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DayZ alpha review

Hiking prices.

Eurogamer's alpha and beta reviews are reviews of games that are still in development but are already being offered for sale or funded by micro-transactions. They offer a preliminary verdict but have no score attached. For more information, read our editor's blog.

I knew I shouldn't have gone back to Zelenogorsk, but I did anyway. The twisting streets of DayZ's smallest city are located in a bowl-shaped depression fringed by forested hillsides, with a large expanse of open ground between the two. It's a sniper's paradise, prowled by bandits searching for a catch slightly bigger than the completely new, equipment-less players who swarm the larger cities to the southeast.

But that's not why I thought twice about going back. Last time I was there, a man held me at gunpoint while his friend beat me about the head with a baseball bat. I only escaped that situation by running like Rincewind, and I wasn't keen on risking a repeat of the scenario. But I was desperate for a drink and short on ammo, and since Zelenogorsk has a military barracks and a supermarket, there was a good chance I would find plenty of both.

My return to the city went without incident until I arrived at the supermarket itself, where a man wearing a motorcycle helmet and wielding an axe was searching for supplies. I set my rifle sights on him and waited until he stepped into the square outside, at which point he noticed my presence.

"Hello," he said cheerfully, and then sat down right in the middle of the square. Bemused, I took a cautious step forward. And that's when the shooting started.

Timing your swing is crucial to fighting a zombie hand-to-hand without risking getting wounded, but even then it doesn't always work.

I still don't know what happened: whether a third survivor chanced upon our meeting and decided to kill us both for the spoils, or if the shooter was an unseen accomplice of the sitting man and his casual demeanour was a ploy to lure me into a false sense of security. All I know is the shooter managed to hit me twice before I could backpedal around the corner and stumble into a nearby building.

Slamming the door behind me, I knew by the rapid desaturation of my vision that I was bleeding very heavily, but managed to patch myself up before losing consciousness. I came for water and ammo, and ended up almost dying. But because I didn't I should probably consider myself lucky. This time, I am definitely not coming back to Zelenogorsk.

If you came to this article wondering whether DayZ as a standalone game is as brutal and unforgiving as the original mod for Arma 2, if its players are equally colourful in their exploitation of the game's freedom, and whether it is capable of producing the weird and wonderful events that made last year's surprise survival hit so uniquely compelling, then the answer to all those questions is a definitive yes. I played the mod extensively when it first shambled into the limelight and felt immediately at home in this expanded Early Access version. As to whether it's worth paying £20 for, the answer to that echoes lead developer Dean "Rocket" Hall's own statement on the current status of the game: at the moment, no.

A lot has changed since the mod version gained such unexpected popularity around May last year, but at the moment those changes don't provide a sufficiently enhanced experience or fix enough of the mod's problems to justify the price. It is still, in essence, the same game, with the same great concepts and the same lingering issues.

Running through exposed ground like this is a really stupid idea. Bear Grylls I am not.

DayZ casts you as a survivor of a zombie apocalypse, arriving on the southern shores of the vast country of Chernarus with only one goal: stay alive. To do this you must scour the land's abandoned cities and towns for whatever food, weapons and equipment you can find, avoid the leering grasp of the undead which stagger around the urban environments, and strive to coexist with the other player-survivors who populate the land. Some of these will be willing to work alongside you, while others will murder you for whatever few possessions you have, or simply because they enjoy it.

Quite a few alterations have been made to the standalone version, but the biggest and currently most triumphant are to Chernarus itself. Where before its landscape consisted of foreboding, monochrome green vistas, now the country is vibrant and varied. Forests are dappled with browns and oranges and reds amid the familiar evergreen hues, while farmlands are bright and golden and meadows are speckled with pastel-coloured flowers. As a hiking game, DayZ would be as peaceful as Proteus were it not for the latent fear that constantly bubbles in your stomach, knowing the picturesque scenery could conceal any number of bandits who want to wear your skin as a coat.

While the pastoral environments have received a welcome aesthetic change, the urban areas are privy to a functional one. Whereas in the mod most buildings were inaccessible, now almost every structure can be entered and explored, with loot spread more thinly between them. In addition, the urban environments have been expanded considerably, with entirely new towns and enlarged existing ones. This means searching an entire town takes considerably longer, thus increasing the chances of encounters with both the living and the undead.

The kind of equipment you can acquire in DayZ is currently at an interesting stage. There are very few guns at the moment, with only one type of pistol and even ammo for a revolver that currently doesn't exist. Greater emphasis has been put on clothing, food and melee weapons, to varying degrees of success.

The sequel to Gone Home saw a dramatic change in tone.

Clothing is involved in the standalone game's other most significant change, the inventory. The type of clothing you wear affects your inventory space, with hoodies and cargo pants offering more pockets to put stuff in than jeans and a t-shirt. Rucksacks and bandoliers can also be worn over your clothing to dramatically increase your carrying capacity. The inventory itself is much improved over the mod version, using a straightforward drag-and-drop method to organise items, while right-clicking items opens a list of actions that can be performed, such as eating food or chambering bullets into a magazine. It's still a little buggy - there can occasionally be a delay of up to a minute for the inventory to register that you've used something - but it's definitely on the right track.

Logic dictates the way in which DayZ's systems work, from the functionality of clothing to ensuring your own body is healthy. To stay alive you need to eat and drink, but consuming rotten fruit or gulping down impure water can make you sick. Getting shot or otherwise injured causes you to lose blood, which affects you in a variety of ways from causing your vision to blur to reducing your mobility. If you've got a spare t-shirt, you can tear it up into rags to bandage your wounds, but this too carries a risk of infection as those rags are not sterile. Even the regularity of these needs is logically deduced. Hunger is an infrequent issue, while thirst is a constant problem - perhaps too constant at present, nagging you to stop and take a drink almost every other minute.

These systems are mostly very well balanced, and the way they are communicated - using increasingly desperate messages such as "I'm thirsty", or "I really need to drink", rather than using numbers or icons - works well too. Problems occur when something illogical enters the fray, and there are currently two highly illogical features in DayZ: the melee combat and the zombies.

DayZ features real-world books that you can read during downtime, although most downtime only occurs when you've had your legs broken by bandits.

The issue is partly technological and partly to do with balancing. Zombies appear to be considerably less common than in the mod, but also much more likely to attack you, which is fine. Yet there's no way of telling what triggers a zombie to become aggressive. So far it has seemed to me that, if you spot a zombie within any reasonable distance, it will attack regardless of what direction it's facing or how much noise you're making. In addition, the volume of a zombie's moans seems to have no bearing on how distant it is from you. For almost an hour while playing I swore there was a zombie chasing me underground because I could hear one as if it was next to me, but couldn't see one for miles.

This is entirely possible too, as the zombies' relationships with physical matter seem casual at best. They can run straight through walls, fences, and floors as if they were made of crêpe paper. This means hiding from them isn't an option, which leaves you with two choices; fight or flight. Shooting a zombie is generally a bad idea, as it will attract attention from other nearby zombies and possibly other players, but melee combat isn't ideal either, again because of the Arma 2 engine's haphazard approach to collision detection.

Thus my usual approach was to run away, which is irritating as zombies tend to chase you quite a distance. Then I figured out that although a nearby zombie will almost always attack, it takes a good few seconds for them to become aggressive, enough time to run up and plant an axe in its head before it's got to the 'N' in "Braaaains". The result of all this is that the zombies are either a bloody nuisance or a comedy foil - hardly the terrifying threat they were in the early days of the mod.

Tightening the screws on the Bohemia's beautiful but clunky Real Virtuality engine is the most pressing issue that needs to be resolved. Aside from that, there's simply a lot of content that's currently missing, such a vehicles, a larger array of weapons, and the more ambitious planned content like constructible player bases and realistic radio systems that will truly differentiate DayZ standalone from the mod. It's already got the magic, and given 12 months it will be something really special, but at the moment you're paying 20 pounds for a prettier landscape to ramble through and a few extra pockets to stick your gear in.

Eurogamer's alpha and beta reviews are reviews of games that are still in development but are already being offered for sale or funded by micro-transactions. They offer a preliminary verdict but have no score attached. For more information, read our editor's blog.

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Rick Lane avatar

Rick Lane


Rick Lane is the games editor of Custom PC Magazine and is a freelance writer for Eurogamer and other outlets. He specialises in PC gaming and sometimes talks about the graphics. You can follow him on Twitter.