In addition to our main Game of the Year Awards 2022 (opens in new tab), each member of the PC Gamer team is shining a spotlight on a game they loved this year. We'll post new personal picks, alongside our main awards, throughout the rest of the month.
I like Hunt: Showdown… or at least I like the idea of it. Twelve weapon-wielding cowpokes trek into a nightmare-strewn swamp with only a few bounties between them, and anything goes as they hunt the most dangerous prey of all; flaming pig-men and giant spiders. Some get rushed by dogs or fiery zombies, some are swallowed up by the thing that lives in the water, but most just kill each other as they fight to take the prize and extract.
For me, the premise is sometimes more exciting than the experience: I crawl through reeds, avoid noise traps and enemies for twenty minutes, only to get sniped by some unseen marksman. In a sandbox filled with haunted shacks and lumber yards infested with monsters, you're discouraged from engaging with them in case it draws the ire of other players. Maybe that's why Hunt never fit me even though it should; I end up wanting to explore and play around, but I'm never safe enough to justify it.
I didn't expect to find the answer in Warzone 2's DMZ mode. Where Hunt often feels like it's all business, Al-Mazrah is downright playful at times, a sandbox that places emphasis on player choice and the consequences of those choices. DMZ is an extraction shooter with a simple concept: who knows where you'll be 20 minutes from now? You could be drilling a safe, cursing your greed as the corridor outside floods with armored soldiers. You could be on a boat, desperately trying to outmanoeuvre a helicopter gunship, as your squadmate blazes away with the turret. Or, like me, you may be sneaking around the city, unlocking caches and art galleries to plunder their loot.
You drop in, and if you ain't gone in 20 minutes when the gas starts spreading across the map, you probably ain't going. What happens in that stretch of time is entirely up to you, and it's one of the reasons I've rarely had a boring DMZ match. Even the times where you lose everything are hard to begrudge—unless it's a disconnect or crash—because you can see the trail of choices that led to your death. DMZ's real battle is against yourself, as you try to prevent your greed taking over and getting you killed.
Whether it's one contract too many, raiding a stronghold unprepared, or just cutting things too fine to extract, the sheer quantity of loot, equipment, and guns in DMZ means it's very easy to have eyes bigger than your stomach, especially as your backpack only holds so much. When you're on the clock, even the act of looting becomes selective, as you squirrel away the shiniest toys to bring back to your hoard. For me, it's all about the keys.
Al-Mazrah's massive sandbox is dotted with mysterious locked buildings and caches that can only be opened with specific keys you have to find. I've become totally obsessed with collecting and opening them all. In a typical DMZ match you'll find me stealthily hiking across the map to whatever building's next on the list. If I take down another player, I steal any keys they have, then scurry away into the shadows like the Gollum I've become. This probably isn't how most people play DMZ, but that's the best thing about it: you can do whatever you want.
With the sheer size of Al-Mazrah and self-revive items, solo play is totally viable provided you're a little cautious, and since player encounters are more about who spots who first, there isn't a massive skill barrier in terms of PvP. Similar to Hunt it's just about not raising too much of a ruckus and avoiding big open spaces, but DMZ is far more forgiving in that sense.
In the end, it's just a stretch of time and a series of possibilities, and that self-determination has made it one of the most refreshing FPS modes I've played in a long time. Though it doesn't crash often for me, I really hope the frequent disconnect issues holding it back are resolved soon. Even if DMZ owes a debt to its extraction shooter predecessors, it's genuinely the most freeing fun I've ever had with the genre. Do as little or as much as you want, and see where you end up in twenty minutes.