Gray Zone Warfare early access preview — Lima Charlie

Extraction shooters certainly seem to be all the rage right now. Even Call of Duty made their foray into the genre with DMZ, but games like Tarkov have ruled the scene. While I don’t always understand all the mechanics at play in the more heavy duty survival ones, I like the idea. You’ve got to work on your own or with a team to venture into the dangerous wilds of whatever setting you’re in and make it back to base camp alive. With Gray Zone Warfare releasing, it was time for me to dive into another extraction shooter, and this is what I found during my preview.

Jumping into Gray Zone Warfare somewhat felt like beginning an FPS Dark Souls in MMO form. I’m here and I don’t know what I’m doing beyond basic controls. It’s okay, considering this genre of shooter is still new to me, but confusion will likely reign if you aren’t familiar with this kind of game. Thankfully, Gray Zone Warfare feels a little simpler to pick up than others I’ve tried, so I can see myself playing this more often as opposed to getting mad because I can’t figure out the mechanics.

Gray Zone Warfare early access preview gameplay on PC - Lima Charlie

This is because of thoughtful UI design. Throwing bullets into my Resident Evil-style inventory boxes made sense, but wouldn’t go into my gun when I attempted to reload. After a few moments, putting them on the magazine allowed me to slot more bullets in, which in turn led to more insurgents taking a dirt nap. While I’d certainly like more tutorials, Gray Zone Warfare makes functions like the one above make sense, which I appreciate as someone who is still learning the ins and outs of this genre.

After getting all of my gear together at the camp, it was time to go into the open world. This is where things feel a bit different than something like Call of Duty’s DMZ, because this world is alive at all times, with no extracting out to a menu or forced exits due to a time limit. Leaving camp, albeit with a bit of a frame glitch due to server walls, felt natural, like I was taking my first steps into Lamang.

Lamang itself is a sight to behold. Not every asset looks polished and beautiful up close, but the lush environment is a gorgeous island setting. Whether you’re walking down grassy hills, passing by wet rice fields, or even stressfully strafing through a ratty, rundown gas station, your surroundings feel alive. Between this and the sounds of wildlife, like a fly buzzing right by your ear, Lamang feels worth exploring and is akin to another character, which isn’t always the case in an extraction shooter.

Going out into the wild is tense. Not necessarily because enemies are waiting to pounce on you at the gate, but because you never know what lurks behind a shed or bush. Gray Zone Warfare employs a minimal HUD to up the realism, so you’re definitely guessing when it comes to the amount of bullets you have left, or if the guy you’re aiming at is a fellow player or a foe. You do have a few meters in play to know your health and stamina, along with status effects to let you know what damage or health situation might be occurring. I really appreciate the compass available, which will feature any map marker you’ve placed. Figuring out where I’m going is truly a pet peeve of mine, so if you make it impossible for me to understand that, I’m probably not going to stick around.

Similarly, the point of going into the wild is immediately apparent. Speaking with the vendors before I left the camp, I was able to assign a mission right off the bat. It had map coordinates to follow, as well as correct descriptions of what I needed to do. The object wasn’t convoluted, and I’m glad MADFINGER didn’t feel the need to do so. Too many games go too far in making you solve a puzzle just to get to your mission, and here I could do my detective work at the destination.

Back to Lamang, you have to keep an eye and ear open for cues. Sometimes barbed wire surrounds a building, giving the indication you’re going to need to iron up for a possible patrol in that area. Other times you’ll hear gunfire, and usually you’ll want to be aware of the direction while walking away. No reason to get involved in another PMC’s firefight. Speaking of other PMCs, you have the option to play PvEvP or only PvE, solo or with a squad. As a newbie, I’m thrilled to have a mode where I don’t have to worry about someone better than me griefing me as I’m trying to learn the ropes.

In firefights, I’ve been really impressed with the feel and sound. Some games try to overcompensate with recoil for realism, but here it feels just right. Sure, if you go and use automatic weapons it’s gonna pop around, but overall MADFINGER has gunplay down. Not only that, they’ve obviously done their homework on how the guns should sound. It goes for where you’re at as well, with shooting from indoors adding the correct acoustics along with it. The sound design is truly impressive, something the team can hang their hats on.

Something that is still needing a little tuning is bullet registration. While it usually works well there are quite a few instances of ghost bullets where you’ll swear you had your sights directly on a guy only to miss. I’m unsure if sometimes I was just off from bullet drop or missing, or if it’s just the servers, but either way it can lead to frustrating misses, along with some enemies feeling oddly bullet spongey. Although, again, that may be more on my aim than the game.

There was one instance where Editor-In-Chief Ron Burke and myself were overwhelmed by a large pack of enemies, and unfortunately it ended with my falling in battle – reminder, you die fast given the more realistic take. Ron had an opportunity to bring me back from my coma, but didn’t bring the right stuff from camp to pull me back. I tapped out, and found myself back in the base, with nothing but my trusty knife. I was able to restock from what I had stored in my locker, but similar to Dark Souls, it’s annoying to lose things. That said, I was happy to find you can locate your body and pick up most of your kit, assuming you know the exact location as it’s not marked. While I worked my way back to my corpse, Ron killed half a dozen people using only his knife. He’s a dangerous man…

Once we cleared out the evil gang of thugs and did our mission, it was time to extract. This was a highlight, with needing to get to a nearby landing zone in the middle of the rice fields. Nice touch also by MADFINGER in marking it with white flowers. We had a few bullets whizzing overhead, but our chopper finally arrived and we were out of there. Watching the world underneath you as you zoom across Lamang is a glorious experience, and one I don’t think I’ll tire of.

Before I finish up here, I want to touch on performance. I have the benefit of brute force with an NVIDIA RTX 4080 and Intel i9-129000KF. Even with those great pieces, you’ll still be at the mercy of the servers when it comes to loading. While there was plenty of rubberbanding and other stutters when I first booted up Gray Zone Warfare, I’m glad to report the team has made a lot of headway cleaning it up. My 1440p resolution looked crisp along with 140+ fps, with a few stutters and only one rubberbanding instance I can remember. Even the stutters seemed more triggered by walking across server lines as new things loaded in. It’s in a good state, and should only get better with time.

In summation, I really like what MADFINGER is doing, and I recommend giving Gray Zone Warfare a try. While there are still a few bugs to stamp out and some things to tune, the foundation of a great game is here and being built upon. It’s also a great “extraction” shooter to start with if you’re new to the genre, with a bit more merciful of mechanics that allow you to grow into it. As long as MADFINGER keeps adding to it, the sky’s the limit. You can grab Gray Zone Warfare on Steam in Early Access via this link.

Lead Video Game Editor | [email protected]

David Burdette is a gamer/writer/content creator from TN and Lead Editor for Gaming Trend. He loves Playstation, Star Wars, Marvel, and many other fandoms. He also plays way too much Call Of Duty. You can chat with him on Twitter @SplitEnd89.

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