DayZ is the kind of game that wants to make climbing over a fence feel like scaling Everest, the kind of game that makes simple melee fights feel like book-long odysseys, the kind of game with a dedicated middle finger emote but a serious lack of care and attention where it really counts. Having sunk many hours into DayZ on PC, its PS4 port filled me with plenty of excitement — five years ago.
In those five years, DayZ lost me thanks to its sloppy nature and seemingly listless approach to updates that meant it actually only entered a 1.0 state last December for PC. After an Xbox One port, which seems like it might have been a testing ground for a wider console release, DayZ is finally on PS4 after being announced with little to no fanfare. It’s not hard to see why: It plays very much like yesterday’s game.
The problems with the port are immediately obvious, even DayZ’s opening menu not being exempt from serious pop-in and slowdown — and this is on a Pro (admittedly not as huge an increase in power on the base PS4 as Sony would have you believe, but still). The intro cinematic itself, just a plain ol’ video, also looked like it had framerate issues, it barely able to get through a scene without some kind of hiccup. Things weren’t boding well, so as I made my way through the clunky server interface, I wasn’t surprised to find myself dropped into total darkness in Chernarus with no brightness setting to speak of, and really not much in the way of settings at all.
Following plenty of squinting and grunting, I pretty quickly came across a man looming over a flare in the middle of the road. Being far too naive for my own good, I approached him to a friendly welcome before he started attacking — presumably out of boredom — and chasing me. Scooping up his flare, I ran into the night, but then DayZ’s absolutely cursed inventory system reared its ugly head, meaning that I had to stop and stand still with a lunatic after me, all while I desperately tried to learn the algorithm needed to put the damn flare away so I could stop being tracked.
It’s not that the inventory system is bad per se, it’s more that it’s been designed by extraterrestrial beings who are running a social experiment to see how humans work with a UI from another planet. For some reason, you have to equip some items and then drop them so that you can swap them with other items despite there being a swap button that simply does not want to work. Likewise, there doesn’t appear to be any pain-free way of just changing stuff around in your inventory to make it more organised, or even just putting weapons away. This is the exact opposite of the PS4 port for H1Z1, which, while not the best game in the world, at least took the time to create a better experience designed specifically for controller players.
The attack by the flare guy left me mortally wounded, so I bled out pretty quickly and found myself back on the beach. Remarkably, I found yet another player almost instantly, though I have been solo for what feels like hours since his heartbreaking betrayal.
In the cold light of day, DayZ’s performance issues on PS4 became even more pronounced. The screen tears massively when you make any sort of sudden movement, as well as the game struggling to render when you turn around with frequent pop-in and stuttering for environments. My “friend” would somehow have a silver face if I looked back at him, and while I want an open world Silver Surfer game as much as the next guy, not like this I don’t.
DayZ generally also suffers horrendously when you enter any area with more than a couple of huts and an incessant chicken to its name. The framerate draws to a snail crawl as the environments wake up from their nap and render. Not only do you have to beware of other players and zombies if you go to highly-trafficked spots, but you also have to look out for pervasive technical issues that make an incredibly clunky game feel even more so. There’s even an old bug that I vividly recall from the game’s Early Access days where players look like they’re floating or falling from a great height when trying to climb over something. Oh, you also don’t vault anything in DayZ: You just kind of jump around it until the game is tricked enough into letting you over.
There’s also just how aged DayZ feels as an overall product, something that took its sweet time in development and ended up getting overtaken by its peers as a result. The general gameplay loop of DayZ is uninspired and seriously unfulfilling, it depending entirely on your interactions with other players to be any fun at all. It’s a sparse game with little to do apart from stay hydrated and clumsily hit zombies with what feels like the force of a baby’s fist. While it being “better with friends” is an obvious defence, this applies to almost every game ever made. If you could play The Quiet Man with a friend (who could be your ears or something along these lines), it would be even more of a masterpiece than it already is.
I’ve not spent a huge amount of time back in Chernarus with about five hours under my belt so far, but it says a lot that I am seriously dreading the next five. I haven’t seen another soul in a couple of hours, and I am not seeing how DayZ can get much better from here, either.