Yes, that's right, MineZ is a mod of a mod. It's a zombie survival mod for Minecraft that is inspired by DayZ, the zombie survival mod for ArmA 2. It's the same but different, recognisable but re-imagined. It's a little like looking at a reflection in a carnival's hall of mirrors. MineZ still feels like DayZ, it works like DayZ and it plays like DayZ, but most importantly...
...it's better than DayZ.
All right, yes, I know, hold on just a moment. I know you want to tell me that there's no way a voxel-based building engine could provide the same bleak and gritty realism as Bohemia's Real Virtuality engine, but that's fine, because it's not trying to. I'm sure you want to argue that Minecraft can't provide the variety of weapons, nor the combat modelling that ArmA can, but I'm okay with that too. You likely want me to step forward and make some admission of subjectivity, but that was never something I was going to avoid. For me MineZ is way better than DayZ, and chief among my reasons is that I've simply had more fun with it. Much, much more fun.
The premise is the same. You're trapped on an island infested with dangerous, hyper-fast zombies who track you as much by noise as by sight, chasing down anyone who disturbs them. Supplies are scarce and you'll constantly be searching for food and water among the various deserted settlements. Strike it lucky and you might just unearth some useful equipment, perhaps a piece of armour, a weapon or a handful of bandages.
And the other survivors? Well, they're just like you. They're lost, they're desperate and they're hungry. They could turn on you in a moment but, because MineZ has no guns and makes bows so rare, they have to get up close and personal. And so do you.
There's something particularly creepy about spawning at night on the shores of MineZ's island to see nothing but a deep, dark wood stretched out in front of you, and finding you're stripped of your ability to dig or build. It's like something from a fairy tale or, more accurately, a child's nightmare. You check your pockets and find you're starting with less than you would in DayZ: a sword that's good for a few hits, one bandage, a single gulp of water and the Eye Phone.
(The latter, like most things in MineZ, is an item re-appropriated for a different task. The Enderman's eye now functions as both an island-wide chat device, because otherwise you can only talk with players nearby, and as your means of safely logging out. Activate it, stand still for fifteen seconds and then the server will disconnect you, otherwise a helpless NPC image remains in your place, vulnerable to whatever you were trying to flee.)
Your interface has been slightly re-worked. The experience bar is now a Thief-style visibility indicator, showing how likely zombies are to hear you, and sprinting is obviously a lot noisier than sneaking. The number that was once your level is now an indicator of how hydrated you are, and while your health and hunger bars still show the same information, simply stuffing your face won't be enough to heal injuries and instead you'll need to find and use bandages.
Naturally, Minecraft's engine means that MineZ isn't obliged to be the carbon copy of Chernarus that DayZ is, and as you begin to explore you find its carefully-sculpted world is dotted with all sorts of derelict buildings, abandoned settlements and holy-crap-that's-just-plain-weird scenery. So far I've taken refuge in a graveyard, rooted through the eerie ruins of an old castle and stumbled upon several long-deserted hamlets lost in the wilderness. I haven't dared travel too far north, because I know there are Things up there, but it's my ambition to see the volcano and the fire shrine in person, because that's sure going to beat rooting through yet another of DayZ's barns.
In one village I was trapped inside a house and eventually beaten to death by a seemingly endless stream of zombies who ploughed through the door and up the stairs at terrifying speed, while outside a decaying watchtower my wounds were bandaged by a peculiar cabal of players who told me they were "Out to get bandits." I've seen the great southern causeway that connects the town of Romero to the outlying islands, found the giant oaks that grow deep in the forests and crossed a desert with nothing but the taste of dust in my mouth.
Of course, Minecraft can't model cars or helicopters (yet), so the downside is that you're not about to find other modes of transport, which is surely one of the reasons that the map is smaller. A smaller map also tends to increase the competition for resources and while MineZ's players aren't about to hide in a bush and headshot you from three hundred meters, they are far more likely to be very hungry and many will have no objection to leading a conga of zombies toward you if they think you'll drop an apple or two.
Still, though I have been murdered for my trousers (something so much more desperate than anything in DayZ) my experience has been that players are more likely to live and let live, with co-operation fairly common. Travelling in groups is often a wise idea because zombie AI causes them to bunch together in groups that are frequently too large for one person to tackle, and should any of these zombies kill a player, they'll only respawn as a zombie and make the group even stronger.
There are still a few technical issues to be ironed out. Chief among them is an occasional problem with lag that certainly doesn't suit a game that features a lot of hand-to-hand combat, but I think MineZ is one of the best Minecraft mods out there. If you're any kind of Minecraft or DayZ fan you should absolutely try it, not just because it's entirely server-side and requires no tinkering or downloads but also because, after you've done so, you can come right back here and agree with me.