Gray Zone Warfare

Gray Zone Warfare Preview: Has Madfinger created the next big gaming craze?

The game has sold 400,000 copies in 24 hours, so we want to be involved from the start.

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Normally, I'm really not the audience for a hardcore, brutal and somewhat sadomasochistic military simulation in the style of ARMA, Escape from Tarkov and yes, now also Grey Zone Warfare. But I've also become fascinated by this viral culture in the gaming industry, where millions of people, especially through social media, decide to elevate individual, specific games to these insane pedestals and turn them into multi-million-dollar successes overnight.

Just think about the last year or so. Manor Lords, Palworld, Helldivers II, Lethal Company - these games (mostly) appear out of nowhere and grow so gigantically, so infinitely fast, it's almost unbelievable. And I was already aware that Gray Zone Warfare could be a serious contender for the next big viral push, so I sat down for the launch on a desktop here in the office and was at the forefront when it was finally released.

Gray Zone Warfare
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So what is Grey Zone Warfare? Well, it's a deeply serious co-op mil-sim extraction FPS where you drop into a fairly large and persistent world, where you then engage in both PvE and eventually PvP battles against other co-op teams. I say 'serious' because there are no hit markers, UI elements that separate your own teammates from AI enemies, and if you come under enemy fire it doesn't take much to take you down.

There are three factions; you choose to be part of one of them and you are now automatically allied with players from the same faction and against players from the other two. By completing fairly basic tasks on the map itself, you get your hands on new loot, but you can also find dropped loot dynamically by searching villages, or you can get it from enemy players you have killed.

There are a number of gear slots, and weapons, and mods for those weapons, and these are upgraded by picking up new loot, or by upgrading the traded ones in your base by doing missions. If you die? Yes, you lose everything you have. Well, almost everything, because you have a small lockbox where you can store the items you want to use later. But other than that, this is pretty hardcore, especially for someone who doesn't frequently deal with this genre.

So, does it hold up? Well, to some extent it does. The game's servers were really unstable from the start, and not only that, plenty of optimisation issues have plagued PC gamers, dragging Steam reviews into the slightly negative category. However, the developer seems to have introduced a few patches already, and because the machine at work has an i9-13900K and an RTX 4090, I, almost naturally, didn't experience any major issues.

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Gray Zone Warfare

But it's intense, scary even, to land with your crew and move extremely systematically in precise formation towards your target while being hyper-focused on the movements and sounds around you. Yes, the one map is very nice, but it also gets a bit monotonous pretty quickly since there's no real variety here, but it is quite detailed.

It feels comfortable to move and to shoot. There's still quite a lot of work ahead of the developer in terms of creating weapons that sound downright satisfying, and much of the fun still comes from communicating directly with your teammates and making tactical decisions that really pay off. We fought our way through a small village full of AI enemies, only to end up in a hostile ambush from another team, which we eventually overcame in just under 30 minutes. It was intense, every shot was significant, and playing cat and mouse like that was really... well, cool.

Gray Zone Warfare

But not every moment is solidly put together, and at times it seems like developer Madfinger only facilitates a basic gameplay experience, but lacks a little varied moment-to-moment gameplay. For example, there's an awful lot of transport time, there's too little dynamism in the game world, even though it's beautiful to look at, and some missions are simply too long to be completed continuously.

But the point is that Madfinger is onto something here, especially if this world is expanded with AI routines, varied enemy types and slightly more dynamic sound and graphics. Fighting other players already works brilliantly, it's the framework around these shootouts that needs to be tweaked.

I haven't played enough to really assess the game's potential, and it needs more optimisations and fixes before it fires on all cylinders, but Madfinger may be on to something here, and it's obvious even to me.

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