Preface: As with my previous reviews, criticism of my opinion and my actual writing is welcome - it's nice to see people feel it's worth their time to write a response. As someone who decidedly hates spoilers of any kind, I always try and avoid them as much as possible; at most, I will reference plot setups.
DayZ was played on a PC, it is a mod which requires ARMA II: Combined Operations to play. Installation instructions can be found here.
It's of DayZ I seem to think a lot, above the things that I forgot to do.
Films? Pah! Anyone can sit on their arse and watch something. Books? Those morons reached their peak in 1969. It's over chaps, get out whilst you still can. The sexual revolution's here, and if you're not willing to go balls-deep then you'd better be flying home. Inventory management, perma-death, orienting, hunger and dehydration. These, ladies and gentlemen, are the titillators of tomorrow. And tomorrow can be found in the virtual reality of a 225km2 Eastern-European landmass named Chernarus. Stand tall, behold her majesty - and then get your face in the dirt before some bandíto shoots you for a tin of Heinz's finest.
DayZ is the spoonful of slightly buggy, still-in-alpha sugar that'll perk you up after hearing about how yet another mainstream developer hopes to make their game 'cinematic'; because DayZ isn't cinematic, nor does it strive to be. Being 'cinematic' is so far below the stratosphere of its aspirations that it can't even be bothered to remember what the word means. For all the praise that has been given to the likes of the Uncharted series and, more recently, Max Payne 3 (including from myself), these games are inherently limited. They are, for the most part, particularly well-refined versions of the cutscene-gameplay-cutscene format which, for all the talent behind them, will never really go anywhere. Diamonds are pretty, but you can only cut them so much. DayZ is a game, and it wears the label with pride - a game not about survival, but of survival, from which springs forth genuine issues of trust, pragmatism and loyalty.
Once you've pushed through the vaginal flaps of server lists and load screens (and a somewhat laborious installation process, even for a mod), you'll find yourself birthed on Chernarus' southern shoreline. Nothing but a torch, backpack, some painkillers and a bandage in your possession. And then? Well, off you go. You'll need food and water first, so you'll need to find a town (if you've not awoken near one already) - and since you don't yet have a weapon you'd better hope and pray you can find, at the very least, a crowbar or axe in case a zombie spots you. From the moment you hear the ocean spray beside you, DayZ grows organically, binding you only by the realistic confines of basic human needs, and from here your experience will be shaped by chance and luck, good or ill. To quote Kristoffer Touborg, lead game designer on EVE Online, it really isn't unlike being told, "Here's a Rubik's cube, go fuck yourself." It's wonderful.
In one life of many, many lives, I chanced across another survivor - and by 'chanced', I mean he ran into me, crotch-first, and with a conga-line of zombies in hot pursuit. After dispelling the remnants of his un-dead companions, we agreed to travel together. Our rather panicked introduction had side-stepped the usual issues of trying to tell whether someone is going to shoot you or not, which generally entails a scramble for cover and a panicked message in the chat box. His name was Mao, he spoke only pidgin-English, and he saved my life.
We'd been on the outskirts of one of Chernarus' largest towns, Elektro, and after looting a few houses and the town church (because if you're not going to loot a church during a Zompocalypse, you're too religious), we decided to make our way Northwest. We came to a farm and barn not too far outside the town's limits and decided to check it out. DayZ's loot drops adhere to general realms of logic, so barns often contain shotgun shells and the occasional rifle, as well as basic consumables such as food and drink. In my arrogance, I moved in too quickly and caught the attention of a wondering zombie (detection is based on both sight and sound). He went down in a single shot, but I'd underestimated just how many of his compatriots would hear, and pretty soon I was neck-deep in a horde (a murder?) of zombies. Soon enough, I was out of ammo. Mao fired with his rifle, stealing my new-found friends away for himself, and no doubt gaining a few extras in the process. Meanwhile, I bled out in the grassy knolls of southern Chernarus - eventually, he cleared them out, although not without cost. By the end of it, I was severely wounded and Mao's Enfield was down to a single magazine.
Bandaging myself up, it became clear at this point that the logical thing for Mao to do would be to cut me loose. A bullet to the head, take my food and medical supplies, wander northward by himself. Without ammo I was simply dead weight; at best a mule for carrying extra supplies, at worst - as had just been demonstrated - an impatient idiot.
"Now under 5k."
(Less than half-health; not a good state to be in. Eating only replenishes a little health, we had only a few food items, and it was better to keep them to deal with hunger. I'd need a blood transfusion, which would have required going back into Elektro and finding a blood bag. Not going to happen.)
And with that, he gave me his compass (I was already using a map I had found to lead us), a rather rare and coveted piece of loot for anyone hoping to navigate Chernarus' rolling hills and forests successfully, so that I might better find our next port of call. And off we set. For all the times you'll be caught out, shot by bandits, shot by terrified fresh survivors, beaten and eaten by zombies, it'll only ever take the briefest of companionships to inspire loyalty; and it'll only ever take the slightest wayward seed of a thought to sew notions of treachery into the rich, pragmatic soil of your mind.
Several guns, towns and cans of coke and sardines later, myself and Mao found ourselves running through a wood. Zombies frequent towns (clearly dead-set on finding a bargain in the shops, amirite, guys? ...Guys?), as well as most 'man-made' structures, although typically in far, far smaller numbers in the countryside. Furthermore, we were now a comfortable distance from the southern shoreline, and less likely to encounter other players. Mao, recognising where we were, had taken the lead to the next town. It dawned on me, quite suddenly, that if I were to shoot him now, I would draw no attention to myself. There'd be no fanfare. No grand comeuppance. Hell, Mao probably wouldn't have even been able to question what had happened. I was, in this brief moment, something godly - I held an ultimate, definitive, irreproachable power. All it would take was a single shot.
DayZ's ingenuity lies not in the fact that it whispers of such things, but that the game itself lends no voice to them whatsoever; there is no karmic meter, no code of conduct beyond that of your own conscience. Instead, it simply creates a world in which hunger famishes, thirst dehydrates, weather hinders, and zombies hurt. Most crucially, it realises that zombies themselves aren't too interesting any more; any metaphors they can supply have long since been beaten by the Stick of Trivialisation, all 'special-types' explored to their least logical extent. Wisely, they are recognised purely as an environmental hazard. A lack of food taxes your hunger, a swarm of zombies taxes your health. They are a problem to be overcome in the name of survival, facilitating the need to survive. Human beings are the stars of the show in this sandbox. Friend, bandit, conman, bounty hunter, vigilante, hermit, fighter, doctor, search-and-rescue operator (seriously); DayZ permits the fulfilment of all these roles and prescribes none of them. If you can find or take the equipment you'll need (vehicle parts and a busted-up vehicle if you're hoping to be a taxi man), then you can be it.
A few games can muster water-cooler moments, but I could fill a short-story collection of tales to regale you with regarding my many, many lives in Chernarus. Each character I've created has at least had a single tale attached; others a narrative comprising a twisting chronology of solitude, fear, companionship, desperation, relief, joy, and, finally, a bitter end.
I didn't kill Mao. Genuine player-remorse is a difficult attribute to impart in a virtual world, and yet DayZ's perma-death instills it superbly, with a lingering authenticity. In many ways, I had felt guilty for needing Mao to save me in the first place, and doubly so when the thought of shooting him had crossed my mind. Every DayZ player knows the struggle involved in acquiring the gear needed in order to advance beyond terrified scavenges into abandoned towns, and so every player is aware of just what it means to kill another. Every expense - be it food, water, medical aid, ammunition, or Mao's compass - is a costly one.
Not long after parting ways with Mao I would find myself in one of Chernarus' mid-sized towns, Novy Sobor. Perhaps fittingly, I rushed to the last building I had planned to loot (always go prone in towns - *slap* always!) and was spotted by a zombie. With ammo only for my rifle, (which apparently functioned as both a gun and a zombie rape-whistle) I made a beeline for a tiny workshop in which to make a stand. Unrelenting in their quest to get a piece of this pie, I was soon overwhelmed by the prophets of the Zompocalypse. My legs were broken. I began to bleed out. Consciousness became something of a delicacy. Alone and quickly dying (and venting off a rather impressive cacophony of naughty words and desperate squeals), I wondered if I'd have even made it this far without Mao. I wondered if I'd have made it further with Mao's equipment. But in the end, I was glad I didn't kill him. Together, we had carved our own tale of last-stands and teamwork, and apart we continued our own stories to their bitter conclusions. This is the heart of DayZ, and this is why everyone, with or without a copy of ARMA II: Combined Operations currently in their possession, should play it.
And with that, I fell. Dead.