This week, Zero Punctuation reviews DayZ.
I saw you, smeared across the new release shelf like old cheese on a pizza box lid. New Super Mario Brothers 2? If the word "new" were a small child, I would be calling social services on Nintendo right about now, 'cause that is nothing short of abuse. I'm not falling for it this time, Nintendo, so now even if you did massively shake up the formula and recast Mario as a brash intergalactic smuggler piloting the Yosh-1 through the imperial-controlled Mushroom Nebula, I will never know, 'cause you took too much for granted one too many times. I'm not buying this one. I don't care how slow releases get, I'll find something to review.
I'll review a fucking zombie mod, a zombie mod for ARMA 2 called DayZ, specifically. A fanmade conversion, if that name didn't make it obvious, because a professional mod would have run the name by a marketing department, then the marketing department would have punched him in the stomach. But DayZ recently clocked one million players apparently so what the fuck do I know about marketing?
I had to install ARMA 2 first, which I never had much interest in, because it's one of those games I classify as dad games - incredibly dry, boring, frothily realistic games for your dad to remind him of the days when he actually had a job. All I can say about the engine is that the realism commitment makes it lurchy as fuck. Every time you start moving, it's like your character has a tumble dryer strapped to the top of his head. Anyway, someone proposed a zombie survival mod for it - not unusual for a realistic shooter, but almost uniquely, they went on to actually make it rather than put up three concept art pictures and then stop updating the website.
Now, one of the reasons I finally tried DayZ is because it was cheaper than paying people to stop banging on about it. But on reflection, this was the same pattern that led me to Minecraft, which I really like. And lately I've been playing a lot of Minecraft's no-respawns hardcore mode in nihilistic celebration of life's fleeting misery and DayZ certainly purported to offer that.
So I started my first game, spawned on the shores of a mysterious land, made for the nearest visible building and was immediately beaten to death by six sqwawking, working-class zombies in flat caps. Then I paused to have a little drinkie. Anyway, that pattern repeated itself six or seven times before I decided that the safest approach to exploration was to lie flat on my face and slowly shuffle along the ground by twitching my raging adrenaline stiffy. By this method, I went unnoticed long enough to slither into a shed and find my first weapon, an axe! An axe that made bullet ricochet noises when it hit things and needed to be loaded with a hundred thousand of something, possibly splinters. But after hacking my way through about thirty zombies worth of payback, I could finally take stock.
There are a lot of gaming habits you need to unlearn for DayZ, like just because a ladder was hard to find doesn't mean there'll be goodies on top of it. And also, zombies can climb ladders now, so if you find one climbing up the ladder you're trying to climb down and it buries its teeth in your big fat arse, try not to then fall off the ladder and break both your legs. But it was on this playthrough that I encountered my first human player. He trod on my head as he was running past my mewling, crumpled form. In my next couple of attempts, I would discover that this in the language of DayZ human player interactions was the equivalent of a deep loving kiss on the mouth.
After a while, like a Scotsman in an itchy kilt, I started getting a feel for the patterns. For a realistic mod, there's some real unintuitive shit going on here. It was only through trial and excrutiating, intestine-pulverizing error that I could figure out which houses you can actually go inside and which ones are basically giant cereal boxes with doors painted on. But eventually I had gotten into the routine of starting every game sprinting into the nearest industrial shed to grab an axe, then spinning around and chopping through the conga line of zombies I would have attracted by this point.
The next step was to find a gun, something all my peers never seemed to have any difficulty with, but after moving inland a bit and exploring a convenient city, I found a fucking treasure pile of ordinance at the top of a stairwell in a three-story building, including a rifle, a pistol and ammo to spare. "Blimey, I thought this game was unforgiving", I thought. "I wonder where all this came from? Maybe it belonged to this dead player over here. Hey, why are all the windows broken?" And then I was shot by a sniper! Okay, lesson learned: Never gawp at your inventory screen while standing fully upright next to a window, like a big squeezed dick poking through a hole in a bathroom wall.
But that meant I now had a handle on the gun's natural habitat and in my next attempt, it wasn't long before I found a Lee Enfield rifle of my very own. "Right", I thought, "since sights are no doubt lined up on me as we speak, better try this out sooner rather than later." So I immediately ran into the street and shot a zombie in the head. "Yeah, ambiguously melee attack your way out of that, you stanky cunt! Haaaaa- what's that's rumbling noise?" And then every door in the street flung open and fucking hell, it was like the Pied Piper had set his flute to the murderer setting. "Oh right, loud noises, the classic zombie apocalypse social faux pas."
Remarkably, I survived and ended up staggering down the highway with maybe enough blood inside me to fill a biro. My vision was blurred and colourless and I was intermittedly passing out every fifty yards, basically an average Saturday night, so it was pretty safe to write this life off. But then, the hitherto-unused speech window flashed up with a greeting. Practically blind and a gnat's foreskin away from death, I'd run into the first human player who didn't immediately gun me down for baked beans. Turned out he'd only started playing, which made sense because personally, I was at the point that if I still had a gun and clear vision, I'd have been shaking his brains off the contents of his rucksack by that point. I explained my situation to him and I swear this is true, the dude was carrying six blood packs and nothing else! One transfusion later, I was back at full health! This was a moment of miraculous serendipity that would have led to the beautifully set-up moral lesson on the power of trust and friendship even in the bleakest adversity, if a zombie hadn't immediately run up and broke my kneecap. Boy, did I feel like a waste of good blood at that point. You call this realism? Why can I only crawl when my leg's broke? Can't I splint it, or use something as a crutch, or at the very least hop for my life?
But while DayZ is at best unreasonably-cruel (and isn't that a strange phrase?), I actually kind of like it. But then as I said, I liked Minecraft's hardcore mode so it's possible I'm just completely mad. I like the organic exploration and that it's a perfect equalizer. You don't get ganked by an asshole 'cause he's ten levels higher, but because he has a gun and you don't, a situation that a smoke grenade and a swift knee to the man-purse may reverse. It needs work though. I'll stick to Minecraft for now, because there were several moments in DayZ where I sincerely missed being able to burrow into the ground and start crying.
Subsists on a diet of beans and raw meat: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
If I kill enough zombies that the other players want to give me a hereditary peership would that make me a DayZ Duke
The blood packs guy died like five minutes later anyway