H1Z1 preview: dead men walking

Zombies are on the prowl and the only thing humans can do is survive as best they can. That's the main idea of Sony Online Entertainment's upcoming free-to-play open world survival game H1Z1. While it sounds very similar to other survival games, right down to the realistic atmosphere and the hordes of the undead, SOE has some lofty ideas for the game in the future. Shacknews had the opportunity to briefly go hands-on with H1Z1 last week, as the developer was putting on a 12-hour marathon live stream. While many of SOE's ambitious gameplay elements (such as crafting) are a long way from being implemented, the game does seem to nail the foundation of what makes survival games interesting. H1Z1 is very early in development, which is fairly evident by what feels like a limited experience. Taking control of a survivor, the game doesn't offer any sort of direction on where to go or what to do. Starting off in an open field, it was clear that the only objective was to simply survive and meander about in hopes of finding any sort of objective. In an effort to find something, I simply wandered down the main road in hopes of finding a camp and other players, while I admired the scenery and hoped that zombies wouldn't chase after me. The session became more interesting once I ran into a human player, at which point there was a period of uncertainty. For both of us, the immediate instinct was to kill, but we both hit the key to signal that we were friendlies and opted to help each other out and face a common zombie threat. It's the kind of attitude that SOE hopes will prevail among the majority of H1Z1 players, as they note that other players can either prove to be great allies or an individual's worst enemy. As my new friend and I explored an empty factory, we quickly discovered that our partnership was fated to be a short one. A zombie quickly ambushed me and put me down before my new partner could save me, showing just how quickly the undead could dispatch a frail human. There's definitely a sense of tension, regardless of whether I was using the first-person or third-person perspectives. It definitely didn't help that there was no quick look function that would allow me to peek over my shoulder and see if zombies had spotted me or if there was anything pursing me. Given that zombies could be relentless in their chase, not having that quick look function hurt, though SOE does note that this is on their agenda for future updates.

Vehicles are among the items on the agenda for H1Z1

Also, because of its early pre-alpha state, I ran into a fair amount of glitches. At one point, I found a deer sinking into the pavement before suddenly warping to the mountain in the distance. Another instance saw my character respawn right next to a zombie, which quickly struck me down again. And charging zombies would often display glitchy movement as they moved towards me. H1Z1 is far from perfect, but at least SOE recognizes that, not showing any desire to rush the game's development and aiming to fine tune the game at every opportunity. H1Z1's pre-alpha state also ensures that the developers can take player feedback and suggestions fully into consideration. This includes different zombie types, aside from the walkers that already hit like a ton of bricks. "Currently right now, we just have the basic walkers," said designer Adam Clegg. "We want to have crawlers, we want to have an emergent AI system that creates different types of zombies. Something down the road that we can do is if a zombie munches on a bunch of guys and kills a bunch of people, maybe he gets stronger and becomes a stronger zombie, like a type of evolution. It is H1Z1, it's an infection, a virus, basically. We can build on that. Maybe there's an evolution of the virus down the road and we can introduce different zombies." One other element that SOE hopes to expand on in the future is crafting, which will allow players to create food, supplies, materials, and weapons for the journey ahead. "We have a massive crafting system," Clegg explained. "That's one of the big pillars of our game. You have the survival element and with the survival element comes crafting, because how do you survive without the crafting? Our crafting system is actually pretty deep right now and it's not even close to what we're going to be at." But just how far is the development team willing to go with crafting? Chatty poster Nerdsbeware wondered if the crafting system would extend as far as creating vehicles from the ground-up? I posed this question to Clegg. "Currently, you cannot, but down the road, that is totally a possibility," Clegg answered. "It's totally something we've talked about. It's something that we can think about. How would you do that? Does that mean you gotta find a battery? Does that mean the battery is dead? How do you charge the battery? It's a multi-interaction thing that you would have to do. But that's something that we would have to figure out." The water cooler potential for H1Z1 is definitely there. While much of my hands-on time was unremarkable, I did have some instances in which I was suddenly spooked by a noise behind and I reacted by swinging my axe behind me, only to accidentally strike down a player. I did hit a fork in my path at one point and rather than deal with a pair of wolves that were strolling my way, I took my chances with the zombies down the other direction. Unexpected, emergent moments go a long way towards making this game more interesting. H1Z1 has a lot coming down the pipe, including barricading, vehicles, refinements to the gameplay mechanics, and numerous bug fixes. SOE hopes to get H1Z1 onto Steam Early Access soon.