How can something so clunky be so scary? The animations are hilariously bad, the character movement is twitchy and the controls are some of the most frustrating I’ve ever used. Yet, DayZ has become incredibly successful, being one of the few mods to actually increase the sales of its parent game. More importantly, DayZ can be utterly terrifying. Why is this? For those who have barricaded themselves in a zombie-proof shelter for the past few months: DayZ is a zombie simulation mod designed in the Armed Assault 2 engine (a military simulation game). Players must find food, bandage wounds, keep themselves warm, shoot zombies and survive and thrive in a 225 km2 zombie infested island.
But I don’t think it’s just the horde of bloodthirsty zombies snapping at your heels that makes DayZ so scary. It’s the fact that one wrong move could see you stuck in a doorway, falling off a ledge or dismounting a ladder at the worst possible time. You are not just fighting the un-dead; you are fighting Day Z’s controls. Amazingly, this isn’t a bad thing. Intentionally or not, Day Z’s controls (which it inherits from it’s military sim parent) actually enhance the fear factor. Every decision will always raise 3 questions: will it alert zombies, will it alert bandits, and can I pull it off with Day Z’s controls.
…even if said target is so close it’s munching on your face…
The controls become workable after a while, but the clunkyness continues. Strange, twitchy attack animations from the zombies mean you never really know if their attack will hit you or not. Attacking with melee weapons is incredibly dangerous, (as it should be) partly because of your hatchet’s tendency to miss a target, even if said target is so close it’s munching on your face. While in any other game these bugs would render it unplayable, in DayZ, it almost works. Somehow, DayZ manages to become more life-like as it rips away immersion.
But making a game harder to control has always been a staple of the horror game genre. From Resident Evil’s tank controls and awkward camera angles, to Doom 3’s strange insistence that it is physically impossible for a human to hold a flashlight and a gun at the same time. DayZ takes this concept and pushes it further than any other horror game to date, and does so with clumsy brilliance.