Not a great first impression
As I was given an introductory overview of H1Z1 before some hands-on time, the development team emphasized how quickly the game was evolving. As it was the latest hardcore zombie survival MMO with open/transparent development, the designers explained that by the time the press saw H1Z1 again, it'd probably be a vastly different game. Cross your fingers that that's the case, because what was shown to me on PC wasn't very presentable.
H1Z1 randomly drops the player directly into an open, yet somewhat forested setting. It's technically eastern Oregon, but it's supposed to feel more like smalltown America. Going into the demo, I was told that surviving the first day would be the goal -- a very difficult goal, at that. Equipped with only an axe and a torch, I was left to fend for myself.
Upon spawning, a mass of zombies that rendered within one another made quick work of me.
To be honest, it was kind of amusing. "Alright, that's kind of a quirky instance," I thought to myself. It was less cute by the fifth time in a row that it happened. That was about half of the typical H1Z1 experience for me; the other half was not being able to find anything at all.
Many of the times that I spawned, there was nothing on the horizon in any direction apart from a smattering of trees. I'd run one way, hoping I'd encounter something, anything really. At one point, I was sitting next to Polygon's Michael McWhertor and got legitimately jealous that he found a shack. I felt like I somehow wasn't playing H1Z1 right because this dude had a shack and I just had more hills.
My shack-envy quickly melted away when a small horde of zombies spotted me from across the map and mercilessly pursued me. That was about the time that a developer came around and regretfully sighed and remarked "Yeah, I think we made them a little too aggressive for this demo."
As nighttime rolled around, I got a taste of my favorite part of H1Z1, which is ironic because it should be the most dreaded aspect. The hues that the moon and darkness cast on the surroundings made it look like a first-person view of Limbo. It was so pretty that I almost didn't want to build a campfire and provide any sort of illumination. Of course, I did anyway. Even if survival was futile, I felt compelled to put my best foot forward.
I had one life that seemed like a perfect storm of circumstances. I wandered across a small community that had a grocery store with a few zombies mulling about outside. I was able to go through a few of the houses unimpeded. Unfortunately, I only found some beets and water, which served as instant gratification, but nothing to help survive in the long-term. Upon trying to get into the grocery store, well, those pesky zombies screwed up that plan.
That was the pinnacle of my time with H1Z1, the effort where it felt like I actually got something out of the game, even as fleeting as it was. It didn't feel like much of a peak. Apart from the several crashes and general unresponsiveness of commands, it just isn't in a state to be shown to anyone -- especially a crowd whose job it is to play games and report on their findings. Hopefully it really is a game that's always changing, because right now, it needs to change.