Deep breath… *boom*. The little dot in my sights zigs to the left. *Crack*. He zags to the right. I have no hope of hitting him at this distance, as I’m only aiming in his general direction, but it’s enough to make him think he could die at any moment. He’s taking decisive, military action, but with a hilarious, half-ducking run. I give up shooting, because hunting for more bullets is a pain, but he carries on running and dodging without any more shots from me. My goal has been fulfilled: to make him run like John Gordon Sinclair in Gregory’s Girl.
Strange? Yes, but it’s the only way I can have fun in this game. One morning in Wasteland, a sandbox survival Arma 3 multiplayer mod, has changed me. The Craig you knew pre-Wastelend would say “Hi! How are you? May I say, what a smashing blouse you have on,” if we were to casually meet. Post-Wasteland Craig is different. He’d flinch at the first sight of you, dive into a bush, and make bird noises until you passed. He might take a pot-shot or two, but only out of a misplaced sense of justice, and only if you’re really far away. I have died many times in Wasteland. My corpses are shrines to every tactical folly you can make.
Wasteland isn’t quite DayZ without the zombies, but it’s a good enough touchstone. It’s a game of survival and death, but under the Greek sun instead of dreich Bohemian forests. You’re also not quite as lonely as you are in DayZ: at the beginning of the map you’re asked to select a team. Blu or Green binds you to that particular faction, meaning you can hope for some level of backup and teamwork. I always select the third faction: Independent. This means I am a target for everyone, including the other players under the Independent banner. I’m placed between a collision of goals that makes it feel like I’m playing a very slow game of deathmatch in the middle of a game of territory control. There are missions that send people scrambling across the map, to fight for a helicopter or a weapons stash, but they don’t interest me. There’s also water and food meters, but I haven’t lasted long enough to figure out what impact they have.
The compact landmass of Stratis means it’s easy to find people. My first death was in Agia Marina. There was a corpse near the middle of the waterfront. Corpses have weapons and money, the two most helpful things in the game. Guns can be found, either on bodies or in vehicles, and you can also buy them at weapon stations. Money is found on bodies, or in the bags a body has left behind. So a corpse could be a bounty. Agia Marina is the biggest town on Stratis, with plenty of little buildings to hide in. From my vantage point, a slope to the south, it seemed like the corpse was the only resident. Population: one corpse.
I spent a few minutes crawling down the hill. I pushed up against every wall. I darted and dodged, and even doubled-back to try and catch out anyone that was following me. Nothing. I spotted a butterfly, noted with pride that I could see its shadow, and carried on. There was a truck near the corpse that gave me the confidence to dash out into the open, knowing that if I could get to the truck I could have it as cover on one side, while there was mostly water on the other. Tactics! Stealth! Exactly what the guy in the building behind me knew I’d do!
Shit. Lesson learned: there’s always somewhere for someone to hide. I was shot in the back and spawned in the middle of nowhere.
If you see someone beside a vehicle, you can be pretty sure they’re attempting to swap whatever its carrying into their backpack. It’s a clunky interface that leaves the player vulnerable, and sometimes it bugs out so you need to drag the contents to the ground before placing them into your inventory. That’s why it’s worth camping out near them: some idiot might run from the top of the hill, stop to roly-poly down (lie on the ground and press q or e), and then run up to a van and stand there in full view of everyone, humming the bacon pancakes to himself. And that’s how I died the second time. I’ve yet to come across another player in Wasteland who doesn’t operate on the notion that survival means being an awful human being to people like me. How can you kill someone you watched roly-polying? Survival of the fittest? Survival of the fuckiest, more like!
I died a third time because I hesitated. I stumbled across a guy in one of the abandoned bases. We were both on a hilltop on a spit of land, and I spotted him before he noticed me. He had chosen a medic class, or as the game calls it: “combat lifesaver”. There’s something off-putting about seeing “lifesaver” appear over someone you’re pointing a gun at. It’s disarming. I had chosen the medic class, too. Here we were, two people bonded over our care for other huma – goddamnit. He unsaved my life.
I spawned elsewhere, not too far from another player that hadn’t spotted me. I had a brief moment of ‘no more mister nice guy’ and shot him, only to find he’d just spawned and had nothing on him of any value. And he was a lifesaver. I felt sad. It was worse when I found a screenshot of the exact moment I snuffed him out.
That moment was decisive. I decided that I wasn’t here to kill-or-be-killed. The island-wide fight that’s taking place over the 20 km2 of Stratis was never too far away. The engine’s view-distance enables you to see movement kilometers away, bursts of gun-play rattle around the valleys, there’s a constant thud on the air from the helicopter that people are fighting over. I could observe and survive, if I was careful. I found someone to watch back at Agia Marina, where I first died.
I was on a hill to the south when I caught movement down below, a man sneaking through town, heading towards the waterfront. Amazingly, that corpse was still there. I think the person that died had left their PC on in that state, drawing people towards the body whenever they enter the town. Either that, or it’s just one body in a line of corpses that have died and died at that spot. By then I’d found a pair of binoculars, a rifle, and a gun scope. I was lying in the shadow of a rock, watching him sneak through the streets. I looked around: while I’d found a comfortable spot to hide, another guy was watching him from the ridge of the hill. He had a gun trained on him. Below us, the little figure looked pretty pathetic as it was scavenging. I settled my gun, took aim to left of him, and fired. He zigged. I fired right. He zagged. I stopped shooting and he carried on up the hill. I could see the puffs the other sniper’s bullets were making, but I could already tell I’d saved this one. He made it to the top of the slope on the opposite side of the town and hopped into a van. He circled around the lip of the hill, probably celebrating life and all it had to offer.
Then he swerved back down the hill, straight into town and deliberately ran another player over.