DayZ Alpha is a free survival horror mod for military shooter, Arma 2. Set in a 225km2 open world post-soviet state, the majority of the population has been infected with a disease. Players take on the role of one of the few who have survived the catastrophe and must now struggle to survive the wasteland, while also fighting for their life against the infected population. In short, DayZ is a zombie survival mod that runs on a military simulator for added realism on the survival front.

Players enter the game world of Chernarus for the first time by spawning at a random location in the world, generally somewhere along the coastline of the map. With nothing more than a bandage, some painkillers, and a flashlight – players must set out from their starting point and quite simply see how long they can survive. The concept sounds very simple, and it is, but what lies beyond this simple idea is a mod that runs far deeper than even the creator realized.

DayZ is a sandbox, and within a sandbox generally lies a beautiful little machine called emergent gameplay – where players create their own things to do, and their own ways to play. Gameplay is created by the players, not the game, and that’s what makes this one of the most interesting mods of 2012. Players must scavenge for loot, repair vehicles, set up camps, and discover new ways to survive and adapt to this cruel and unforgiving world. There is absolutely no guidance or handholding in DayZ, in fact the whole point of the game is figuring out how to survive – not reading a user manual.

Surviving isn’t a walk in the park either; players will have to manage hunger, thirst, body temperature, and their health. Through these needs arises gameplay, players need supplies that are scattered at loot spawn locations around Chernarus – not everything will be in one location and getting from place to place can be dangerous and take a lot of time. There are many dangers that lie in wait, from infected who stalk the streets of towns and structures, to even environmental dangers such as breaking your leg on rough terrain – starving, being eaten alive, breaking bones, it’s all there.

If it wasn’t enough that your own body and the environment around you is constantly threatening your life – there’s a whole new style of psychological threat that has emerged as well. Players needs to keep themselves fully supplied with weapons, equipment, food, and other items that are not always easy to find. Because all this loot is crucial to surviving, some players have decided it’s much easier to wait for other players to find the loot for them before ripping it out of their cold, dead hands. There’s no PvP restrictions in DayZ, meaning Bandits roam the roads and fields of Chernarus, waiting for an unsuspecting player to deliver supplies straight to them.

The combination of a need for survival supplies and the ability to take anything a player has on them has added a whole new layer of psychological gameplay to DayZ. Players find they have a difficult time trusting anyone, and simply bumping in to another player can open up a million different opportunities for both how he situation will turn out and what will come of it. Initially players might be scared the other will kill them, this may lead to a firefight and one of them dying – but in other scenarios players figure out they are both friendly towards each other and team up.

Teaming up with other players is the most ideal scenario; however interacting with another player will never be the same. In a world with total freedom and no rules – it’s difficult to tell what someone is going to do and it almost always turns out differently. That’s the beauty of DayZ however; players can survive and interact with each other in whatever means they choose. Sometimes the results will get your heart beating so fast you will think you are about to have a heart attack – seriously, go play for a week and tell me I’m lying.

The best part of DayZ is how the mod runs, the mod is hosted on servers with generally around 50-70 players, however they are all linked and share the same database – saving your location and items in which you are carrying no matter which server you play on. Unfortunately any vehicles you find or camps you set up must remain on the server you found or set them up on. This interconnectivity gives DayZ an MMO-like style that is unmatched by any other mod.

Currently the mod is in Alpha, which means it isn’t without its issues – which the mod certainly has. With a combination of issues from ARMA 2 and some tweaking needed for DayZ, there are definitely some frustrating issues that need to be ironed out. The issues within the game, like graphical artifacting and hackers can be a bit of a turn-off, but it won’t take long before you realize that DayZ is completely worth the troubles that sometimes arise.

All-in-all, DayZ is an innovative mod that has turned zombie survival games on their head and shown them how it’s really done. If you ever wished there was a proper zombie apocalypse simulator, this is the only game that can even come close to delivering a decent experience. Say goodbye to wave-based gameplay, and say hello to the best mod of 2012. If you enjoy sandbox games, you like zombies, don’t mind an alpha build, and you don’t mind your games being extremely difficult and unforgiving, play DayZ – you won’t regret it.