It only takes a single glance at the Steam marketplace to see how quickly the open-world zombie survival genre has proliferated. Following the success of DayZ it seems as though everyone is trying to get their own iteration to the table to help feed the masses. One of the more noteworthy of these projects is Sony Online Entertainment’s H1Z1. While it’s still a ways away from release, we got our hands on H1Z1 and despite it being another genre title, what we saw was quite promising.
At first glance, it would not be unreasonable for someone to liken H1Z1 to a title like DayZ. From the dreary and desolate zombie-infested landscape to its harsh survival requirements, it has all the trappings of another genre cash-in. Upon taking a closer look though, Sony Online Entertainment’s entry has the potential and passion behind it to be something far more than that.
The central idea for H1Z1 that the developer focused on was that of a truly living world where players should be encouraged for thinking laterally. Quite literally, if a player can think of it, they should be able to be able to do it. As Sony Online Entertainment works towards a stable alpha state and later the final product, their intention is for nothing in the world to be solely for decoration. Everything from wandering deer to trees and shrubs should have some purpose outside of being purely cosmetic.
This was illustrated by a horde of zombies surrounding an abandoned house. Nearby, a deer moved closer to the house which attracted the attention of one of the zombies. Turning, it began to follow the deer but not before more zombies started turning at the notice of food. Rather than existing as separate AI, the deer and zombies had a noticeable effect on one another. It is this reactionary nature of the game’s AI that could allow for a deeper degree of emergent gameplay than most games are capable of.
Continuing to highlight the game’s AI, the developer began spawning zombies on the hill until dozens were in place. Rather than all turning and dashing towards the player, some zombies shambled off in the direction of the nearby deer and some moved towards a fire. Many games in the genre are criticized for the low number of zombies that they are able to portray at once but in this early display, H1Z1 was impressively able to simulate a large, free-thinking horde.
This runs counter to the other zombie survival titles on the market. While titles like DayZ feature the undead, they pose less of a threat than the human element due to less impressive numbers. If this tech is to be exploited, it’s entirely possible that this formula could be thrown on its head. While other humans will be no less dangerous, a more prominent zombie threat could also work to encourage closer teamwork between players feeling the pressure.
Next opting to show off the game’s combat, the developer switched to third-person – something that players can do at will – and began punching encroaching zombies. Getting into a nearby jeep, they then plowed a hole through the horde. Not only does this damage the game’s vehicles but it also shows off the game’s ragdoll tech and 3D physics. While not a significant advancement in terms of gameplay, the kinetic qualities of the dead zombies helps to establish a feeling of a truly living world and frankly, it just feels satisfying.
This bold maneuver led to the player’s death but also prompted the developer to outline one of the game’s death mechanics. Rather than forcing the player into a simple corpse-run to collect their previous belongings, players will instead find their deceased selves populating the world as zombies. In order to recover their lost items, they will have to kill their previous self. It may not provide a particularly difficult challenge for a well-armed player, but it further highlights SOE’s intent on giving all choices consequences and making seemingly mundane elements into something more.
Turning to the game’s survival mechanics, the promised feature-set encompasses some interesting ideas that have seemingly yet to be implemented in other zombie survival titles. One of these features is the ability to build a dew collector in one’s settlement. While not a monumental accomplishment on its own, this little idea and how it utilizes the world highlights the eventual need to become self-sufficient in a harsh environment. Clean water is not easy to come by so this structure allows crafty players to maintain a steady means of survival.
As with titles like Rust, crafting is a big part of the survival experience. Players will be able to scavenge and harvest different materials from the environment to then make into more useful items from house walls to torches. Rather than throwing the player in blind or providing them with too much information, the player will have the knowledge of how to build certain basic items. By matching possible item combinations together though, they will retain the newly-discovered information, being able to access it on subsequent playthroughs.
This is part one of how H1Z1 differentiates from DayZ in a big way. Outwardly, they seem to vie for a similar market despite H1Z1‘s slightly less simulator-based, more combat-friendly style. Despite this and it being earlier in development, H1Z1 presents a wider degree of gameplay systems to the player, offering up more ways to play. Surviving with weapon in hand and the limited ability to craft can only get a survivor so far after all.
There’s also the point of the visuals which – while adopting a film grain look akin to Mass Effect – make use of the Forgelight Engine that gamers may notice from the likes of PlanetSide 2. It may not share the same graphical fidelity in this early stage, but if SOE’s sci-fi shooter is any indication of potential, H1Z1 could very well end up being one of the prettiest open-world zombie titles out there and one that runs much more smoothly than the competition.
In its current state though, it’s still too early to judge what the alpha for H1Z1 will hold. With an impressive dynamic weather system that will change on a daily basis and the prospect of future ideas like players taking over radio towers to spread their own personal broadcasts, H1Z1 is already showing the potential of a serious zombie survival contender. Should the development continue to follow this trend and take note of PlanetSide 2‘s successes, it could very well become one of the strongest contenders in the genre.
Are you interested in trying your hand at another zombie title be spite the genre’s saturation? What method of survival best suits you?
H1Z1 is still in its development stages, but Sony Online Entertainment intends to release an alpha soon, once a solid framework has been established. It will be releasing on PC with a possible PS4 release to follow.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @ThatRyanB.