Zombies For Days

HIGH Meeting up with my buds to look at a tent.

LOW Forgetting which teddy I put the matches in.

WTF “I think my thing is cannibalism, guys.”


In a 2014 talk given at EGX Rezzed, a game convention in England, I sat and listened to Dean ‘Rocket’ Hall talk about realism vs authenticity in games.

It was a captivating presentation on how to make things mechanically evocative of a theme, rather than a realistic replication of an environment. For example, virtual gun handling in a combat sim doesn’t have to be one-to-one to how it is in real life, but it should feel ‘hard’ to use a gun. This sort of simulation would more likely place the player in the realm a developer is trying to create.

With this in mind, I can safely say that after playing DayZ, it is a truly authentic survival experience. How realistic? I spent a lot of time wandering around completely lost, unable to light fires, and frequently almost hitting myself in the face with a spade.

DayZ is a third-person survival game. The player is placed on a huge map and tasked with keeping themselves, warm, fed and hydrated while killing zombies and trying to not get killed by other players trying to survive in the same harsh environment.

Depending on the server, there can be a permanence to progress with heavily-armed players patrolling with cars and building bases, gardens, and the like. Dying causes the player to be returned to a random point on a beach with nothing.

The first thing that hit me when I first played DayZ was how utterly mystifying the controls were.

In one encounter, I had a pickaxe. When a zombie started swinging at me, instead of fighting back, I brought up the controls for digging holes. Once I cancelled the digging and managed to clumsily kill it, I was bleeding.

I had some rags in my inventory so I highlighted them, but it didn’t give me an option to patch myself up. Instead, I had to put the rags in my hands, but doing this caused me to drop my pickaxe, as I didn’t have enough inventory space to store it on my person. Still bleeding, I tried to figure out how to apply the rags to my body. Turns out, I had to exit the inventory before a prompt would appear.

This is probably the easiest sequence of controls I encountered.

Likewise, looting is a precarious and confusing experience, I found a gun, then needed to find a clip, then I needed to find some bullets, and then needed to suss out how to load said bullets into said clip.

I found some tinned produce but couldn’t figure out how to open it. I drank water from a pool and poisoned myself. I found a mushroom and didn’t check it properly and ate it — it was spoiled, so I started vomiting. Soon after, I died of thirst.

Once the controls aren’t the biggest issue, players will notice there is no map readily available, a compass is required to get any bearings, and every sign is in Russian. Every foray into this unforgiving world is bewildering, and the learning curve arched backwards and up over my head…

…And it was awesome. This is exactly what I want from (almost all) games.

In multiplayer, after the first few sessions, my teammates had downloaded a mobile phone app to make sense of this disorientating experience. Once together, we walked for hours to get to a military base. This was one of the few times where I had a feeling of zen from walking across lush fields and through dense forests.

We got to the base only to find an seasoned player waiting to assassinate us. He messaged one of my friends and apologized for the killing. He explained that he was bored and, if we wanted to, he could drive us back to loot our stuff.

Did I mention that one of my teammates decided that his thing was going to be to wait for one of us to die and then cut our dead bodies up to eat our optionally-cooked flesh? Turns out when this is done a player can develop Kuru disease, causing them to laugh uncontrollably.

For every action, there is a reaction, and most of the time in DayZ, it is punishment.

DayZ might not aim for realism, but it is dedicated towards an authentic sense of discombobulation, fear of one’s fellow man, and desperation. There is no question that this is the experience the developer is aiming for, and in that mechanically evocative sense, they are wildly successful. It is inscrutable, incomprehensible, and unrepentant in its approach, but it rewards the time a player puts into it — even if that reward is almost always a knife in the back.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Bohemia Interactive and published by Bohemia Interactive. It is currently available on PS4, PC, and XBO. This copy of the game was obtained via Game Pass and reviewed on the XBO-X. Single player mode and multiplayer mode are the same thing, there is no real end to the game. 30 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood, Strong Language, and Violence. If the fact that the game makes grown men weep is ignored, the game is incredibly violent, there is blood, vomit, killing of animals, cannibalism, and human-like zombies to batter to death. I would not recommend this to young kids.  

Colorblind Modes There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is incredibly dependent on sound, from trying to find chickens to eat, to identifying zombies approaching, to trying to figure out if enemies are firing. All of these things have no visual indicator for their corresponding sounds. Text size and color cannot be changed. This game is not accessible.

Remappable Controls: Certain functions are remappable. The Y Axis can be inverted. There are four screens of controls, enjoy!

AJ Small
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