Published on October 21st, 2019 | by Jamie Davies0
We look at DayZ, the disaster that found a place in gaming writer Jamie’s heart. It was a mess, but a fun one at time.
With its October 15th retail release coming and going to little fanfare, DayZ — it’s safe to say — has well and truly faded into irrelevance. Allow me to shed a tear for Dean Hall’s imperfect, glitch-ridden survival game; it stole my heart, hundreds of hours of my life and in return, gave me some unforgettable gaming memories and taught me a handful of invaluable lessons about human nature.
For the uninitiated, DayZ was conceived by fresh-faced game designer Dean “Rocket” Hall as a mod for Arma II, Bohemia Interactive’s impenetrable and unsurprisingly niche military sim. Over time, it would see a full release on Steam, Xbox One and PS4 (in that order). It thrust anywhere up to around 50 or 60 players into the zombie-filled island of Chernarus, with little more than the clothes on their backs and the adrenaline in their veins. DayZ offered nothing in the way of traditional objectives outside the character’s basic survival needs. (food and water, no urination thankfully — we’ll have to wait for Kojima’s Death Stranding to see games tackle that cornerstone of the human experience) Instead, it laid out a zombie-apocalypse sandbox with weapons, vehicles, food and military equipment for players to do with as they pleased; with no goals, it was impossible to play the game “incorrectly,” this world was open for players to use as they saw fit. Needless to say, chaos ensued…
In DayZ, death is permanent and the equipment that can take hours to secure is absolutely not. Life has infinitely more significance than your average rootin’ tootin’ shoot ‘em up, which means staring down the barrel of another player’s gun feels more real than just about any game out there. The sight of another player can really get the blood pumping, and the sound of gunshots? Well, let’s just say that my earlier reference to adrenaline wasn’t an exaggeration. DayZ firefights — for however clunky and unresponsive they can be — will leave you physically shaking. For all the flaws it couldn’t shake off and the critics that lambasted it, I can’t help but sing my praise any experience that evokes such intense and pure feelings.
Before you get the wrong impression, I’d like to emphasise the fact that DayZ is far more than “just a shooter.” The combat is indeed thrilling, tactical and very much adrenalized — but to treat fellow survivors as mere targets will have you missing out on the most unforgettable experiences DayZ has to offer: player interaction. You see, in a virtual world where life has some semblance of value, people aren’t always inclined to throw themselves into violence. Stumbling across another player could often lead to a pleasant conversation, an uneasy alliance or a wacky role player eager to try out their latest character on you. I could keep you here all day with tales of my encounters on the road, but you’ve probably got somewhere to be, instead I’ll quickly pluck a few off the top of my head:
- Joining in on a 10-man, rooftop dance party. (Tactical flares provided the mood lighting)
- Being captured and tortured by a pair of masked “lunatics” in a fire station
- Teaming up with players from all over the world and swapping information about our cultures.
- Being “haunted” by a particularly stealthy survivor who followed us, stayed out of sight and continued taunting us in the game.
It should be blatantly obvious by now: I’m something of a DayZ apologist. Of course, it goes without saying that a game with apologists must have something to apologise for, you’d have to be blind and deluded to claim otherwise. Thankfully, I’m only suffering from the latter, so the game’s numerous blunders have not escaped me. Almost 5 years in Steam Early Access, agonisingly infrequent content updates and a largely alienated player base work against me being able to recommend this game at all. Even now that the game is technically as smooth and playable as it’s ever been, the industry has moved on and other games have elaborated on the ideas that DayZ brought to the table: ARK: Survival Evolved, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, Subnautica and Conan Exiles just to name a few.
DayZ was intense, innovative and – above all – unique. I’m always going to have fond memories of my time on Chernarus, and I thank Dean Hall, his team and all the folks at Bohemia Interactive for that. At the same time, it’s impossible to ignore the game’s steady decline; it’s possible that many DayZ ex-devotees, including myself will never boot up the game again. So here I am, giving DayZ its dues for bringing this almost exclusively single-player gamer out of his shell. It might not have made all the right moves, but the mark it left on this industry won’t soon be forgotten.