You know where you stand with a zombie. Its intentions are clear: it wants to kill you, then eat you. But human beings are much more complex. They can lie, cheat, and stab you in the back.
In DayZ - the apocalyptic survival sim currently taking the PC world by storm - it's not just hunger, thirst, sickness, and the shambling undead you have to worry about, but other players. As you play you'll experience the very best, and the absolute worst, of human behaviour.
It's a mod. To play it you need a copy of PC military sim Arma 2, and its Operation Arrowhead expansion. DayZ has become so popular that the Combined Operations double pack, which costs £25, is currently the best-selling game on Steam. It's proof that strong mod support can make a game successful longer after release.
When you join a server, you're dumped randomly on the coast of the enormous 225 square kilometre map with only a torch, painkillers, and a bandage. Your goal? Survive. There are no missions or objectives; it's completely freeform, and you decide how you play. To stay alive you need to scavenge food, water, weapons, ammo, and other supplies, which can be found in buildings. But where there's loot, there's zombies - and, of course, other people.
If a zombie spots you, it'll give chase. They're incredibly fast, but you can lose them by breaking their line of sight. This feature has only just been implemented, however, so it's a little flaky. Your best bet is to stay hidden. If you get attacked, you'll lose blood rapidly and bleed out if you don't have any bandages. Zombies are attracted to noise, so firing your weapon or sprinting will alert them. The key to surviving is silence, patience, and nerves of steel.
It's a tough, unforgiving game, and you will die - a lot. Death is permanent, which makes every encounter incredibly nerve-wracking. You might have spent three hours creeping through the wilderness to get that sweet backpack and shotgun, but it can be snatched away in an instant by a stray bullet, unseen zombie, or stupid mistake. Its brutal nature won't appeal to everyone, but the game creates a feeling of fear and suspense that I haven't experienced since Dark Souls. If you want an accessible game, look elsewhere. In the words of Pulp, this is hardcore.
But this isn't really a game about zombies; it's about people. What makes the game special is that it's able to create memorable moments without any scripted events or set-pieces. It's the interaction between survivors that creates the drama.
There's a brilliant tension whenever you run into another player. In most cases, both will drop to the ground and freeze, pointing their guns in a Mexican standoff. But even if they salute, or say they're friendly in chat, that doesn't mean they are. I've been shot in the back so many times by people claiming to be my friend, and some particularly evil bandits will pretend to help you for long periods of time before slotting you and stealing your beans.
Chernarus, the fictional country DayZ is set in, is like an Eastern European Wild West. The zombie outbreak, as it probably would in reality, exposes the rotten core of humanity. But not everyone is a total bumhole. I've seen players in helicopters - which are extremely difficult to repair and get running - ferrying stranded players to safety. I stumbled into a camp of six heavily armed survivors in a forest clearing, expecting to be instantly killed, but was given a much-needed blood transfusion and a can of Pepsi.