that answers everyone’s prayers. For years people have been begging for an open world zombie apocalypse game, and now it’s dropped right into our laps courtesy of a Bohemia Interactive employee going by the name of Rocket. DayZ plunges you back into the familiar territory of Chernarus, only this time it’s not the Russians you need to be worrying about, it’s the living dead.
When you first arrive on the shores of Chernarus you find yourself in possession of a small pistol with limited ammunition and some food and water. That’s it. No map, no compass, no objectives to speak of and over 200km2 of rugged terrain. Which direction you go in and what you do once you get there is entirely down to you.
Standing between you and what could be the perfect rambling simulator is the small matter of the living dead. These are no shambling rotting corpses either – get spotted by a small group of zombies in the distance and you’ll hear their menacing snarls seconds before they tear out your precious bodily organs. The undead masses, although lightning fast, tend to stick to towns and villages, so anyone wishing to avoid them is looking at long cross-country hikes through forests and farmland.
In addition to the perpetual threat of the undead, survival aspects like hunger and thirst need to be factored in. Whilst it may be safer to hang out far from civilization deep in the forests of Chernarus, when your stomach starts to rumble you’re going to have to seriously think about where your next meal is going to come from. Do you risk a trek back into town for food, or do you stay put and risk starvation?
Death isn’t just a brief hiccup either – if you die, that’s it for your character. No respawn and no time out. Be prepared to lose that perfect survival kit you’ve spent hours piecing together to a single moment of innattention. The choice of permadeath also has a powerful effect on your relationships with other players. Encountering another human in your lonely travels is a tense experience, with mistrust between strangers extremely common. Do you keep your distance and forfeit the protection of a companion, or do you approach and risk losing everything to an opportunistic raider with a quick trigger finger? Meeting even a lone survivor in this game can create far more tension than a run-of-the-mill group of slavering zombies.
Behind the mod lies a vital system of offline persistence. When you log out, your position, possessions and attributes are all stored on a central server. When you return, regardless of which server you log into, you will find your character exactly as you left it, wounds and all. As a result, your trek across Chernarus can last for several days, and with working transport extremely rare, be prepared for a great deal of walking.
This remarkable mod does have its problems. Currently it’s buggy, prone to crashing and the reliance on the central server for persistence has resulted in staggering loading times due to its recent surge in popularity. However, approach it with a great deal of patience and a cup of tea to hand and when you do finally log in, you’ll find a remarkable experience waiting for you.
As a veteran ArmA player, I thought I’d be well-equipped to handle whatever DayZ could throw at me. Over-confident and arrogant, I breezed into town expecting to slip past a dozen zombies, grab some supplies and vanish before anyone knew I was there. I was wrong, very wrong, and that’s how I found myself in this precarious position – running from a pair of blood-thirsty infected with next to no ammunition and no chance of survival.
Finally, from the bushes ahead of me emerged a well-armed survivor. He took one look in my direction and raised his rifle to his shoulder. This could go one of two ways, I thought. Either he’s aiming at my pursuers, in which case I’m about to meet my new best friend, or he’s aiming at me, in which case, it’s game over.
He opened fire.