H1Z1 has sunk its teeth into me like one of the countless zombies that roam its wasted countryside. The online multiplayer post-apocalyptic zombie survival game was launched on Steam’s Early Access platform in an Alpha state several weeks ago by Daybreak Game Company, or the studio formerly known as Sony Online Entertainment, and I’ve struggled to survive its hellscape ever since. I’ve struggled even harder to pull myself away from this bleak version of our potential future. Like a Far Cry or Day Z, this is one of those games that lends itself to storytelling, with players relating the particulars and peculiarities of their latest doomed adventure to an intrigued audience. To understand why H1Z1 is so enrapturing, it’s best to review my character’s journal, an on-the-ground report of the harsh realities of this despoiled world.
I awoke in a forest. Dark clouds hung above the tops of the trees releasing a torrential downpour of rain. In the distance, I could see telephone lines parallel to a road that disappeared between two hills. My pockets were empty, save for a few bandages, a flashlight and an emergency flare. The sound of the rain muffled all other sounds, so I didn’t even notice the large bear approaching behind me. By the time I spun around to see the giant brown beast barreling through the bushes, it was too late—I died within seconds.
I awoke next to a river. Memories of my past life still as vivid as they were mere moments ago, I begin anew in the same body, but with new clothes. There was a cluster of blackberry bushes nearby that provided me with the sustenance I needed to get by for a few dozen more minutes. I was also able to find a branch large enough to defend myself with. After traveling down a road for several miles, I came across another human that looked exactly like me.
Daybreak has down a tremendous job of really selling the fact that this is a dark and lonely world. Supplies are scarce, survival is difficult, and there are ample opportunities for discovery. It’s refreshing to play a game that lacks a tutorial but still does a great job of making you learn as you play.
My doppelganger approached with a bow trained on my head as he exclaimed, “Are you friendly? Put your hands up!” I yelled back, “Yes! I am friendly! I’m new here and have no idea what I am doing. Any tips?” He lowered his bow and explained how he made it. All I had to do was remove my outer-shirt, shred it up into pieces of cloth and then tie that onto a stick to create a bow. I could whittle down other sticks into arrows. And just like that, I have a much more deadly and intimidating form of defense than an old branch.
We decided to stick together and watch each other’s back for a while. He showed me the ins and outs of surviving in this harsh world. Before long I had better gear, deadlier weapons and a plan of where to go next. As we were scavenging through a string of motel rooms, we heard voices and footsteps quickly approaching. Another person burst into the room and pointed a shotgun at us. He demanded that we hand over all of our food or he would blow our heads off. Since we didn’t have any food, we decided to try and run. As it turns out, he was perfectly fine with shooting us in the back and killing us that way instead.
Trust no one. That is the best tip a new player could receive when first joining this game. Maybe you can get lucky and find someone kind enough to help you out, but more often than not that person would rather try and kill you instead. It’s a harsh world and you can never be too careful.
I awoke near an RV camp. This was the same RV camp I had visited a few days prior, except now it was different. Cars were no longer mysteriously melded into one another. Arrows were no longer floating, stationary, in the air around me. I could interact with campfires and cook meat without inexplicable issues arising. Suddenly, it was as if the world had fixed itself!
I heard an airplane approaching in the distance. As I remembered the last time I saw an airplane—along with the ensuing madness that resulted from the airdrop of supplies—I knew I had to make a dash for it to see what I could scavenge. Previously, any time a person was able to retrieve an item from the crate, they seemed to almost always find a weapon—sometimes even a gun! Once I was within visible distance of the airdrop and green smoke emanating to the sky, I saw the stampede of zombies and people dotting the landscape. Before I had a chance to get my bearings, there was a bullet in my head.
Patches and updates are extremely common in the early lifespan of an online game. Even more so during an Early Access phase. Luckily, the development team has been tremendous in the opening weeks about delivering updates not only consistently, but delivering updates that actually fix important issues.
I’ve been alive for several hours this time. In my travels, I’ve managed to secure strong weapons, lots of ammunition, sustainable sources of food, and a growing stockpile of supplies. After making sure that I was not in immediate danger, I started to work on establishing a base of operations. I wrote down my coordinates on a piece of paper for reference and built a wooden foundation. Upon this foundation, I built various shacks, set up water purification stations, laid out animal traps, and created a small base for myself.
Luckily, I could return to this base to restock on supplies after being killed and even brought some of the more trustworthy people that I ran across to my base. Maintenance was no easy task, however. On several occasions I would enter the world only to find gates and walls destroyed by bandits. This required me to get creative with how I laid things out to prevent this type of exploitation – but it’s a risk you have to be willing to take in this kind of world.
While base building is definitely a work-in-progress, it shows great promise. There are an absolute ton of materials to gather and recipes to learn. The crafting and discovery system make it actually rewarding to pick up and play around with all the little random bits and pieces of things that you find lying around in the world.
This is my last journal entry because I fear for how much longer I truly have left. All of the things that I have described thus far make it sound like I could be trapped in any post-apocalyptic world devoid of law and order—but it’s much more gruesome and dark than that. The dead have awoken and become bloodthirsty creatures that will stop at nothing to taste human flesh. No matter how many times I die and come back again they are always there—hunting me.
It doesn’t matter if I close the door and hide inside this house, or if I lock the door of this pickup truck, or if I take off running through the forest—no matter what, they always chase me and find me. They’ve grabbed me and bit into my neck and they’ve surrounded me to tear away my flesh. They’re the undead; they’re zombies. I must go now, for I hear them drawing near once again.
Zombies are the furthest things from new and innovative that currently exist in the gaming market. Although with that being said, how they are used to set the tone and goals of a game world are still evolving. Daybreak still has a long ways to go in order to fully deliver on their promises of making zombies scary again, but they’re off to a great start.
David Jagneaux is a freelance games writer and full-time nerd. You can find his work across the interwebs at various sites. It’s dangerous to go alone, so follow him on Twitter @David_Jagneaux.