Each Monday, Marsh Davies scours the apocalyptic desolation of Early Access for precious artifacts and/or tins of beans. This week he staggers through the irradiated online survival sandbox of Miscreated.
In this particular post-cataclysm nightmare, I play a bald man of grim countenance, maniacal staring eyes and no pants. In fact, when I first toggle into thirdperson, it appears I don’t even have legs. So far, my survival plans are going exactly as well as I’d imagine they would if civilisation actually collapsed.
It’s not clear exactly what triggered the disaster that has befallen Miscreated’s world, but there seems to be radiation involved, and, inevitably, some sort of zombie-like menace. They’re occasionally seen waddling back and forth amid the tumble-down houses of otherwise deserted townships and, if you’re unlucky, stabbing you repeatedly with large, conical shivs which have been bandaged onto their stump arms. Thanks, Obamacare.
I wonder if zombie fiction endures for the reason Simon Pegg suggests - because it evokes the inevitability of mortality, shuffling slowly but implacably towards you - or whether it’s because zombies are the familiar rendered unfamiliar: human society turned suddenly, inexplicably hostile. As social animals, what could be more terrifying than violent persecution by our own tribe?
Zombie games, meanwhile, seem to be desperately trying to render the unfamiliar familiar once more through sheer repetition, and since the release of DayZ there have been no shortage of pretenders like Miscreated, which seek to replicate that game’s open world survivalism, player-driven violence and unhealthy quotient of perma-beta shonk. Of these wannabes, Miscreated is one of the better ones, and already does quite a lot to streamline DayZ’s pitilessly opaque systems and horrible menus.
You might argue that some of DayZ’s richness came from the pedantry of its simulation - insisting that you find a can-opener before you can eat a tin of beans - but at least you won’t be reduced to plangent weeping by Miscreated’s intuitive and simple inventory system. All this simplification is made a slightly easier task by the fact that there are are just vastly fewer systems here to streamline. Though Miscreated promises exciting features like hunting and player-built bases at some point in the future, currently the game’s featureset is pretty much limited to the ability to spawn, scavenge and die - assuming the server you’re on doesn’t keel over before you do.
Generously, my legs pop into existence a little while after spawning, along with bits of level geometry and the majority of textures. My PC (AMD FX-6100, 6Gb RAM, GTX 670) is getting a bit long in the tooth and Miscreated, made in Cryengine, certainly doesn’t go easy on it - epic loading times are coupled with choppy performance and a lot of LOD issues. But when the textures finally deign to arrive, Miscreated can look pretty good.
The tree-lined road ahead is pitted with pot-holes and cluttered with the rusted husks of cars - and while not all of the game assets have a stylistic consistency to them, on the whole they paint a pretty convincing picture of societal and material decay. This is for better and worse: there’s alluring detail in the makeshift fortifications on a collapsing house, the weeds grown wild on the porch, the daubed warnings on its clapboard walls. But I find DayZ’s townships spookier - simply deserted. Like it happened yesterday.
Miscreated’s world feels long gone - and so, it initially seems, are its inhabitants. But then, while investigating a nearby house, I spot a figure. He looks exactly like me, only he isn’t wearing trousers, and his arms are outstretched wide. My traditional display of non-hostility, which involves spinning round and jumping on the spot, elicits no reaction. Perhaps I was hasty to befriend this trouserless fellow, I think, and not for the first time in my life. I give him a playful, friendly punch to the face and, to my surprise, he dies instantly. I feel bad as I loot his corpse, particularly as digging through his inventory reveals nothing of value. Although it appears he had some trousers after all - he just wasn’t wearing them. I tearfully salute his bold rejection of the Old World’s social mores.
My journey continues down a road heaped with the carcases of vehicles and across a bridge. In the gulley below, the remains of an articulated lorry and its cargo lie partially submerged, while a billboard advertises the forthcoming player-built forts with the slogan “survive in style”. I suppose the devs figure that players will break the fourth wall, so why not push it over yourself?
As in DayZ, your exploration is motivated by the need to eat and drink, and my immediate goal is to scour the surrounding buildings for anything I can put in my face. A convenience store, already ransacked, only offers a couple of bandages and a squeegee brush. Here I am hoping that post-collapse society has developed a barter economy around your ability to clean windows:
A trip to the local church proves fruitless, although it’s an impressive vision of decay - all ivy and plywood barricades. Luckily I hit paydirt in a building bearing the enticing slogan “I HAVE WEAPON STAY AWAY” and manage to scrape together a backpack, beanie hat, several tins of soup, a can of soda and, most importantly, horn-rimmed sunglasses. I even manage to swipe a hatchet, which should come in handy if negotiations over my coveted window cleaning skills get heated.
Unfortunately, at this point, the server decides to go it’s time for it to go and have a little lie down. The next server I get into survives a mere five minutes before it too is summoned to the land of nod. I’m somewhat thankful, however, because the server clock was set to some midnight hour and the five minutes it remains functional are a terrifying dash through dark woodland. Somewhat disappointingly, I encounter no one lurking in the bushes, trouserless or otherwise.
My plan is to get to a water tower that stands on a hill-side above the town - a landmark that should be easy for friend of RPS, Craig Pearson, to find when he logs in to play with me. Craig’s the best sort of person to play these kind of games with - he loves them so much, he quit journalism to go and help make Rust (among other of Facepunch’s projects). And, by luck, when we both find a server to our liking, he spawns in a cluster of buildings only a few hundred yards away.
He has not spawned alone. Suddenly, after hours of isolation, we are repeatedly assailed by insistent but ill-equipped players, each of whom falls beneath Craig’s swinging hatchet. They aren’t our problem though: I’ve spotted a figure on the horizon, watching our antics from afar. It’s hard to tell - and maybe it’s just the LOD settings - but he could be holding a gun. Craig patches himself up in some bushes and instructs me to flank through some gardens, while he approaches the mysterious gentleman along the road. This plan does not work out well for Craig, despite an extravagantly non-hostile display of jumping, and his perforated body crumples to the tarmac. My attempts to circle round unnoticed and take revenge are also unsuccessful. And so the apocalypse cuts short yet another life - so many dreams unfulfilled, so many windows left unwiped.
Subsequent spawns happen in relatively quick succession. I am murdered by one of the roaming zombie NPCs, which I choose to throw myself at unarmed for the sheer novelty. Later we spend a lengthy period of time orienteering, attempting to direct each other to a large motel in a town called Woodhaven. The servers go and up and down. It’s raining. Then it’s foggy. Then it’s dusk.
On one server we’re treated to a bit of in-character player chatter: the local “sheriff” reporting a sighting of two bandits near the motel at Whitehaven. Surely not us, sir, we say. We are merely peaceful travellers in these parts. But someone pipes up, claiming that we shot them with an M4. Then another. And another. Pretty soon the entire server of players is swearing vengeance upon us for crimes we are sadly too ill-equipped to have committed. This emerging drama is cut short by a server collapse, but Craig does his best to whip up some conflict in the next game we join - publically staking our claim to the motel and challenging all comers to battle. No one turns up, though, and after an attempt to reach a hillside observatory is thwarted by the map’s impassable boundaries, we call it a night.
Miscreated’s world seems smaller and denser than DayZ’s and its locations have more individual personality. But it comes at the cost of DayZ’s simulatory breadth. Whatever direction Miscreated takes this genre, it’s always going to be playing catch-up with the likes of Rust and DayZ itself, and at the current stage of development it’s hard to see why you’d play it in preference, especially when it costs £19. Some players, like the self-appointed Sheriff, are making their own fun in here, but it’s not obvious that the game is helping them with that in any particularly sophisticated way. It’s certainly one to watch, but right now the devs need to get on with making it before the game can be said to be miscreated or otherwise. For the time being, I’ll be keeping my trousers on.
Miscreated costs £19 Steam, and I played version 0.1.1.1436 available on 13/11/2014.