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Gray Zone Warfare preview: An ambitious start for the military sim

Gray Zone Warfare preview: An ambitious start for the military sim

This newcomer to the military sim is showing a lot of promise

In the lead-up to the launch of Gray Zone Warfare, people were already calling it a Tarkov killer. Escape From Tarkov, if you aren’t aware, is the leading extraction shooter on the market, and while it often falls foul of its own PR, it has steadily sat atop the extraction throne for years. Many have come for the crown and many have fallen. The problem with labelling this game in such a way is that it does a disservice to what Gray Zone Warfare is trying to be. Yes, it has extraction elements, but it is not black and white.

You see, this military sim is more DayZ than Tarkov, more Ghost Recon than Call of Duty. It shares elements with a number of games but in essence, you play solo or in a group - it’s really easy to group up with strangers via VOIP - and you explore a persistent world map completing tasks and looking for PvP battles. More on this latter point, well, later.

Yes, you enter the target zone with gear that can be lost when you die, and you’ll loot plenty of containers, dead bodies, and buildings in order to ‘extract’ back to base, and ‘relative safety’, where you can hand in quests and store your gear. So far, it’s an extraction shooter. However, because this is a persistent world rather than a loaded instance - a raid, in Tarkov terms - it plays very differently to what you might expect. Bodies linger in the streets for a while until the enemies respawn, dropped items will still be there if you circle back, and even bullet holes will remain in situ for a short time.

Gray Zone Warfare
Gray Zone Warfare

It’s also very slow-paced compared to other games on the market. If you go storming into a neighbourhood in Gray Zone Warfare, you’ll find yourself dead in seconds. It is, for lack of a better term, a hardcore shooter. AI enemies do not mess around and without careful preparation, you will spend most of your time catching helicopter rides back to your body to see if your gear is still there, or whether some chancer has looted your still-warm corpse.

You can avoid this by playing the game in PvE mode, an option at the start screen. Here, you’ll complete tasks and only have to contend with the AI - still a real challenge. If you opt for the main mode, PvEvP, you’ll have other players gunning for you and here, it’s a mixed bag.

The ‘warzone’ of Laos is split into three territories and factions; Mithras Security Systems, Crimson Shield International, or the native Lamang Recovery Initiative. Each starting area has exactly the same layout, with the same tasks for each faction. You’ll noodle around finding packages, dropping off trackers, and killing enemy combatants until you start to explore closer to rival factions. And this is where it gets spicy. The problem is balance. If you start the game today, many days after release there could already be enemy players camping around your base, or nearby landing zones. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up on a server of equal player levels, but then it takes around 12-15 hours to get through the starter quests and areas before you begin bumping into enemy players.

Because of this, I ended up playing a lot of the PvE mode and focused solely on my tasks. In the background, I’ve got Twitch playing with my favourite streamers, all of whom are playing Gray Zone Warfare and have put in the hours to reach hotly contested zones full of PvP. I dabbled with PvP by catching helicopters out to far-off landing zones and got royally stomped, losing my gear repeatedly until I flagged down a random dude who was going back out there and he became my bodyguard.

Gray Zone Warfare
Gray Zone Warfare

At this point, I want to make one thing clear, this is very much a preview of the game. You saw the thumbnail, but I’m reiterating, because Gray Zone Warfare is an alpha product in Early Access on Steam. According to the development team, there’s about 20-30% of the planned content currently in the game. It’s bare bones. There’s no day/night cycle, no weather systems, not even flashlights for your guns. This isn’t a bad thing, but you need to know exactly what you’re buying before you dive in.

It’s also worth noting, this is PC only, although there are console versions planned if the game does well. Because it’s PC only, you’re going to need a good rig to play it. It’s very CPU heavy, so even if you’re sporting a 40 series GPU, you could end up running into a bottleneck.

Now, back to the game.

Exploration is key here. Missions will be dished out by NPCs back at base or via the trader menu and the tasks range in difficulty. Oftentimes you’ll find yourself dropped off by helicopter in a remote part of the jungle and will need to search buildings for items or places to hide a tracker. Obtaining new landing zones is simple and an enriching part of the experience as you can unlock them via missions, exploring on your own, or joining another soldier who is further along than you.

Of course, the reason most of us are here is the gunplay which, at the moment, is fine, if a little rough around the edges. Recoil, aiming, and movement while aiming down sights feel great, and there’s a certain heft to be felt. However, the lean mechanic feels shallow, literally. There doesn’t seem to be enough extension to lean around corners and find your enemy, plus the position you hold your weapon at feels stiff and unnatural.

Gray Zone Warfare
Gray Zone Warfare

Now, let’s get back to those comparisons. You’re more likely to recognise DayZ in Gray Zone Warfare purely due to how exploration and combat plays out. Technically, you never really ‘extract’ because it's a persistent world and you simply stop off in your faction’s base. However, those bases can be targeted by enemy players, so if you’re milling about in the open, you’re likely to get shot at, which doesn’t happen in an extraction shooter. So, for now, invest in what you see from trailers, and what I’ve broken down here.

Gray Zone Warfare will be a very good game but it’s going to take time. For now, the UI looks a little bland, the options in-game for items to find, missions to complete, and places to visit all feel a bit samey. As a showcase for what’s to come, this is a great experience and if you’re buying into the game now you’ll be able to watch it evolve over the coming months into something quite special.

It’s impossible to review the game as it stands, but you can certainly walk away from this preview knowing whether the game is for you; if you prefer slow and methodical, then you’re going to enjoy what’s on offer. If you prefer the run-and-gun style of modern Call of Duty, it’s likely you’re going to feel restricted and a little bored.

If you’re already playing games like Escape from Tarkov, then you’ll see some of what you love already entrenched in Gray Zone Warfare, but be warned, this isn’t going to feature the same gameplay loop and you’ll be left wanting more in this comparison.

Featured Image Credit: MADFINGER Games

Topics: Call Of Duty, PC, Preview, Steam