A Quest For Murder: A New Z Story

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The New Z, and every one of its iterative predecessors, has held a special spot on my shelf labeled ‘nostalgia.’ Back in the day War Z was the poor man’s DayZ, the free alternative, the choice that didn’t involve Arma II or finding out just how unoptimized your computer was. While we had our fun—camping behind a dumpster, firing bullets at unexpecting scavengers, and server-hopping to repeat the process—the original War Z ended up a mess, a shitshow thanks to easy-to-find-and-use hack programs; I was guilty of using the same tools as everyone else.

But then War Z rebranded as Infestation, because of a copyright claim filed by Hollywood to support a film with as much life as its subject matter. Forced rebranding was an opportunity to recreate the zombie-apocalypse-clone survivalists were hungry for. It didn’t work. And successive rebrandings also became successive failures, with condemning media coverage throwing dirt on a casket commentators thought long buried.

But, it came back one more time, and I think this is the last because it's finally under new management: developer Fredaikis AB, who has no connection—so they claim—to the previous development team, and touts an MLG anticheat that I can say from experience works, and works really well.

“Infestation” as a title has a sordid history, but in this case the past shouldn’t be the filter through which we judge The New Z. It ought to be judged alone, without bias so happily devoured by community reviewers. And if you want an in-your-face score, I give it a fun/10. It's the redemption project War Z should have been when it first released: no more hackers hiding on every hill, no hidden pay-to-win in the cash shop, and no significant disadvantage for fresh spawns thanks to an overabundance of gear stashed in every corner of every building.

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What makes any survival game fun could be technically identified as “emergent gameplay,” but what is that saying? It’s a term that should be reserved for gaming’s version of a TED talk, when a guy gets up on stage and tells you how you should be thinking. What “emergent gameplay” really means is that what makes The New Z fun is the stories created through gameplay, the ones that kept us hungry for more, the reasons why even after playing for eight hours we logged in at midnight despite 8AM shifts the next morning.

It’s not just the thrill of the hunt, though that certainly is inertia in the most dangerous game. We play for the bullshit, “Remember that time Pasta got killed trying to get in the car? POP POP.” They’re the moments we laugh at or revel in for the adrenaline rush. They’re the ones that make any survival game worth your time.

Rather than write a typical point-by-point review I’ve written some stories from my own misadventures, labeled individually in big bold text, and they can be read in any order. A standard critique would only create a superfluous picture that looks like any other game within the genre, and that’s fair for some people. And boring for me. Games aren’t solely X/10 scores to be quantified in a loosely defined objective measurement—whatever objective criticism means. Games, especially multiplayer games, earn their players by acting as catalysts for the stories we share long after we’ve finished playing. And The New Z has given me more stories in my limited playtime than most titles out there.

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The Run Over

We crawled in the Tank, a max speed of 18 mph, about as fast as bureaucratic approval for an execution, making our way towards White Stone, a formerly quaint suburb of Boulder that now serves as the final choke point for looters, and the perfect place for us to perch sniper rifles from atop an apartment building. POP POP: My favorite sound as the message “X [one of us] killed [ScrubConstable33].” But this was a special moment. Not because as soon as we parked we stashed the Tank and had a bandit bonanza. No, no.

I’m writing this down because as we approached I spotted a wavering backpack pillaging items off the hood of a humvee. He was all alone. A guy who just installed the game because his favorite Twitch streamer happened to mention it as a fun free-to-play title now that Sergey and crew no longer owned the IP.

So he logs in, binds push-to-talk to caps-lock so he can easily make friends, and sets about on an Adventure in a brand new and exciting world, brimming with not just the undead but mystery and exploration, danger and excitement. Naive? Yes. But who hasn’t been naive? Who hasn’t been giddily unaware of the consequences, of what lurks within the fortification colloquially known as Grandpa’s Farm? We ought to help the young, shift them into adulthood with forgiving grace.

I knew what I had to do.

The New Z’s tanks are not the most elegant vehicles, they groan with every vector change that isn’t arrow-shot straight, ticking and clicking like the countdown of a clock tied to dynamite, ready to explode should you run over too many zombies or clip a tree as you cut around a turn. We could have all been killed and the newbie would never been exalted by our presence. Luckily, I’m an expert.

Unbeknownst to him, a zombie horde was quickly approaching his location, stupidly hungry, stupidly chasing the sound of feet brushing against rocky asphalt. I slammed my foot on the accelerator—legend holds I even pushed the bulky HEMI engine to 19 MPH, a sign from developer divinity I was about to do the right thing.

SPLAT.

The message read “GUMBLEONI has killed FUNKYFRANK.” I got em’. I got em so good. He even tried to dodge me at the last minute by cutting to the right but I felt it coming, a New Z spidey-sense to know how to shift to always snag my guy. That was one more civilian kill badge on my belt, one step closer to the revered status of being an Outlaw. And one new lesson for one new player.

Welcome to The New Z Funky. Don’t ever cross the road if you hear my engine coming.

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"Look Up"

Campos City may once have been a center of commerce, a place where fat guys in slick suits smoked cigars and the everyday man slept in a hastily erected shanty town waiting for the next meal. It may have been a beacon of the American midwest, a center of culture: fine wine and cheese guzzled down against the backdrop of an orange sunset. May have been. I don’t know what Campos was like before the fall, before it all went to shit. It don’t matter. All I know is, only thing people trade now is bullets.

I spawned in outside the city limits, a bit nervous, a bit anxious, a bit trigger happy. First movement that didn’t shuffle was going to be my practice dummy, how I learned to handle the MA41 bound to 1, how high to hold my crosshair to create a half-moon curve that says goodnight. “Yo, where you at?” “I’m by tents, come over here.” “Alright, make a group so I don’t shoot you.” You don’t roll alone in any survival game, unless your ears’ sensitive enough to always know where the head is that made the sound—to not know what it is to shoot anything below the neck. I don’t

There were four of us that night, a night I still think about and laugh before I can go back to doing what it was I was doing before reliving the memory. I was with Banana and Gibran and we had to pick up our friend Oats stuck in the middle of Campos.

Oats was a freshie, first time in the world. He was waiting for us so we could gallivant across the map, discover a place to call home. Waiting, waiting, waiting. The three of us just finished defending ourselves against two gunman hiding between dusk’s trees, near a diner connected to a gas station, a place that would be a Subway if you got off any exit on I-95. Meanwhile, Oats must have been creeping between blown out towers, keeping his eyes peeled for hungry players, with no one to watch his back. It’s not a great feeling to feel eyes lining you up no matter what direction you face. And we left him alone for nearly 45 minutes.

But, not without reason.

We had just found, and defended, a Stryker Spawner, a piggish ATV that can fit nine players and because of its size is best served on a paved road, where barricades, shattered laths, mountainous rubble, and refugee camps don’t form a maze with one too many dead ends. But Oats was stuck in the middle of the city, where all the aforementioned are scattered. We had to roll right in, making a chuggish r-r-rumbling sound, letting every night-time stalker know we were there. Not the best tactics, not even tactics really. You don’t go into a war-for-all kicking ass and chewing bubble gum but what choice did we have? We had to pick up our friend and dip before another gang got the jump on us.
When you’re in a party you can see each other’s names, marked on the map like a cautiously moving X. Naturally, we headed right for him, the fastest way between two points is a straight line. Unfortunately that straight line was cut off by a barbed wire fence next to pine green military tents, and we couldn’t tell if the way ahead was clear. And you don’t have time to think, the roaring motor congregates the undead, trying to touch the truck with rotting hands, a prophet bearing food for his starving people. “Make a right” Oh shit, it’s a dead end.

“Back up, back up!” The zombies of The New Z aren’t the classic Romero's, they’re not slushies in plastic bags that pop at the slightest touch. These zombies are made of brick and mortar, hit one moving too slow and your tires stop spinning, trapping you next a horde high-fiving the hull, depleting its HP faster and faster until it's a wreck like everything else surrounding it. We had to get out and shoot. But we were backed up against the apartments as well, a popular spot for players to scavenge and peer out at the landscape from seven floors up; every window is a giant cutout, perfect for firing in, or out. It was not ideal.

Oats ran toward us, we could see him just beyond the grates, in between unloading clips at the zeds, but there were too many. And then we heard the shot. A distinct firing that can only scream from the muzzle of an M107, a .50 calibre sniper rifle able to summon a “You’re Dead” screen from 1000 meters. Shit. We had to get out of there. Making way too much noise between clearing a way for the zombies and the Tank’s idling.Then there were more shots, coming from down the road. Campos was on fire that night, about to become a clash of self-interested players, each gunning down the first person they saw. “Get in, get in, get in!”

Something to note about The New Z’s vehicles: their interaction UI is not great. To get in you have to look towards its roof and hold E. Why? I don’t know, seems like a design-oversight. Should be able to look at any portion of its body, the portion where the doors are located. But once you realize the trick it’s easy enough to pop-in and out. But if you’ve never been in a Tank before it takes a moment to get your bearings.

Back to the action.

The Stryker started to smoke, we had to dip, and dip quick. We were all in but Oats, and the path in front of us was quickly closing, the sea of zombies collapsing back on top of us. “How do I get in this thing. What the fuck, it’s not working.” “Look up, Oats, look up!” “What are you guys talking about, this shit’s not…” Pprrrat Pprrrat. Oats’ head looked up and met the bullet; his body crippled next to the truck. Somebody was throwing down bullets from the apartment building and Oats was DEAD. DEAD.Rrrrrtttttt. We zipped out of there, the car sloshing back and forth in between zombies as fumes gave away our position, bullets denting the tank’s body.

Oats was silent, dead silent. He had waited, waited, waited for us to come pick him up, and we told him again and again we were on our way. We had such grand plans to explore and see the world in our sparkling ATV, to sneak up on unsuspecting snipers with coordinate tactics, plant our flag in a village somewhere and call it our own, defend it from any player who tried to loot from OUR spot, but we ended up seeing one alley, a horde, a fire, and a whole lot of smoke, before crawling back to where we came from. Poor Oats. He logged off, and we laughed all the way back to the gas station.

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From Mega Man II to Ape Escape, I've been playing games for as long as I can remember. I've spent months killing porings in Ragnarok Online and more recently lived a second life in Eve Online. I usually play as gUMBY, gUMBLEoni, or gUMBLes in-game.