*This First Look is as of the 1/22/2014 version of the alpha H1Z1.*
Chasing a man down the highway was more difficult than it sounds. Two men stood by a campfire outside a grocery store up ahead. The man I was chasing ran toward them, and I in hot pursuit. “He attacked me first!” I said to them as we ran passed. I lied. He hadn’t. Regardless, the two bystanders sprang into action. We quickly dispatched my ‘attacker’ with wooden clubs and took refuge inside the grocery.
“You need anything?” one of them asked. “Here take this,” said another, placing a bottle of water on the ground. All the sudden a cop car came cruising up to the grocery, red and blue lights flashed through the window. The three of us ducked behind the counter. I felt my stomach move into my throat. Because they weren’t cops. There were no cops.
Stories and experiences. That is the heart that drives survival games, unpredictable player interactions in a harsh environment. Despite some haranguing by game journo pros over the usual alpha launch woes, there is a lot to be excited about with Sony’s H1Z1. Fans of the zombie survival genre that exploded into popularity with the Arma “DayZ” mod will find a familiar landscape. Players spawn into the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse with little more than the shirt on their back and have run, forage, and fight to survive. As of the latest patch* the state of H1Z1 is a solid, playable foundation -and they’re just getting started. What has impressed me the most so far is that the Sony team behind the game have been relentlessly listening to player feedback and churning out huge improvements. Within the first week we’ve already seen several impressive patches addressing loot drops, zombie behaviors and tweaks to survival need rates based on player feedback.
Another plus is that the game is built from the ground up to be H1Z1, unlike its mod counterparts, and it shows. The UI is smoother and responsive, inventory management is better and animations look a step up from the competition. Wild animals like rabbit, deer, wolves and bears roam the wilderness and can be hunted by both living and undead alike. Even little things, like hitting a player or zombie with a melee item causing their head to move and turn realistically with each blow. The strange hit-boxes and homemade animations we’re all used to are thankfully not making an appearance this time around. Brain eaters actually have the numbers and speed to chase you, offering more than the glitchy window dressing they have in other games.
H1Z1 also boasts a fairly robust crafting and building system. Players can find materials -wood sticks, metal scraps, cloth – anything to build a variety of traps, tools and weapons. You can place spikes outside a log cabin or hide animal traps deep in the woods to catch dinner. Researching different combinations of materials allows the player to learn new crafting recipes which (on most servers) stay with you after death. This mechanic offers a nice meta-progress system to alleviate some of the pain from dying and having to start over. You died and lost all your gear, but at least you learned how to craft some new things for next time.
Overall, the game is still an alpha -and players who are not interested in an unfinished product should wait and watch carefully from the sidelines. Arrows and objects will sometimes levitate in mid air, NPC’s will sometimes take strange path routes. The VoIP is decent but a little “gainy”. There’s no grouping system for friends or reporting system for cheating players. This is still an alpha. That said, it’s an alpha that is already more polished and playable in a matter of days than similar titles that were released months or years ago. If you enjoy DayZ, Rust, WarZ, or Breaking Point, this is a game you won’t want to miss.