A new game engine? Truly, these are the dayz of our livez
“The undead here are relentless pursuers once they pick up your scent”
PublisheR Bohemia Interactive Developer Bohemia Interactive Format Xbox One ETA 2018 DayZ’s is one of modern gaming’s most dramatic and unpredictable game development stories. It was the mod that took over the world, then seemed to go out with a whimper as developer Bohemia Interactive took over from original creator Dean Hall. For a sustained period in 2016, there weren’t even any zombies in it any more, which means technically it should have changed its name to ‘Day’.
Momentum is back with the ambitious open world survival title though, with a new game engine implemented and an Xbox Game Preview release imminent. The undead are even back! Hooray! Also: run!
About that new engine. It looks just fabulous, particularly for a game whose standalone entered PC early access in 2013. The broad visual direction is still defined by muted colours, autumnal natural scenery and a gritty Soviet realism to the island of Chernarus (similar to PUBG’s Erangel, in that way). But there’s now a newfound density to grass and trees, a realistic sway to their individual blades in the breeze, and so much post-processing that even Crysis would be proud. While you’re roaming the shoreline just after spawning it takes on the look of Dear Esther: Landmark Edition with extra sparkle; further into the island as trees and scrubland give way to derelict houses and trainyards, it’s like wandering through the Danny Boyle zombie movie threequel that never was. A very plausible setting for undead horror.
Dayz of future past
Much of the focus of Bohemia’s new engine is on making DayZ feel better, not just look better. Notoriously janky from its inception, as it arrives on Xbox Game Preview this is now a game in which it’s no longer more dangerous to climb a ladder than fight a zombie. Longstanding problems PC players had with traversal, aiming and melee combat feel noticeably smoothed out now, and it’s no longer likely you’ll fall through the floor and break your legs when you try to mount a ladder. There’s still some work to be done when it comes to running and crouching animations, and better feedback from making a hit during melee combat, but this is DayZ we’re talking about: it’s encouraging to see updates at all after its protracted alpha phase, and updates don’t come much bigger than an entirely new game engine with visuals, animations and UI to match.
Perhaps indicative of that seismic update – though we’re guessing – is the departure of creative director Brian Hicks, who says he’s been taking more of a backseat in recent months and is no longer needed on the project. There’s still a lot of technical work to be done under DayZ’s hood in the name of polish, but this was once a game that seemed lost in the development wilderness so we’re racking the 2018 state of play up as a net win.
It’s also a great time to reacquaint with the zombie survival formula that always showed so much promise in the earliest mod release. The undead here are relentless pursuers once they pick up your scent, and find the nearest open door with alarming speed when you slam a front door in their face, panicking and in dire need of some breathing room to craft a bandage or two. You feel hunted, and with the survival systems punishing even in isolation, it makes for an intense session. Alone, in co-op, or on a server full of blurry human alliances, DayZ remains a unique vision of survival in the age of the walking undead.