Oh good grief, it’s less than a week away. But we haven’t even bought the sacrificial turkey yet. Horace’s infinity doesn’t include infinite patience! Quickly, we must panic! Meanwhile, please rip open the 19th door on the calendar to see the latest of our 24 favourite games of 2012.
It’s… Day Z!
Jim: Oh, Day Z. The mod that was the news. My instant response to a few hours with this was to say that it was the best thing I had played all year. In some ways that remains true, although there are reasons why a number of other games deserve higher praise, or greater scrutiny. Day Z was standing on the shoulders of a giant. No matter Arma 2’s problems – and they are many, from its demanding engine to its excruciating player-experience – it is a behemoth of simulation, and a towering monster of code that has no peer. The inaccessible soldier-simness of it made it invisible to most people, and worthy of caveats even for those who played it regularly. The hardcore, of course, knew its joys, and its astonishing strengths. It took only the slight tweak of persistence and zombie-apocalypse (and none of these things were really great changes to the base game, at least not at first) for the true appeal of such high-grade simulation to click with thousands more. Even then, though, there were many left out in the cold.
Here’s what mattered, though: As with so many other games that I write rambling eulogies for, DayZ was an anecdote-generator of the highest order. No one could spend time with it without coming away with a story – even if it was about their frustration and death-stumble on the slopes of its difficulty curve – and some of those stories were post-apocalyptic internet-war tales of a classic flavour.
For me, though, my encounter with Day Z was as if someone had been taking notes on my escapist needs. Carefully noting what a game would need to satisfy my needs for survival, terror, and contemplation. The pace of the game – with long periods spent hiding, or simply walking – make it unlike shooters, and just right for my old-man’s need for games to be a mix of mesmerisation through boredom, and extreme horror. Nor does its persistence make it like an MMO. It is most like its parent game, and even then – because of the way the world just exists, and ticks along forever, expecting you just to go in and make your own fun – it is unlike it entirely.
Quinns said something earlier in the year about DOTA 2 being proof that we wanted to have to learn things when playing games, and how we actually valued complexity and challenge. He was absolutely right, and I think Day Z represents another pillar of that. A good number of the people who were drawn in around the hype of DayZ ended up coming away feeling that it wasn’t for them – and I think that’s fair enough. For all the noise, it’s a game that really does ask a lot of its players. Some of them, though, want to face this kind of gauntlet. I am one of them. Daisy, daisy.
Day Z made my year because it was a sort of monster of realism and an angle of surrealism. Arma II’s pretensions toward simulation meant incredible things were possible in this game, but it also made the things that could happen even weirder, precisely because it wasn’t just some pixels flickering.
I’ve seldom swallowed so much tension, or spent so much time alone in a forest, with nothing happening, as I have in this game. And I just want more, and more, and a thousand imitators so that gaming can change forever.
For now I’ve stepped back to wait for the standalone game. But I know once it’s here… Oh, there will be time.