The idea of the DayZ mod is simple enough. Take Arma 2: Combined Operations (Bohemia Interactive Studio, 2009) with its open-world, ground-pounding, all-weather, military simulation chops and refit it as a persistent world multiplayer zombie survival game.
Set in the mythical Eastern European country of Chernarus (where the primary Arma 2 campaign takes place), each player begins with a water bottle, a pistol, a little ammo, a couple tins of beans, a few medical supplies, a handful of flares, no clue and an average life-expectancy of about 28 minutes.
Map? Compass? How about a wristwatch? You don’t start with them. Unless you’re already familiar with the 225 square kilometres of Chernarus, you’ll be learning as you go. Even if you are, you’ll wish you had a map and a compass. Anything and everything beyond your paltry starting equipment, you’ll have to find.
Click the image above for a high-resolution map of Chernarus. (EDIT: There are better maps available)
New players start their short, brutal, nasty, terrifying lives near the coast of Chernarus – and that’s trouble right away. Another player might see you as a ready source of ammunition, food, water, or other necessary supplies. While you’re all notionally on the same team, the name of the game is survival.
If you want something, you have to scavenge in and around towns, factories and settlements for it, or take it from someone else. Encounters between players are generally tense situations, where you don’t know what the other person is going to do – and they don’t know what you’re going to do either.
And then there’s the zombies.
Oh, these aren’t the slow kind of shambling dead either. These are the fast, determined, tireless Zerg-rush sort of zombie.
Not quite blind, they shuffle around making groaning or wheezing sounds, but they sure have sharp hearing. A single gunshot can draw them from all around, sprinting, or crawling to make a meal out of the unlucky shooter.
If you want to scavenge in a town, keep clear of them, keep low, and make as little noise as possible.
Wherever possible, you’ll want to keep as much blood in your body as you can. Aside from the necessities of eating and drinking, lose too much blood and you’ll be weak, shaky and unable to focus very well. Bandages will stop your bleeding, but only food or transfusions will restore your blood levels – and hospitals with blood packs are only found in the largest of towns.
DayZ presents a persistent situation for your character. Every couple of minutes (or so) your character is saved to a central server somewhere. You can log into any DayZ server that isn’t already jam-packed with players, and start back up wherever in Chernarus you left off, with the same condition and gear.
Should you die, on the other hand, you’ll start over back on the coast with the standard starter-gear.
The game also uses a 24-hour, real-time clock. Once the sun goes down, you’ll be crawling around in the dark hardly able to see more than a couple of feet unless you use a flare, or have been lucky enough to find a flashlight. After many hours, the sun comes up and you can see – only what you see can be more frightening than what you were hearing through the night.
DayZ is technically in Alpha Test, and is incomplete and sometimes buggy – but frankly – none of that really matters. While I’d (potentially) gun down another player for a bicycle (if such things were available), DayZ provides just the right sort of relentless, uncomfortable atmosphere to fit its theme. You make your own zombie survival story (or lack-of-survival story).
You’ll absolutely want to play Arma 2’s Boot Camp tutorial, and maybe spend some time in its The Armory scenarios, just getting a feel for moving, fighting and the interface, before you venture on to DayZ. After that, the biggest problem that you’re likely to face is finding a server near you that isn’t already maxed-out with other players.
- You will need Arma 2: Combined Operations (or, alternatively, just Arma 2 and the Arma 2: Operation Arrowhead expansion). Steam has that for US$30 (subject to regional pricing variations). Since DayZ debuted, sales of Arma 2 have shot through the roof.
- You’ll likely want this third-party installer/launcher to set up DayZ and keep it up to date.