DayZ on PS4 is a long and strange tale, it being announced as coming to PS4 five years back and then dropping off the face of the planet. The odyssey of its port is so protracted, in fact, that Cultured Vultures was only really just getting started when it was revealed at Gamescom 2014. It was news that I personally approached with great excitement as a PC player of the game who didn’t want to stay hunched over his laptop while I hunted for beans for hours.
So I waited, and waited, and waited some more. I eventually gave up on it ever happening, equally accepting of the possibility that DayZ would never languidly stroll out of Early Access on PC after possibly the most infamous period in the program for any game. I moved on to other games, new survival experiences like The Long Dark and The Forest; survival games that were actually fit for purpose. Hell, even Rust, which is a complete and utter cesspit, managed to accomplish a lot of what DayZ struggled to and scratch a misanthropic itch while performing fairly well.
After launching out of Early Access on PC last December and going through Game Preview on Xbox One, DayZ finally landed on PS4 recently to the resounding noise of crickets, it barely being pushed after it was surprise announced. A curious situation considering the wide appeal of the game on PC, as well as there being plenty of people who were still interested in it finding its way to PS4. The reason for the announcement being a little undercooked becomes clear pretty quickly: DayZ on PS4 is a total mess, a game so miserably janky that it’s exhausting even talking about it.
Things are immediately off-putting, the main menu not even capable of loading properly without the background lazily rendering and your character model doing their best Silver Surfer impression. Delayed texture rendering is a consistent issue throughout DayZ on PS4 (even on a Pro), it occurring whenever you simply turn around or venture into an even slightly dense area. Going to cities, where most of the fun stuff and good loot is, feels like living through the 700 jumps scene in Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
The amount of slowdown and horrifically delayed rendering makes DayZ border on unplayable on PS4, or at least requires you to completely overlook fundamental flaws to get any enjoyment out of the directionless and antiquated gameplay. There’s no main objective in DayZ beyond simply surviving, which should free up any role-players to approach it how they like. While this might have been interesting five years ago, it can’t help but feel outdated, unfriendly, and just plain boring today. All you do is loot, drink, eat and pray the game doesn’t wet the bed for long enough so that you might see someone else.
There are tonnes of survival games out there with layers upon layers of mechanics that intuitively teach players how to play over time while not dragging them along by the hand — Green Hell springs to mind. DayZ, meanwhile, is too obsessed with being a punishingly “realistic” experience to be a fun experience, it asking you to find bottled water in apparently the most eco-friendly environment on the planet — very few people in Chernarus don’t immediately recycle their plastic bottles, it seems — while demanding you stay hydrated every fifteen minutes. The big bad of DayZ isn’t the zombies or other players, it’s water.
Speaking of zombies, they’re actually some of the most terrifying creatures you will find in any game of this ilk. Not because they are terribly powerful, or smart, or anything like that. No, it’s because DayZ’s combat is so atrociously unreliable that even a simple encounter can turn into a gladiatorial battle for the ages.
The hit detection in DayZ would be hilarious if it wasn’t so infuriating, zombies often several feet away from you as they somehow land damage with their swipes. Sometimes they don’t even need to be looking in your direction to land a hit: I would often hit a zombie from their back and they would attack in front of them, somehow damaging me behind them. Adding to that, even if you have a straight swing with a crowbar lined up, there’s no guarantee that it will even register. With issues like these, just fighting two zombies at once feels as intense as taking on a whole horde in Days Gone, especially as your HP seems to be delayed in decreasing so you’re never really aware of how you’re holding up.
PVP is just as bad, if not possibly worse. Other players constantly skitter and zip about the place, them seemingly phase-shifting around — fluid motion just isn’t a thing that happens in DayZ. This makes gunfights feel like a vaudeville performance where neither party can land a shot as you’re both just constantly teleporting. One encounter with a seemingly friendly player highlighted this brilliantly, them asking me to stand still so they could betray me and land a headshot. I would have been mad if it wasn’t so slapstick, or if it wasn’t the only slice of entertainment I’d had in DayZ for hours and hours.
As the kind of game where you make your own fun, DayZ really depends on you linking up with other players for longevity. I met plenty of interesting characters who also seemed desperate to eke out some worth from the game’s steep asking price. It’s a shame, then, that DayZ’s performance issues make even being near other players an exercise in patience, the framerate and general stability taking a massive hit. I also seemed to run into more bugs in general when near other players, my audio beginning to miss every other note and me unable to put anything down or pick anything up.
When you’re near nobody else, DayZ is just generally not a fun experience, most of your time being taken up by running across roads or through fields while nervously glancing at your hydration meter. I enjoy horizon porn as much as the next guy, but not even a pretty sunset can stop DayZ from feeling laborious and tiring to play for extended periods of time.
While you may argue that DayZ should be played with friends, the bizarre design choice to make you learn orienteering to navigate the beige landscape of Chernarus while also spawning you a million miles away from your friend on the same server gives the impression that Bohemia didn’t have that in mind — or at least care enough to implement a better system. After getting killed by two bug-tastic zombies, DayZ decided to drop me at the top of the map where there is precisely nothing. This, after I had just spent the last half an hour running to meet up with a friend in the south.
Even if DayZ on PS4 was stable, its basic design seems specifically designed to engender a more significant sense of progression at the expense of genuine fun, like the player has to constantly hurdle mountains for what should really feel like a small hill. This is most obvious in the inventory system, which is, for my money, the worst I have ever seen in a game this side of the original PlayStation. Simply swapping weapons is a chore, it asking you to put your gun away before you can select anything else. Similarly, DayZ doesn’t even do you the courtesy of highlighting anything you’ve selected, so you’re never even sure where you’re at. This makes combining items, which is entirely guesswork to begin with, feel unbelievably clunky, so too does just wanting to move an item into another inventory slot.
All of this is to say nothing of the frequent screen tearing, meagre draw distance, morphing character models, terribly scant settings, or even bugs that I vividly recall from DayZ’s earliest Early Access days. Just a couple of these flaws would be enough to sink DayZ’s prospects as an advisable purchase, but when combined with antiquated, unfriendly, and simply tedious gameplay, it all amounts to it being one of the worst games the PlayStation 4 has to offer.
Dated, buggy, and irredeemably wearisome, DayZ on PS4 offers an experience as empty and uninteresting as Chernarus itself that was certainly not worth waiting nearly half a decade for.