H1Z1 Early Access Review

Learning from the best.


GameSpot's early access reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available for purchase by the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote money, time, and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review's publication.

As an online survival game, H1Z1 does little to surprise, at least currently. Elements that make up H1Z1, such as zombies, looting, hunting, and crafting, are fairly common in many other games of its ilk--as far as innovation is concerned, H1Z1 treads cautiously. But what it does do, however, is performed remarkably well, despite the nagging issues normally associated with early access games. Indeed, as an alpha, it has its fair share of problems to iron out and bugs to squash. But it still holds your attention, and not because it does everything better; it’s how well it blends prevailing pieces, creating something immediately familiar, and yet nonetheless captivating.

It’s the zombie apocalypse, but it never hurts to appreciate the small things.
It’s the zombie apocalypse, but it never hurts to appreciate the small things.

Per the norm, H1Z1 drops you into a world brimming with danger, where your only goal is to survive as long as possible. In your early moments, gnawing hunger pangs and thirst are satiated by picking juicy blackberries from bushes that populate the entirety of the landscape in incredible abundance. The handful of towns feature houses, stores, churches, gas stations, and shopping malls with recesses aching to be explored, searched and prodded for items such as medkits, bottles of stagnant water, or cans of “fresh” chicken to be stuffed away in a crude satchel or backpack.

Tools, gear, and sustenance are found scattered on tabletops, behind counters, or within cabinets and destructible boxes, and, the more you collect, the greater the chance you see more than one sunrise. You can craft crude bows out of sticks and cloth, but, with luck, you will come across modern weapons such as a pistol or a rifle, though they are both a blessing and a curse; once loaded with ammunition, guns elevate you above the berry-eating, bow-wielding rabble, and yet you quickly find yourself a prime target, hunted by both the brave and the desperate with nothing to lose.

Zombies, of course, are H1Z1’s staple enemy. Oddly enough, they are hardly a significant threat. Sure, the shuffling undead are often thick as flies in the larger towns, but the artificial intelligence animating their rotting frames will leave you wanting--they prove no worse than a temporary annoyance that stands between you and your destination. Most times, nimbly dodging their charge is enough to confuse them, leaving them inert and vulnerable, waiting for you to sink an arrow in their brainpan. Other danger comes from natural predators such as wolves and bears, but, like zombies, they often charge as soon as you enter their field of vision, and are left briefly confused and motionless if you manage to dodge their initial attack.

A chance meet can result in a friendly hello. Or a bareknuckle fistfight.
A chance meet can result in a friendly hello. Or a bareknuckle fistfight.

In actuality, other players pose the greatest hazard to your health, as they add some much-needed unpredictability to encounters. Happening upon another player is always a risk. Using the local-area, in-game voice chat, there is a chance for a shaky partnership, a kind of hostile-world camaraderie as you search for food or (if fortunate enough to find kindred spirits) brave the wasteland as a group and forge an autonomous community. Or you meet a person who sends an arrow whistling through your eye for little reason except that you are carrying more than just berries and metal scraps in your backpack. The stark reality keeps you on your guard, and tensions high, during every possible encounter.

Exploration allows you to take in H1Z1’s natural appeal: the rolling hills, grassy fields, and dense forests, which receive frequent heavy rainfall, bear some resemblance to the American northwest. But you’re not just surrounded by endless fields and woodland. Abandoned campsites with trailers and vehicles can be sifted for loot, while lone cabins by rivers or lakes are ripe for plunder. Though many in-game textures are placeholders, the environment pops with detail. Bridges crowded with rusted vehicles, barricaded doors in homes with toppled Sony television sets, and gas station prices nearing double digits speak of the kind of calamity often afflicting these end-of-humanity scenarios. You are not gifted a map, but you find handy “you are here” roadside map signs in towns and the occasional pit stop, displaying a small close-up of the surrounding area, but not the entirety of the available world. As your knowledge grows, figuring out where you are and what direction you want to take becomes more instinctive.

But there are times you prefer to skip the long hikes and get somewhere fast, specifically on something with four wheels. Touring the wide, mostly lonely streets is made easier with three types of vehicle: a jeep, a pickup truck, and a police cruiser. Most lack a critical part or two, a deficiency that often had me sneaking through the occasional garage or auto body shop in search of car batteries and spark plugs. Driving is effortless, and traveling to a town or any location you wish to forage makes a fun trip for you and for any passengers thankful to rest their weary feet. A lapse in awareness is reckless, however, as it only takes a handful of bullets or arrows to turn your new ride into a smoking inferno.

Vehicles such as a police cruiser can be repaired and taken for a ride.
Vehicles such as a police cruiser can be repaired and taken for a ride.

Crafting is a major feature in H1Z1, and, though you can create structures, don’t expect to find the towering eyesores commonly seen in Rust. Many buildings are humble shacks or walls cobbled together from wood planks harvested from crates or chopped down trees. Metal for nails and brackets can be taken from deserted vehicles, as long as you have the right tool for the job. H1Z1’s discover menu allows you to place materials to learn new recipes, encouraging experimentation. The majority of items that can be crafted require a few uncomplicated components. For example, with enough cloth you can stitch together a humble satchel pack, while a stick and a metal sheet create a deadly combat knife. Tools and weapons wear with use until you’re left with nothing more than wood remnants or metal fragments. The life of these items can be extended with repair kits, but I managed to come across only two, and sadly both were forcefully taken from me before I could test their effectiveness.

Besides the normal player-versus-player servers (PvP), in which you go up against zombies, nature, and other players, there are player-versus-environment (PvE) servers if you’re not the bloodthirsty type, or if you seek the freedom to explore and build without the constant peril of being stabbed in the back. Battle royale, a special event accessible by finding hidden event tickets or by purchasing them, is the sole alternative game mode. Here, you and a group of others are dropped into the world with a smattering of weapons and vehicles, and the only goal is to be the last one standing.The mode bears resemblance to the popular Arma mod of the same name, where you parachute into towns and quickly scavenge for backpacks, medkits, and enough weapons to lay waste to an entire army. And not so ironically, that is indeed what lies ahead: dozens of other players all armed to the teeth and ready to take you out at a moment’s notice. As you continue to survive, planes drop poisonous gas onto the map, leaving only a circle of safe, breathable air that slowly shrinks as the match continues, forcing players closer together. Performing well in battle royale awards you containers of loot such as exclusive clothing options.

As far as character customization goes, don’t expect a wealth of options at the moment; models don’t diversify beyond an indifferent-looking white man with a scruffy beard. Clothing options ranging from shirts to caps and motorcycle helmets add some variety, but it doesn’t exactly help immersion when surrounded by clones. According to the developer, different models, including a female option, are being worked on. Unique accessories, which include exclusive shirt designs and multi-colored helmets, are locked away in crates that are unlocked with keys purchased with real-world cash -- another taste of what’s to come when H1Z1 eventually breaks out of alpha and finally goes free-to-play.

Happening upon another player is always a risk.

H1Z1 is clearly an alpha game, made clear by its bumpy launch week. Server woes have cropped up since day one, leading Sony to offer refunds. A recent patch resulted in server downtime that lasted for hours, only to create more issues once everything went back online. Some issues have been fixed, but other problems remain: clipping through solid objects, occasional crashes and freezing, getting stuck in shack entrances and doors, and many other rough spots need attention. And, though not a bug per se, having to click twice to eat a single blackberry quickly increases the wear on your already frayed nerves.

But the developer has been quick to respond to concerns brought forth by the H1Z1 community. Within days, patches and hotfixes began removing many of the worst issues. A pesky item-duping glitch was caught and squelched with satisfying haste, and also recently addressed was the hilariously bad issue of floating arrows being able to stop players and vehicles from passing.

There is an ongoing controversy that paid-for air drops, which have a small chance of delivering weapons, give some players a pay-to-win advantage. Buying into said air drops does in fact yield extra supplies, from extra logs to nails, to metal scrap and first aid kits. For the most part, the extra leverage provided by the drops isn’t fair, especially considering that H1Z1 is a game about survival and the hard work it takes to last in a world of hostility and strife. The ability to pay for an advantage over others utterly goes against the grain of survival games.

Tired of blackberries? Craft a bow and start hunting.
Tired of blackberries? Craft a bow and start hunting.

The developer has acknowledged paid air drops as an evolving issue, changing some parameters so that there is only a 10-percent chance for a shotgun or pistol, both with ammunition, to be included. Drops spawn a group of zombies to contend with, and decreased plane speed and increased engine audio are all designed to attract opposing players--drops are actually only allowed on servers with a high enough population--to the drop point, so that those who pay for the drop still have to “work” for it. Still, capable players who can handle the random zombie outbreak and human interference can buy their way up the food chain with enough money. It’s a persistent matter, and the developer has asked for community input in regard to its current approach toward air drops. It remains to be seen whether or not H1Z1 can have purchasable drops and still maintain the spirit of the survival genre.

Despite the issues that typically come with early access, after more than 30 hours clocked in, H1Z1 has quickly become one of my favorite open-world survival games. Even though the road ahead is bumpy, the hard work by the developers to fix glitches, and the already entertaining foundation available, makes H1Z1 a promising venture. It features elements seen in other games of its genre, and doesn’t quite push things as far as others, but H1Z1 is the first game I’ve played in which every piece fits so well. Yes, I can play another survival game with more in-depth crafting or one with a stronger aspect toward PvP, but if things keep up the way they are now with H1Z1, there may not be the need.

What's There?

An entertaining open-world survival game with zombies and tense player interaction, and which promises to get even better with time.

What's to Come?

More character models and crafting, climbing, military gear, better gameplay balance, improved textures and overall visuals, and so much more.

What Does it Cost?

$20 on the Steam store, but it will be a free-to-play game once it fully releases for PC and PlayStation 4.

When Will it be Finished?

Unknown at this point, but it won't be for some time.

What's the Verdict?

H1Z1 has the potential to stand tall in its crowded genre. Though the early access purchase come with risk: you are essentially playtesting the game, and will experience glitches, bug, server resets, lost items, and more.

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