I’ve been playing Arma II since 2010, clocking almost 300 hours total (counting Steam and non-Steam versions). Whilst the engine is showing a little rust, and server numbers die down, I was all but ready to give up on many new players coming to the game. I mean, how many people do you know who’ve bought it in one of the many Steam sales and either picked it up for five minutes or never even launched it? A great game, it just isn’t for everyone.

Until now…

Welcome to Chernarus. A 225 km2 open world post-soviet state and one of the areas hit by a new and presently unknown infection which has wiped out most of the world’s population. You are one of the few who have survived and now you must search this new wasteland in order to fight for your life against what is left of the indigenous population, now infected with the disease.

Go Solo, team up with friends or take on the world as you choose your path in this brutal and chilling landscape using whatever means you stumble upon to survive.

This is Day Z – This is your story.

If you’re a fan of Arma II, it’s likely you’ve never seen servers like this (at least not for a good couple of years.) What’s all the fuss about?

DayZ is a mod created by Dean “Rocket” Hall which transforms the scenic Russian inspired island of Chenarus into a zombie horror survival RPG. It’s as simple as that. The 130mb mod contains a few changes to the map, animations, textures and sounds and runs off the back-end of the PMC (private military company) expansion for OA (now Combined Operations.)

Players spawn within a certain radius with a Makarov and 5 clips of ammunition, without a map or any idea of where they are. Eating and drinking are both necessarily, and without finding necessary nutrients to replenish your energy you’re going to die. You’re given a few bandages (you can bleed out) and a couple of bottles of water and a can of baked beans – other than that, you’re on your own.

Pfft…Arma II? Scary? Whatever… I’ve been in Chenarus for years

Oh my god is this game atmospheric. The bright and scenic (albeit fairly creepy) Chenarussian landscape is transformed completely in atmosphere and tone by a sense of helplessness. Forced to venture into towns and cities in search of supplies and better weapons, there could be a zombie at any corner. Now, these aren’t those slow-ass-zombie-jags from the 1970′s that don afro’s and jive attitudes with about as much bite as a goldfish – these guys sprint. They sprint and they scream. 

Playing on Skype with three other friends, you’re tempted to shout “shut the hell up! I hear something!” as you traverse through an open plain in search of your friends. You can hear them moan around bends or in barns or houses… the last thing you want is to be left with a Makarov and 8 zombies chasing you.

And that’s where a lot of the beauty of DayZ really is – your hopelessness. You’re lost, and unless you find a map you’ll be forced to follow the abandoned railways, or busted vehicle ridden roads or even simply following electrical cabling in some vain hope of finding a city… but once you get there, then what? We stumbled on a healthy but otherwise immobile vehicle; unable to decide a plan, we headed into town in search of cans of fuel and a tool box for repairs. Within moments we heard a shot and, on the roof, I saw my friend sprinting back towards the building I was hauled up in with 9 zombies on his tail. What can you do? Armed with a Winchester rifle, he managed to take a couple out in the head – but as he ran out of ammo he was quickly mowed down – dead to the world. I ran up to the roof-top, dropping all my gear hoping that the zombies couldn’t navigate a ladder (hell, even Bethesda can’t navigate ladders). Suddenly: zombies on ladders. I jumped to my death, seeing no hope of survival.

We started over, addicted and enthralled.

RPG you say?

In DayZ you’re able to pick up: guns, ammo, flares, food, water, vehicle parts, wire fencing, and other useful bits and bobs. Combining items, you can get things working or set up defenses. Items are scattered all over the world, usually in buildings or in villages and cities. Unfortunately, towns are littered with zombies and cities are even worse. Working together is, as you’d expect, the key. But teams and groups of people won’t necessarily want to band together - some of them will want what you have – and DayZ really accounts for this. Generally, if they have the better gun – you better run.

DayZ features a morality system whereby if you kill two players, you will become a ‘bandit’ and everyone will probably shoot you. Your outfit changes to a more weathered style, so they’ll know. The problem is, just because they’re not a bandit, doesn’t mean they’re not looking to be one. If you have that little drop of water or food that they need, you need to be very careful just how close you let them get to you.

Although simple in execution, the Arma II DayZ has done something very complicated, very well. 90% of what makes DayZ great is human. How players interact. Stumbling on another player isn’t rare, but it’s not too common either. There’s a lot of ground to cover. Maybe you hear a shot? Where did it come from? Are they firing at you? Should you head to a town, run back the way you came? Risk it in the woods? What do you do?

Nothing is scripted here – it’s a true zombie sandbox, and whilst it’s in the early alpha stages, it’s still very playable if you can get onto a server.

Technical bits

That’s the problem really – getting onto a server. The DayZ home-servers (which all servers are connected to, I believe, for chatacter data etc) are blasted with attempts and totally over-worked, so you might find it difficult to get into a game, even if you’re on one of the many DayZ dedicated servers. It’s unlikely you’ll even find an empty server, and your best hope is to camp one and wait for it to either restart or for someone to leave – but it’s worth the wait.

Persistent Server – Fed up of spending so many hours working towards a goal or finding supplies and then the server crashes on you losing all your progress? Well with the DayZ server all stat’s are saved to our external database so where ever you log off, whatever you have will be keep on you next time you come back in. This means you can spend however long you want doing what you want to do. As long as you don’t die during the night!

It’s our fault, really. The creators of the mod really didn’t expect such viral success and I’m sure they can’t afford all of the bandwidth issues they’re facing, but as things iron out and donations start pouring in this is definitely something I think you should look into.

Anyway, instructions on how to get the DayZ mod are here, and although it says “For non-Steam users” this is the method you need to follow even if you are on Steam.

You’ll need http://www.six-updater.net/ client, which is an amazing mod client for Arma II courtesy of Patrick Roza who you should thank here because he’s awesome (and donate if you want.)

As far as I know there isn’t yet an option to donate to the project, but once I’m made aware of one I’ll add it here. It certainly merits one.

Anyhow – go forth, explore; kill some zombies, too.