Pop CultureSeptember 21, 2017

Return to Dayz Standalone: is it going anywhere?


Originally a mod of the military sim ARMA 2, Dayz and its creator, New Zealander Dean Hall, are responsible for the survival zombie horror genre we all know and are somewhat bored by now. José Barbosa loved the mod and initially started playing the full-on commercial standalone version in 2012. He now returns to the forests of Chernarus to see where five years of development has taken the game.

The original mod (which is still a going concern) was the platform that gave me some of my most exhilarating moments in gameplay as an adult. That’s impressive, particularly considering how broken the bloody thing was.

If the ARMA 2 UI was counter intuitive before, in the mod it was like trying to navigate life wearing bicycle helmets for gloves. Climbing ladders, for example, required you to place the reticle on a single pixel somewhere on the ladder and then scrolling through a pop up menu to find the climb action. If you even got that far and managed to get to the top of a deer shelter, for example, you’d probably just fall off and break a leg. Your only options were to kill yourself or drag your body for miles to a town in the hope of finding something to fix you up. I actually did this once, I spent hours pulling my leg-lumps over fields and dusty country roads before falling unconscious at the outskirts of a town. I didn’t care, man. I was unemployed. I was alive.

Over the past five years once I’ve dipped back into Dayz, maybe an hour at a time. Occasionally I’d have a look at the Dayz subreddit to keep ahead of any development news. It quickly became a place to avoid once the front page became an alternating broadcast of “DAYZ SUX ASS DEAN HALL DIE ” and “DONT U KNOW WHAT BETA MEEEEEAAANNNSS”.

So it’s been a while and I was keen to have a good serious blat at the old hunting grounds and do so during work hours legitimately. This was me back in 2014.

Goddamn bad ass, yo.

The first thing to note is that the standalone game (in other words the currently in development commercial game) allowed you to wear sunglasses inside a bike helmet. That shit is tight. Look at how goddamn ready for all piles of mayhem I was. I had a freaking sack of RICE.

Look at me now in 2017.

oh Christ

It’s a tough thing to start all over again, particularly with new player models. I’d somehow jumped the character creation page and jumped right to this confused looking mofo.

Honestly though, I suspect this is the exact expression I’d throw if I found myself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Like I’m trying pretty hard to work out how to get to the closest bank using only Apple Maps. But there’s a touch of sadness in there too, like I’m thinking the whole time “Who needs to go to an actual bank? This is 2017, man. I got hyper-detailed crime investigation podcasts downloading right now.”

“I listened to S-Town and now I think the treasure is inside all of us”.

I spawn next to some castle ruins on what appears to be an island and I shoot off to the castle like the little jack rabbit I am in the hope of finding some cracking loot. I find a machete in a deer hunting shelter thingy. Scrambling up the ladder is now much smoother and I don’t break every bone in my legs. I’m so surprised I raise my blade and fist in an little chortle of joy.

I hack a cammo zombie to pieces in an empty hut. I cut him up so bad for a moment I think I’ve done a Boxing Helena on the poor sod. But then I realise the Z has just dropped through the floor. Top marks on the ladder mechanics, Bohemia, not so on the floor collision system.

Down by the shore I find a nifty rain jacket in a sweet camouflage blue. No matter how hard I try I can’t seem to wear the damned thing. If you were watching me during this very confusing five minutes your heart would go out to this poor berk struggling with the seemingly simple mechanics of clothes. In the end I just sort of stand there clutching at the PVC like a guy smoking a dart who suddenly realises he’s got nowhere to put the butt.

errr …

Survival in Dayz has always meant taking care of the two most important things first: hunger and thirst. Even before making a break for the north airfield to try your luck at scoring some military weapons, you gotta bring those two mechanics under control. Luckily I find a well in good time. Yet I can’t drink. The game seems to think I still have the rain jacket in my hands and is patiently reminding me I can’t use it as a container for water. FFS. First of all, last time I played you didn’t need a vessel to drink out of the well and secondly, I left the rain jacket where I found it by the shore. Are you listening to me, game?!

Blue raincoat cannot be filled up.

Blue raincoat cannot be filled up.

Blue raincoat cannot be filled up.

Blue raincoat cannot be filled up.

Bro, I got hands. HANDS.

I know what you’re thinking: NEWB IT’S STILL IN ALPHA STOP YR WHINEING!

Honestly, I’m not whining. The game feels slicker than it ever has. Animations are smoother and the game looks amazing. Chernarus has never been eerier. The fog rolls in, the trees bend to the wind and all the time this haunting atmosphere surrounds you and pushes its way in until suddenly your staring down the barrel of a rifle attached to the arm of another player. In that moment you don’t know if they’re friend or foe, but you better think quick. Because hesitation almost always leads to permadeath and another long slog to scrounge up another inventory of survival gear.

This is where Dayz can work so well. I found myself playing for hours collecting worn boots and chipped cans of half eaten spaghetti. The slog was only broken by the chance meeting of another player. Every time it happened I swear my heart would race like a diesel generator pinging away as if under a great strain. And that happened, glitches and all.

So is the standalone worth it, even while still in seemingly endless development? Yeah, I reckon so.

Another hour of play saw my fortunes swing to the positive. So much so I was looking like I meant business. And I don’t mean conveyancing or commercial law. I lucked upon a military tent which had two cases of AK74s, first aid kits and a hard out army harness for keeping death bullets in.

Here comes the beatdoooowwwn.

But I still needed food and water. So I headed into Elektrozavodsk, the second largest city on the coast of Chernarus. I skirted the zombies milling about the city streets like world vision volunteers and pushed in deeper, hoping to find a supermarket or at least a Fix.

Alas, I’d gotten cocky. Almost every time I’ve died in Dayz it’s because I thought I had things under control. In Dayz things are never under control.

I took out a zombie with my AK, only pooing myself a little bit when I realised how loud it was. TL;DR: Man considers himself untouchable and then rings the dinner gong.

Zombie raid or Big Day Out boiler room circa 2005? YOU DECIDE.

And was me. But I’d be back and next time I’d remember the reload key.

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