Every so often a game hits the market that shifts gamer expectations so drastically that the entire industry changes. I'm not talking about the gigantic changes that games like Super Mario Bros. and Doom have sparked. These days, the industry is too different and too expansive to allow for a single title to affect the whole apparatus. No, I'm talking about something more subtle, like the way Counter-Strike and Call of Duty have unmistakably influenced the FPS genre by forcing other developers to follow suit.
DayZ is already becoming one of these titles, and it’s not even a year old.
Even before DayZ hit the mod scene, there were already a handful of titles in development that treated life more sacredly than your average historical video game. Endless respawns aren't really an option in games like ZombiU, Dark Souls, and XCOM. Death is permanent, which means that every enemy encounter is hell on the nerves, and this is a good thing.
But DayZ somehow manages to be far more terrifying than any of these titles. It's partially because the majority of your time is spent sneaking around in tall grass and keeping one eye on your hunger and thirst levels. And, even though these activities can sound particularly unexciting, they're punctuated with zombie fights that may end in your character's permanent extinction.
I hesitate to use the word realistic to describe a video game about a zombie apocalypse, but it seems oddly appropriate.
But DayZ's marquee features aren't what makes it a game changer. It's the fact that there have been so many stories of double crosses, assassinations, kidnappings, and Stockholm Syndrome. Running into a group of people in DayZ is arguably more terrifying than running into a group of zombies. At least with the zombies, you know that they're going to try to eat you at some point, but with the people, anything is possible.
Trading is tense, because resources are scarce and it's often just easier for other players to kill you and take your food. And death is just as permanent, whether it comes at the hands of a zombie or another player. It makes for a particularly authentic apocalypse.
Plus, the game is still Alpha testing and it's singlehandedly responsible for putting ARMA 2 back on the Steam charts for over seven weeks, and it has already spawned a sub-standard and controversial rip-off, The War Z.
At this point there's no way to tell if another developer will be able to duplicate the kind of ongoing intensity that DayZ has naturally found. When you rely on players to control the gameplay, things typically go off the rails relatively quickly. But we're definitely going about to see a string of titles that attempt it. And if the copycats are even half as brilliant as DayZ, we may have an entirely new genre on our hands.
Date: December 27, 2012