Now Playing: Day Z alpha

I always planned to wait for the complete Day Z standalone release, not buy the unfinished, buggy alpha version firmly situated in Steam’s top sellers. I thought playing the alpha stage game with periodical content updates would not represent creator Dean Hall’s vision of the finished Day Z game, or let alone actually resemble any sort of functioning software.

Day Z doesn’t follow a linear structure driven by story or depend on specifically designed levels like a platformer. Players create their own objectives through the need to survive against the dangers of zombies, unstable health and the threat of other players. The moment you assume nothing can go wrong, something always does.

I join a night server with two other friends after planning to meet somewhere along the east coast of Chernarus. My previous character broke a leg, collapsed and died in a single second while climbing a staircase. A glitch I assumed. My other friend, Alessandro, discovered his character vanished between play sessions – a reoccurring glitch for him. My third friend, Frank, managed to escape any lethal staircases or character bugs and walked north to Alessandro’s spawn point near Berezino. From a westward inland town I run east towards the rising sun where we decide to meet.

When we arrive outside Berezino – one of the most dangerous places in the game – the player count drops to four of 40 players. I didn’t find a gun during my travels but Alessandro finds a carbine to match my five shot magazine. With a near empty server we knew we could find better equipment. We were going to the Northwest Airfields.

The Northwest Airfields promises the best loot. High capacity mountain bags, infinite supplies of ammo and deadly assault weapons fill each of the hangars and nearby buildings. But a valuable item draws danger. Players often wait in bunkers and prone in trees to kill unsuspecting looters for even more valuables. Only experienced and prepared players could survive an airfield raid.  We are not experienced or prepared players, but the empty server automatically gives us those titles.

We continue from the eastern shore northwest along paved roads. We need to cover a lot of empty ground before we reach the airfields – a boring straight sprint. Then things quickly turn from boring to dire. We loot a few houses along the way killing any zombies sprinting in our direction. With the unreliable hit detection on zombies and preliminary net code of the alpha build, killing zombies with melee weapons means a zombie sometimes avoids your axe swing and swipes at your character.

Between the three of us we only carry two used bandages, enough for only five more instances of bleeding. Alessandro needed patching so Frank drops his bandage on the floor. It disappears. He drops the second bandage in a different spot. It disappears. With no rags or bandages Alessandro could bleed out.

We sprint to the next town searching each building with a growing urgency. We find an old shirt, tear it into rags and patch up Alessandro. He survives, but we still needed medical supplies and each building turns up nothing valuable. Until we find enough supplies we agree to shoot zombies and avoid close encounters. We didn’t carry much ammo, but our lives meant more than a couple of bullets.

A zombie ran towards us and I ask to take a shot with my brand new carbine. I crouch, steady my aim and fire. The gun stays silent. The zombie runs through me, took a nice swipe and ruins my jacket. I didn’t start bleeding but now my gun doesn’t fire. I tried remapping the fire button to the mouse click yet it didn’t fix anything. I drop my weapon and let Frank fire off a round. I tried to fire it again but still nothing. I drop my weapon again and let Alessandro fire off a round.

The problem seems to be on my end so I log off and relaunch the game. I rejoin the still empty server, fire my carbine and a loud blast echoes through the trees. Relaunching the game fixed my weapon issue and gave me a little present in return. My empty medical bag magically refills with two fresh bandages, IV start kits and blood bags. The urgency for medical supplies quickly dissipates and we continue running to the northwest airfields.

We enter a town on a hill and briefly search the buildings for any valuables. Frank went prone in a corner for a quick bathroom break without giving much warning. I walk over to his body after I looted the nearby house and his character lays weirdly still.”I think Frank’s dead,” I said. We both started to panic and Frank returned to the microphone, confirming what I thought. He tells Alessandro to reach into his bag for Epinephrine to revive him. He rose and immediately collapses again. Frank said to check his bag again for another Epinephrine. Alessandro found the last one, revives Frank and bandaged his bleeding wounds. No more pit stops we agree. Zombies filed in from every direction and we just wanted to reach the airfield before someone joins the server.

We run into the barriers surrounding the airfield and enter through a hole in the fence. Six hangars line the runway of the airfield and a cluster of military tents setup at the far end of the runway. We findone badly damaged mountain bag, a couple magazines of AK ammo and an endless supply of army boots. Someone already looted the airfields and left behind only the scraps of the valuables.

Disappointed with the haul, we join another empty server hoping another group of players didn’t copy our obvious idea. We luck out and join the server first. Each hangar holds pristine mountain bags, hundreds of bullets and weapon attachments. We don’t find a M4 or AK assault rifle, but I upgrade my carbine to a SKS carbine, equip a tactical vest and attach magazines to my makarov pistol.

As we clear the remaining buildings for loot Frank notices smoke in the distance. Helicopter crash sites – the newest addition to the Day Z alpha build. Helicopters crash land at random spots on the map and reward players with great weapons. We sprint to the crash site and found parts of an M4 rifle littered all over the floor, but no rifle to attach them to.

After a few hours, we took our equipment and headaway from the airfield – away from danger. As we walk away from the crash site, a random zombie leaps at Frank and ruins his pants. He drops his pants and they disappeared, leaving him pantless and without dignity. The zombie then glitches under the terrain hitting us with her unrelenting fury swipe all while ignoring our axe swings or gun shots. We outrun the zombie and just try to enjoy our brand new haul.

Some glitches work in our favour and others ruin our pants. Creator Dean Hall often warns players of purchasing the Day Z alpha, and with strong merit. Players can lose their character at any moment or run into game breaking bugs. Even with the bugs and semi-developed content, Day Z offers one of the most unique social survival games ever created. Those who wait will play a game packed with content and mostly free of bugs. Those who buy the alpha can survive the zombie apocalypse, but won’t survive the wait until the next content patch.