During E3, much of the action is confined to the Los Angeles Convention Center. Because Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and about a hundred other publishers and developers take up a significant portion of the facility, it is not uncommon for screenings and other previews to be held off-site. Sony Online Entertainment opted for the plush and comfortable top floor suite of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel to show off the latest builds for three major properties. There's just something inherently satisfying about battling the shuffling undead. Dismembering and desecrating the rotting corpses of the formerly deceased is always fun, especially when the player is empowered by the small armory of guns and melee items at their disposal. But what happens if you take that empowerment away and make the player as vulnerable as possible against a seemingly unstoppable foe? That is the framework that makes up SOE's upcoming zombie apocalypse game, H1Z1. Travelling down the path created by the popular DayZ, SOE aims to take away the creature comforts of the genre by dropping the player into a zombie playground where they must learn to fend for themselves in order to survive.
Created as a persistent multiplayer zombie game, H1Z1 is set within an unnamed yet sizable quadrant of Anytown, USA. Comprised of over 64 kilometers of territory, players are dropped in with very little to their name. Only by seeking out resources, crafting supplies and building shelters will players become survivors instead of zombie food. In regards to the game's persistence, SOE promises that player actions will have meaningful consequences that will affect the world. Take, for example, the map's many forests. The simple act of cutting down a tree to scavenge its resources will result in that tree disappearing from the game. Incidentally, the act of cutting down trees can be used offensively, as the game presenter mentioned that anyone caught in the path of a falling tree will be crushed and killed. As a more practical example, he offered the suggestion of cutting down a roadside oak to block a road, causing another player in a vehicle to either crash or slow down enough to initiate an ambush.
The dynamic world also extends to its wildlife. Utilizing a system the presenter called "a circle of death," humans, zombies and animals will actively try to consume one another in order to live. Dangerous wild animals like wolves have the capacity to attack human players, while deer and smaller creatures can be hunted for food or used to distract the undead. Although zombies love to chase after humans, if you manage to steer them towards other prey, they may choose to stop chasing you and go after something (or someone) else. I like the idea behind the "circle of death," as it raises the level of danger in the game. By including wild animals, the player will have to manage and prepare for attacks from all sides.
The game's crafting system goes beyond the rote task of collecting materials to create bandages, weapons, tools and other useful supplies. There's a discovery mechanic that will alert the player when certain resources can be combined with others to make new items. Crafting plays a larger role in the development of shelters and compounds. Borrowing a page from Landmark, players can design their own housing, from humble shacks to sprawling mansions, to secure their valuables and protect them attacks during the day and night. Unlike DayZ, H1Z1 wants to foster team work and team building, as working with others provides the best possible conditions for building and protecting property. These shelters, however, are a privilege, not a right. There is nothing preventing others from trying to take it from you. I'm excited by the narrative prospect of persistent player housing and their capacity to tell a story. Like the cutting down of a tree, every building created will continue to exist long after the original tenants have died or moved on.
In its current state, there do not seem to be any direct penalties or restrictions against harming other players. However, H1Z1 will emphasize the advantages of teamwork in surviving the zombie apocalypse. Whether or not people will actually behave that way is another matter. There's the potential for some emergent human drama as trust must be earned. H1Z1 will soon be released in its alpha state on PC through Steam's Early Access program.
Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.