Frontline: A DayZ in the Life

The average life for a player on DayZ is 49 minutes.

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It used to be closer to 4 hours, but an update that removed much of the starting gear (including your first weapon) turned an already deadly simulation into a much more dangerous adventure. In a word, it's brutal.

DayZ is a zombie survival mod for military simulation Arma 2: Combined Operations. Dean "Rocket" Hall saw the potential for a persistent open world zombie game, and began making it a reality. It was released just a few months ago and between now and then over 1,000,000 players have signed up for the game. Bohemia Interactive took note of the growing popularity of the mod and on 8.8.12 they announced that DayZ was being developed into a standalone game.


The premise is simple. Each life starts with a character arriving on the coast of Chernarus (a 225 km2 open world post-soviet state), with nothing but the clothes on his/her back, some pain killers, a bandage and a flashlight. Beyond that there is one solitary objective: stay alive.

It's playable from both first and third person perspectives. A massive, persistent world is available on each server, joining one then places you on the periphery of a zombie survival horror experience unlike any other. There's no quests, no objectives (beyond the one mentioned above), each player has no agenda other than the one they choose for themselves. All you have is the will to survive and a vast environment in which to explore. It's a refreshing change of pace, and perhaps the purest expression of zombie survival horror in videogame form to date.

DayZ Diary Entry 1: Epic Fail

So there I was, taking my first steps on DayZ. Foliage was shimmering in the wind, and the hillside to the north was littered with trees. The tide was lapping at my ankles. It was time to move.

There was an urban environment far off to the east, and that seemed as good a place as any to start looking for the equipment that would keep me alive in the coming hours. I followed the coast, running at a steady speed, woodland to my left, the expanse of water to my right.

En route to the nearby town I came across a dilapidated warehouse. Entirely unremarkable, I decided to ignore it and carry on to the mass of buildings off in the distance. Just beyond the warehouse, a zoom revealed the trademark shuffle of a zombie in the distance. I crouched and reduced my speed. Perhaps the warehouse was worth checking out after all; at the very least it offered me a good opportunity to navigate my way past the slow moving threat up ahead.


I crept into the hollow structure. Nothing. No provisions or supplies to be found, no axe or gun to pick up for self defence. It was a barren and broken building. I was just about to leave when I saw a set of steps that led to a walkway. I went to investigate. Nothing up there either.

There were no zombies in the vicinity, certainly nothing close enough to see or hear me, so I nonchalantly vaulted the railing and hopped back down to the ground floor. I moved towards the - Bang.

I was murdered. A shotgun to the back of the head. I didn't even see it coming. Blank screen. Game over. Dead. 9 minutes into my first life on DayZ and I was done. And it wasn't even a zombie that did the deed.

Oh how I fumed. Who? What? Where? When? Why? Questions flashed through my mind. Expletives rolled from my tongue. This is not what I expected to happen, and it certainly wasn't the experience I was hoping to have. There was nothing to do but regroup and restart. Besides, my rude introduction to the brutal dog-eat-dog world of DayZ had given me a new objective: find the bastard that murdered me and kill them.

DayZ Diary Entry 2: Surviving

In truth, my new objective was an impossible one to realise. Each time you start a new life you do so at a new point on the coast. My next game was to play out much further away, and the distance required to travel was, simply, unfeasible. My vendetta evaporated pretty quickly.

The main reason for my abandonment of vengeance was that I had more pressing matters to attend to; namely the hundreds of undead shufflers wandering around the surrounding landscape. That said, they weren't the thing that scared me the most. After my brutal induction to DayZ, it quickly dawned on me that the other players on my server were a far more substantial threat.

But I wasn't to be put off, and a few murdering bandits weren't going to deflect me in my survival mission. I rejoined the action and immediately pointed myself at some nearby buildings. I avoided line of sight, crept through the long grass, and eventually made it to the safety of an abandoned petrol station. There were a couple of basic supplies on the floor: some painkillers, a empty water flask. Nothing that impressive. I moved on to a farm nestled into the side of a nearby hill. Again, there was nothing to be found.


Back down the hill I went, heading towards the edge of a small town. I'd been alive for nearly an hour now, but progress was painfully slow. Passing groups of zombies required plenty of patience, and a little bit of luck.

I made it to the edge of town, and was just about to infiltrate the urban environment when my screen flashed white. I'd been tagged by a zombie. I swung round, clocked the animated corpse clawing at me, came out of crouch and ran for my life. Holding CTRL + ALT allowed me to glance behind me as a sprinted through the town. More and more zombies joined the chasing pack, but perhaps more concerning was the stream of blood pissing out of a wound on my back. Fear was beginning to take hold, and my blood, DayZ's measure of health, was draining away at an alarming speed.

Slowly, one by one, the chasing pack dispersed, until only one was left. Unfortunately I was on the edge. I put distance between us and then stopped to put on a bandage and take some painkillers. Unfortunately the rather awkward inventory system worked against me and I ended up dropping all my medical supplies. The zombie homing in on me meant I had to keep on moving, failure to do so would've meant certain death.

I ran up a hill, lost the zombie, but also too much blood. I found a tree near a distinctive location, and settled down to die. Hopefully I'd be able to find this spot again and reclaim my meagre assortment of supplies.

DayZ Diary Entry 3: Finding My Feet

I was running through the grounds of an old factory complex. I looked in one building and there was barbed wire blockading the entrance. I tried to vault over it, failed to do so and got batted by an irate zombie for my trouble. I went to the next door only to find more barbed wire. Bollocks. I ran around a couple of corners, before ducking into a doorway. I waited patiently for a couple of minutes, until I was confident I had lost my pursuers.

I ventured out and began to explore the area. Still nothing of note to be found, except an unusual audio cue. Flies buzzing. I climbed a ladder bolted to the side of a building, and upon reaching the top I discovered the source of the unusual sound: a fellow player, dead on the floor. It wasn't clear what killed him, but he wasn't carrying any equipment. The scene left me nervous. It was time to move on. I could see some trees off in the distance. That would do.


The woodland is pretty safe, certainly when compared to the rest of the environments in DayZ. Nevertheless I was still moving carefully through the trees. It was then that I came upon my first boon. An unattended tent.

I looked around, made sure there was nobody to be seen, and then cleaned it out. Sure I felt guilty about doing it, I robbed a lot of really good stuff, but it's a game of survival at the end of the day. My first encounter with another player had ended badly for me (my second was another attempted murder, but one I escaped) and I wasn't going to make the same mistake again. With pockets stuffed full of stolen gear I headed back out into the world, hoping to survive for just a few hours longer.

DayZ is a horribly glitchy, uncompromising and violent game. That said, it is utterly compelling and completely addictive. It facilitates a unique, unpredictable (save for the inevitable conclusion) and terror inducing experience. The promise of a more robust and polished standalone title is certainly appetising, but the mod's shortcomings don't stand in the way of it being an absorbing game right now. And that being the case, we can heartily recommend you check it out.

If you do want to experience DayZ for yourself then the first thing you'll need to do is head over to Steam and download yourself a copy of Arma 2: Combined Operations (it's about £25). The next step is to head here to download the mod (or head this way for news on the official standalone game currently in development). Follow the instructions, install the game, load it up and then, well, stay alive for as long as possible.


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REVIEW. Written by Mike Holmes

"While fun is there to be had and DayZ is still able to offer up uniquely intense flashes of quality, it's not enough to make this an essential survival experience in 2019."

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