Serious Metal Detecting is like DayZ, only with metal detecting

There were a few things that seemed really cool when I was a kid: the way the ice cream man could give me exact change from his coin belt without even looking, the way this one older kid could ride his ten-speed bike down our whole block without ever once touching the handlebars, and especially this one middle-aged guy I always saw walking around on the beach with a metal detector and a giant set of headphones. A treasure hunter! Surely, he was unearthing gold coins and sparkling jewelry on the regular. How cool was that?

Upon reflection as an adult, none of this seems even remotely cool, but I must still have a bit of a fascination with metal detectors because when I saw a game called Serious Metal Detecting arrive on Steam today, I pounced. It's a game where you wander around a map with a metal detector, trying to detect metal things. As the name implies, it's not about frivolous metal detection but the deadly serious variety.

After playing for a couple hours, the best way I can describe Serious Metal Detecting is that it's DayZ, though there are no guns (unless, perhaps, you detect one!) and no zombies and no buildings and no other players and pretty much nothing else from DayZ. It's just you on a big map armed with a metal detector and a shovel.

Here it is, in action:

There are a couple of survival elements to it. You can eat and drink, though hunger and thirst drain so incredibly slowly I can't imagine it being much of an issue, especially since you can teleport from the map to the menu screen whenever you want, at which point your hunger and thirst meters are refilled. I wanted to see what would happen if my treasure hunter's thirst and hunger meters ran out—would he really die?—but I honestly couldn't wait that long.

So, yeah, you basically begin by putting batteries into your metal detector, turning it on, and cranking a dial up. I assume it's a sensitivity dial, but I can't say for certain. Then you walk or run around the map. When your detector starts beeping, you sort of awkwardly stutter-step around until all three indication lights are lit, at which point it makes the most irritating sound ever recorded by humankind. Then you begin digging, first with a shovel, then with your hands. 

It can be a bit confusing, as you can see above, because every time you dig a hole (it's not really a hole, it's just a texture that sort of looks like a hole) there's a little mouse-button indicator that pops up to tell you how to switch back from your shovel to your detector, and since you typically have to dig a bunch of holes in the same area, those prompts stack up all over the place. Plus, when you swivel, so do they. If the game was called Serious Mouse Prompt Detecting you'd hit the mother lode every time out.

After you dig a hole you can click to sift through the dirt with your hands, but it's no guarantee you'll find anything. Finding something can take several tries, and often it's junk: a bottle cap, a rusty hex nut, a bottle cap, a bottle cap, a bottle cap, a belt buckle, a bottle cap, a bottle cap, or a bottle cap. Sometimes, however, you find a bottle cap, and once in a while you find a Nazi medal, as I did on a map of Europe. I also found an old grenade and a 3 Kopek piece, but beyond that it's been a whole bunch of nearly worthless rusty junk.

A quick trip to the menu lets you sell your booty, and buy stuff like food and water (which you don't need), new maps to explore, fresh batteries for your detector, and even vehicles, which I didn't earn nearly enough rusty bottlecaps to afford.

I feel like I should have a little more to say about Serious Metal Detecting but, well, it's about walking around with a metal detector. It's a pretty clunky experience, though I suppose it's one of the rare survival games that didn't arrive in Early Access. I think maybe it should have, though: at one point first-person view stopped working, and another time I couldn't close my inventory screen, so I had to restart the game twice. Also, water is completely invisible. Seems like a bit of a glitch.

At least I satisfied my youthful curiosity about metal detectors, and I have determined that no, they're not really very cool after all. Now if someone releases Coin Belt Simulator, maybe I'll finally know what it's like to be an ice cream man. Maybe that, at least, is still cool.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.