Jamie Dalzell is a veteran DayZ bandit, but even he felt robbed by what The War Z had to offer.
By Jamie Dalzell on November 15, 2012 at 4:28 pm
Six months later and the threat of Chernarus still lingers, forcing survivors to lift fingers from their mice to mash out a hurried greeting. They type it because there is still something to fear, even when the response is likely to be a bullet in their direction or a bandit with a temporary smile.
But wait, these aren’t the inhabitants of Chernarus you’re questioning now. There’s no ocean here, announcing your death and praising your new life. No towns to be avoided or ones that creep up on you through a break in the trees. No wide expanse of wild-west inspired freedom and swift justice. Glance at a road-sign and you won’t see Russian, but rather familiar English.
“Welcome to Colorado”.
We’re not in Cherno any more
Over the European seas and the zombie apocalypse has hit the US, yet even in name Colorado is devoid of the foreign intrigue that ensured Chernarus captured the mind as well as the heart. Look a little closer and its locale is much the same, leaving behind the authentic quirks of Chernarus — in setting if not inspiration — trading a world sapped of life, rusted and rotting, for one saturated in colour. Even upon arrival there’s a staleness here, where the apocalypse has already been run through an Instagram filter of Hollywood tropes: flooded city streets and ambulances overhang once tall standing highways, amidst a mess of deserted towns and crashed cars. This is an apocalypse seen rather than lived.
The setting would impress in more experienced hands, but here sprawling cities leave a small footprint amongst the many hills and repeating pine tree forests that cut Colorado into corridors, calling out for some breathing room. It’s a far flashier place than Chernarus, and in turn ARMA II, but it’s the flashiness of style over substance: never more clear than in the character creation screen, where wannabe male heroes stand with half-tucked shirts and the women are relegated to barely-there tops: it’s a plastic, vulgar filter.
Just try and spot something out there, amidst the crush of over saturation and a constant flickering of distant shadows, and you begin to appreciate DayZ’s utilitarian approach to presentation. In a game of survival someone looks to the vista for an oncoming threat, but here they only find a muddy well of jagged edges playing tricks with the eye. Was that a player? Who knows!
Still, you trek on, guiding your character with a Nathan Drake swagger and DayZ smarts but with none of the accompanying challenge, towards something, somewhere, and here at least the ideals are shared: search for food, for water, and a weapon to protect yourself in this persistent world of do-gooders and back-stabbers.
But to what end? There are no player-imposed challenges or plans to enact as Chernarus so deftly employs. No nuance to movement. No subtlety to your presence. None of that learned skill born from walking the path of the hundred lives that have come before.
Once you’re geared up — a rare occurrence in this world where loot spawns without any certainty — the only thing left to do is flee to a mountaintop and hope no one can spot you from a distance. Or, perhaps, you could enact the familiar lifestyle of a DayZ bandit or hero, but that’s when The War Z’s true DNA shines through: tense firefights are nothing more than deathmatch shootouts. Though even on that level they’re devoid of the gratification of pulling the trigger, and you’re left to deal with the frustration of a cheap death, where unseen players and hackers have their fun.
Empty Your Pockets
Frustrated, then? Perhaps some retail therapy will calm your nerves. Despite its initial cost, The War Z still peddles its micro-transactions like a snake oil salesman, where anything from appearance customisation options through to bandages, ammunition and even weapons are flaunted for wads of in-game cash or the princely sum of real world dollars. Regardless of claims to the contrary, The War Z is — unabashedly — pay to win, where backhand deals are made with nebulous money men who, in the end, always come out on top: what’s the use of all that gear when the roll of your dice has decided you’ll be dead within five minutes.
Which is what makes its harsher, and in any other circumstances commendable: consequences for death all the more frustrating.
Fall to Colorado’s unfair ways and your character is locked out for an hour — lucky then that you can have up to five — with all of your inventory (whether paid for or not) splayed across city streets for the bandit vultures to pick at. Ramp up the difficulty and you can also bid goodbye to your experience points or skills you’ve unlocked – more throwaway than they might first sound, ultimately providing nothing more than minor bonuses.
…and on the horizon
Surviving in The War Z, then, is more luck than skill — here inaccessible mountains keep at least two of your angles safe at all times, ensuring there’s never any need to call out “scan 360” as an experienced DayZ squad might. The DayZ comparisons would be unfair if they weren’t openly invited: The War Z knows what it’s competing with. At its heart, The War Z has been crafted in a strange paradox where DayZ is both its inspiration and a game it’s never heard of. Yes, its form may change as it progresses towards release, but its updates are mere bandages on a larger wound, doing little to hide its true heritage: a free to play shooter with its heart firmly set on the glory of guns and deathmatch pacing.
But The War Z is not DayZ.
Instead, it is a game lacking an identity. It is the button masher of greater fighting giants. The sub-par shooter of FPS veterans. The cheap imitation of a newly born zombie survival horror genre, to be poked and prodded and met with a shrug to the reason for its existence. Though War Z’s reasons for existing are clear: it lives to furrow cash from survivors desperate enough for a change in the Chernarus scenery.
Its apocalypse is all the more real and horrifying: it is a sparse husk, parched, devoid of ideas. There is no evolution, revolution or clone here. Instead The War Z feels doomed to linger in a shadow of its own making, but more damning still is the sensation that the game is happy to just stay there. A War Z survivor, then, types “friendly” with a lingering sense of deja vu and a growing sense of indifference.
But don’t be fooled: War Z itself is a bandit with a temporary smile and a gun behind its back.