DayZ Standalone (PC Video Game Review)

The game releases in early access mode on steam – but is this alpha release really worth it?

In one of his last updates to the DayZ dev blog tumblr, Dean ‘Rocket’ Hall, the game’s creator, made an interesting, and somewhat surprising, admission. “We strongly advise you not to buy and play the game at this stage,” he said, “unless you clearly understand what Early Access means and are interested in participating in the ongoing development cycle.”

Annoyingly, it’s something that cannot be said enough. All across Steam and various DayZ community forums, there are cries that the Standalone, or SA, release is broken, or it’s not with the money, or ... whatever. It’s a shame because Hall has been very up-front from the get-go about what your $30 currently gets you – a chance to test the game in a very early, very limited form. While the reaction of some shortsighted players may be disappointing, what’s very surprising is just how good the game is in its current form.

Hall’s wish list for this year seems like an essential set of points for the main game. Animals and hunting, vehicles that you can repair and customise, crafting, and improved game physics are all there, and all currently missing. There are only two long-arms in the game, and a single pistol, and player numbers are limited to 40, and the loot spawns are a little odd, forcing many server admins to go with regular restarts just to keep loot available. And one game update even forced a complete wipe of player characters; this game is very much a work in progress, and there’s a bug-list as long as my arm, from random items going missing from your inventory, to rubberbanding and player teleporting, to zombies that can clip through most buildings.

Also, there’s not a lot to be done once you’re fully equipped – which was a flaw of the mod, as well. And yet... there’s just nothing like DayZ SA on the market. Already, it’s one of the most oddly, darkly compelling games we’ve ever played. It’s open in some amazing ways, yet does some wonderful things with forcing players into certain actions. At its heart, the game is about survival, and always has been since its early mod days. In its current incarnation, though, it’s players you have to worry about. The zombie count is currently being kept quite low, at least until server-side code is improved.

This makes the shambling undead rather easy to deal with, apart from the aforementioned tendency to run through walls and doors when you least expect it. (And, odd as it is, it’s uberscary!) Still, zombies outnumber real humans, but those humans and their inherently complex motivations and behaviour add the real wildcard to the game. Seeing fast movement in your periphery is enough to make you freeze and hide, no matter how well geared you are. Seeing someone who’s fully geared, in military duds and toting an assault rifle, is enough to make you turn tail and run. But player interactions are richer than simply killing on sight.

There are a host of medical conditions now to worry about, including diseases that can spread between players, and other injuries that require blood transfusions – and since blood type is now something in-game, and you can store blood, there are already teams of players going around collecting blood for later sale to other survivors.

The apocalypse is a harsh place. New gear, like handcuffs and rope, also make these interactions either more fraught, or easier to handle, depending on which side you’re on. The condition of all gear is now very important, which adds another wrinkle to the shoot-first, lootlater philosophy.

You may well be able to blow someone away with a burst from your M4, but chances are the corpse will then have no useable loot – it’ll all be ‘ruined’ by the impact. There’s a lot of food, but some of it is rotten, which can lead to illness and even death. Even getting wet is dangerous, and it can be handy to have spare clothes to change into to avoid catching cold. Thankfully something that’s improved even in this version is the inventory management, and managing that inventory is more important than ever. Everything from your shirt and pants, to your choice of pack and other items, has some kind of carry capacity.

You can hotkey up to ten items, but otherwise you’ll want to make sure you have the most important items in things like your shirt, or a utility vest. All your carrying items are listed onscreen top to bottom, and you have to spend more time to scroll to anything in your backpack, which is always the last item – a clever way to make it feel like it is more awkward to rummage through that big pack.

The game is looking good, too, despite not utilising the full new engine for Arma III. Rather, it’s running off Arma II code with a bit of code from its sequel thrown in, and some entirely new code from Hall. Sunlight dapples through tree branches, and player models and items are all beautifully realised. Blood effects are still overdone though, and also prone to clipping, making for some disturbing blood showers when someone is bleeding out on a floor above your current camping spot.

Ultimately though, it’s all one big blank canvas for some amazing stories and encounters. There’s already a tonne of emergent gameplay coming to the fore, and with many more systems to be built, the game’s only going to become more complex. In our opinion, it’s very much worth getting into now – you’re getting a game unlike any other, and one whose evolution you can be a direct part of. That’s pretty neat.

DEVELOPER Bohemia Interactive
PUBLISHER Bohemia Interactive

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