“Let’s spend the night drinking and playing DayZ.” On a boring Saturday evening, Nick says the words every man wants to hear. I’ve had the DayZ standalone in my Steam library since it launched on Early Access, and I’ve barely touched it. And while it is still in alpha, a lot has changed since its inception, with more changes being teased in its 2015 roadmap.
“Sure,” I say. “Let’s do this.” I spend the next twenty minutes fiddling with graphics settings. Such is the life of the Early Access adventurer. But things would heat up rapidly, and the evening would end in tragedy and, ultimately, the death of two men.
There’s one constant in the anecdotes of DayZ players, and it’s that zombies rarely feature in them. It is an open world zombie survival game where zombies are below getting damp in the pecking order of deadly things.
“Can I swim?” I ask my guide, Nick. He tells me that I can indeed, but that it would be an extremely bad idea, as I’d die from the cold or pneumonia or something else that’s awful. I’m standing in the shallows and quickly run back onto dry land. I check, and I’m dry. Thank God. And then I hear it for the first time, a noise evocative of a hungover person trying to eat a lot of food at once. A zombie was near.
I was excited, at first. I’d heard all about the ineptness of the undead, how in the alpha they were de-fanged, impotent things that were worthy only of derision. If it had been another player, I would have been nervous, but a zombie? No problem.
I start to jog in the other direction as it gets closer to me. “Am I able to punch it to death?” I ask, quickly becoming aware of my lack of weapons. Nick says I probably shouldn’t risk it, so I run a little faster. “Break its line of sight,” is the advice I’m given, but that’s easier said than done when I’m out in the open. When I turn around again, though, it’s gone.
Both of us are attempting to figure out where we are in relation to each other, so we can eventually start the trek to a meeting point half-way between us. There’s a house nearby, so while Nick looks for landmarks, I decide to loot my first building. It’s exhilarating.
“A book, Nick, I found a book!” Pride overtakes me. I start to think of all the things I could do with a book in the apocalypse. Maybe this could be my very own Book of Eli. I’m busy looking at it in my hands, wondering what I could do with it, when I hear the moaning again. The bloody zombie has found me. How!? I don’t know, but I quickly head for the door.
He’s waiting for me, the bastard. I let out a yelp, Nick laughs, and I’m running again, towards and into a forest, zigzagging between the trees. There are two of them now, a pair of zombies doggedly chasing me. I’m starting to feel stressed. I am again told that I need to break their line of sight. In the distance, I can see an estate of Soviet-era flats, massive apartment buildings jutting out of the landscape. I leg it towards them, zombies in tow. Surely I’ll lose them there.
In the estate, I am now being chased by four bloody zombies. One of them is all dressed up in camo, and he keeps leaping at me whenever he gets close. I run through buildings, up and down stairs, through alleys, yet they are always just behind me, like bloodhounds. They’ve trapped me in a room, and I do the only thing I can. The screen goes black. “You are dead.”
Nick’s bewildered, telling me that I shouldn’t have died that quickly. I’m embarassed when I tell him that the zombies didn’t kill me. It was the fall from the balcony that did me in. I was murdered by gravity.
I respawn right back where I started, conveniently, but this time without any zombies nearby. It’s time, finally, to meet up with Nick. I follow the coast east, at his command, and walk for what seems like an eternity. By now I’ve found a fetching hat and more books, and even a cattle prod. I’m pretty excited about my cattle prod. I call him Cecil, and we’re the best of friends.
I find a well, too. I’m told I can drink from it, but I don’t seem to be able to interact with it. Nick assures me that I can, and I’m getting annoyed with the situation. “Well, I’m not bloody making it up.” Poor Nick, he was only trying to help. He leaves his own survivor and comes into my study to see what the problem is. Yep, the well isn’t working. We find out later that wells are simply buggered at the moment.
Nick stays with me as I start moving down the coast again, trying to see if he recognises the area, hoping to figure out how close I am to getting to his location. He seems pretty confident that his own survivor is safe for the time being. Then I see something in the distance, it’s crouched down and wearing bright colours.
“Oh,” Nick says. “It’s a zombie.” Then another one appears, and it runs towards the prone zombie. That’s odd. I get closer. The first zombie is, in fact, not a zombie. It’s Nick.
“Shit!” Nick runs out of my study, door slamming behind him. His character springs to life, hacking and flailing with his weapon. I prod it with my cattle prod, but that only seems to anger it. Damn you, Cecil. A few more hits from Nick and it does eventually go down. First blood! Sort of.
I’m more confident now. We’ve killed a zombie and the dangers of the post-apocalypse seem less threatening now that I’ve got someone else watching my back, someone who has played DayZ a lot, even if not for a few months. Together, we head towards the nearest city to look for weapons and food.
At first, things go swimmingly. I find a welder’s mask while Nick is now sporting a construction helmet. We’ve got a theme going. Food, drink, even a gun and an axe - things are looking up and I start to feel like I can take anything on, zombies, humans, whatever the world throws at me. But when hell breaks loose I quickly realise how completely unprepared I am. The city is swarming in wandering corpses.
I’ve lost Nick, and I’ve lost a lot of blood. My screen is now black and white, and I’m trying to hide from several zombies. I’m also still bleeding, and while I’m finding enough clothes so that I could open up a fairly well stocked shop, none of them can be ripped into bandages. Nick’s in a similar situation. He dies before he can find any, and once again, I’m on my own, being hunted by cadavers.
I’m as surprised as anyone when I actually manage to kill my pursuers and find a t-shirt I can fashion into bandages. It’s too late for Nick, who is now running back to the city from where he spawned, but I at least will live to fight another day. Except I’m starving and I’m still weak from blood loss. I do have some rice, at least, and, as he’s running back, Nick explains that I can start healing if I eat more food. The rice is raw, though, but he tells me not to worry.
I eat enough to stop my stomach from growling, and then try to find somewhere to hide. I’ll eat more, heal up, and wait for Nick. It’s a foolproof plan. But as I’m rummaging around in a building, I hear a noise, and turn around just in time to see a zombie taking a swipe at me. Yelp, laughter, etc. One punch from a zombie isn’t a big deal, normally. But I’m already on death’s door, and it knocks me out.
When I come too, I’m greeted by a peculiar sight. My zombie attacker lies dead at my feet. Nick’s still far away, so he was not my rescuer. “Helloooo?” Nobody responds. I’m not sure if I should be elated or concerned. Nick needs to hurry the hell up.
I’m on the roof of the police station now, which seems pretty safe. I can see neither zombies nor humans, so I decide to relax and eat a lovely bag of raw rice. Then I collapse again. Not a zombie this time, no, I’ve been attacked by a far more insidious foe: dehydration.
It takes half-an-hour for Nick to find my unconscious body, and then we try to figure out what he needs to do to bring me back. There’s a hospital nearby, and he decides to investigate. He brings back a defibrillator, and I’m a bit jealous. I want a defibrillator. Lamentably, it does nothing to improve my situation and I’m still staring at a black screen. Is there a light at the end? Am I dying? Gran, is that you?
Because I passed out due to dehydration, we agree that the most sensible thing to do now would be to force me to drink. Nick’s got a bunch of off-brand lemonade, Spite, and he agrees to pour it into my gob. Nick is not a doctor, and this perhaps goes a long way to explain why instead of pouring it into my mouth, it looks like he’s smearing it all over my buttocks.
I die. Again.
Running is something I’ve been doing a lot of, and I’m doing it again. Both running away from a zombie, and running back to the city. Nick’s protecting my corpse so I can get back all my gear, but I’m still a little nervous. Bored of waiting for me, he once again leaves his survivor and my old corpse and comes back into the study. I can see the city now, and the police station. I’m so damn close. There are a few zombies about. Nick assures me they won’t get him on the roof, but he goes back to his character anyway.
Two seconds later he’s in my study again. He was wrong. He’s dead. Zombies are everywhere. Oh, the humanity.
I don’t know what to do. Nick is God knows where, and I’m running around in circles, being chased by hungry undead monsters. I make a break for the police station, not to get onto the roof, but to hide in one of its rooms. I manage to close the door before any zombies can follow me in, but I’m still taking damage. Lots of it. But nothing is touching me. Then they appear in the room with me, snarling, growling, swiping. I’m dead. Yet again. And for the last time that evening, because the whisky bottle is empty.
Zombies aren’t jokes anymore. They are deadly, tireless killers who won’t stop until their quarry is lying on the ground, their life slipping away. It’s how a zombie survival game should be. But! There’s always a but. While Bohemia Interactive have made their undead creations infinitely more dangerous, they are just as buggy as they were before. Sometimes they will just forget about you, and they still completely ignore walls and doors, teleporting to where they need to be.
Along with vehicles, diseases and a bunch of other things, zombies are getting an AI upgrade early next year, and I can’t help but wonder if it might be smarter to fix their buggy superpowers before they become even more dangerous.
But one thing is clear: even without roving bands of sociopathic players, DayZ can be a lot of fun. That was a real worry for me, before. Every anecdote I hear comes from experiences with other people, not the zombies, but they really are a threat. As they should be.