I try not to read reviews of things I review before I review them. If that sentence sounds like the rambling of someone with serious pudding brain, well, this is what Bohemia Interactive’s zombie survival game DayZ has done to me. In this case, I felt I had to read what other people had said (or were currently saying) about the PS4 version of DayZ, because it was impossible for me to believe that this game – or any current-gen game – could be so bafflingly joyless. Well, I’m sorry to report, they’re right.
DayZ started out as a mod for the tactical shooter ARMA 2 and was developed into a standalone game by the mod’s developer Dean Hall and publisher Bohemia Interactive. It experienced wild success in its PC version, racking up accolades and awards on its release in 2012 and actually became even more popular than ARMA ever was, to the point where the mod helped to drive sales of the original game. It makes sense, then, that Bohemia and Hall would spin off the mod into its own thing.
My standard for these types of post-apocalyptic open-world games is the Fallout series, and it’s remarkable how deep and interactive that world is compared to DayZ. For a game that’s ostensibly about scavenging and survival, I found myself unable to suss out food, drink, or even weapons when I needed them. In fact, it usually takes upwards of 15 minutes of wandering aimlessly through a landscape with nothing to do or see, before you even encounter any enemies. Is this fun for anyone?
And the enemies. This is a zombie game, so there’s some shambling corpses around, but at no point did I feel like they were more of a threat than the various meters (hunger, thirst, body temperature, blood loss) you have to manage. Sometimes the zombies will just hang out and let you punch them to death, while other times they’ll come at you pretty fast. Either way, you won’t likely die from either unless you’re really not paying attention (I found myself zoning out a lot in this game just because there wasn’t anything happening, so this is a real possibility), or if the weird hit detection lets you down. You can also, I’m told, gather and craft weapons from the surrounding area but in the few hours that I played DayZ, the best I could find was a hammer – barely an improvement from your bare fists.
The controls and inventory system seem needlessly convoluted and counter-intuitive. Like I said, the hit detection is kind of fucked up for both combat and just navigating the world. At one point I got stuck in a bunker, unable to interact with the door because there was a zombie right outside. This is unacceptable for a game in 2020.
To say that managing your inventory in DayZ is a chore is disrespectful to chores. You have to manually put things into your hands before you can equip them, and though I never got anything to test out the crafting mechanic, I can’t imagine it’s a pleasant or easy experience when it takes 5 or more button presses to equip a weapon. I also don’t know what kind of psychopath decided it’d be a good idea to map the same button to interact with the environment (opening doors, picking stuff up, etc) and also to drop what you’re holding. I found myself dropping stuff by mistake quite a bit, which is pretty frustrating in a game where the loot is very sparse.
But maybe this half-formed game engine has a solid story behind it? No such luck, my bud. You’re dropped into a random spot in the environment, Fortnite style, and aside from a fruit to eat and some clothes, you’re left to your own devices to survive. You don’t even get a map, so have fun just picking a direction and hauling ass to nowhere before the server resets. A lot.
Just off the main menu, you can watch a short video explaining what you have to survive as if you needed to be told, but other than that the game doesn’t give you any sense of what life was like in the country before civilization fell. DayZ is entirely lacking in any specific sense of place. From the wiki, I managed to learn that the game takes place in a fictional country called Chernarus in the former Soviet Union, but you’d never guess that from wandering the largely nondescript map here. Other than blood-smeared cabinets (that you can’t explore), there’s really no hints of life in this game. This is made worse by the fact that there is literally no life – a bunch of empty houses and already-looted cabinets are about all you’ll see. Contrast this with Fallout, where an ‘empty’ house will still contain artifacts – books, plates, weapons, corpses, and knickknacks – that give you some idea of what the folks that lived there were like. Not so with DayZ. This would be fine in a mod for an existing game, but again, not acceptable for a full-priced standalone title.
I truly do not like using this platform to trash things. My goal in writing reviews is to try and find the thing that people will like about a movie, game, or whatever. In the case of DayZ, at least the PS4 version, every single part of the experience is unfortunately marred by execution that makes it come off like a last-generation launch title, or worse. My suspicion is that the PC version of the game is likely a better experience because of DayZ’s extensive modding community which is not present on the console versions, but the console version is one of the most shabbily-put-together products I’ve seen in some time. Normally this is where I’d say “if this game only had _____, it’d be great.” But you know what? If this game were improved to the level that it should be, in order to justify charging for it, you’d have a Fallout game, or one of the other great survival horror titles like The Forest or The Long Dark. Any of those would be a better option than the dullness of DayZ, at least on a console.
DayZ is available for the PS4, PC, and the Xbox 360, I guess. We reviewed the PS4 version.