Wednesday, October 17, 2012

DayZ: A new approach to survival horror

Written by David Bowen

Horror games have always attempted to invoke fear in various ways - a sudden something that appears from the shadows catching you off guard, footsteps or noises eminating from an empty room, and the ever present blood and gore. A large aspect of Doom 3 is demons lurking in the shadows - the main character is forced to switch from his flashlight to one of his many weapons in order to fight demons. Silent Hill focused on the auditory aspect of fear coupled with gloomy atmosphere. Blood and gore is prevalant in a lot of horror games but Dead Space capitalizes on it (think of Isaac Clarke’s creepiest deaths).

DayZ, a mod for Arma 2, is unlike any other horror game that came before. It's an open-world, zombie-infested, survival-horror that is currently in alpha. The zombies are a threat with keen sight and hearing. And they can chase you renlentlessly. However, what really makes the pulse pound are the other human players that you will come across. Items are scarce and people will kill you for them.

Helplessness is the first eerie feeling that the game tries to evoke. You spawn in the middle of nowhere in the fictional country of Chernarus. It has mountains, forests, cabins, farms, docks, apartments, military barracks and so on but it always seems empty. You begin randomly on the coast, far from any shelter, with only a few medical supplies and a flashlight. If you’re attacked, you can’t defend yourself and that’s one thing that makes DayZ standout from other titles. The events unfold randomly and you have no control over what happens. You’re simply along for the ride and you can die from a lack of food and water. Once you start acquiring items, you get attached to your loot and immerse yourself in the gameplay because if you die you will lose everything that you found and restart the game with nothing but those few medical supplies and that darn flashlight.

Paranoia is a large aspect of the game. Let alone you realize you’re playing to survive in a spontaneous environment filled with zombies and people and you need to gather as much loot as you can to continue, but once you see or hear events such as explosions and  flares, your level of fear increases. If gun shots are fired in the distance, you will become more cautious. In other games where you already have your gun drawn and you brace for action or as in Amnesia where you don’t have a weapon at all but a lantern that keeps the mysterious forces away as long as it’s lit, there is always a sense of security and control. DayZ doesn’t have that. Even if you have a weapon, you have to hide in the middle of nowhere and still find food and water where danger is all around you. Danger might appear from anywhere.

The game is riddled with suspense. If you stumble across someone who isn’t violent, how do you know they won’t attack you later for your loot? But, to survive throughout the game, teamwork is a key factor. You are forced to work with other people in cases of major injuries or trade. So, you’ll have to go on and create a fragile alliance for suppiles and equipment. Mix up those aspects and put them in a unique environemnt dashed with some all-or-nothing gameplay and you have a new type of panic for your game.

DayZ is still in the alpha stages. Because it is a mod, Arma II is required to play it. It will release as a stand-alone alpha game before the end of this year.