The zombie genre has been done to death, no pun intended and while it seems people will still get excited for some mindless zombie bashing, I myself have grown a bit tired of such things. That being said, it’s not surprising that I didn’t find myself too excited when they first announced Dying Light. While it did look to be what everyone wanted Dead Island to be, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy into the hype of more free-roaming, zombie killing first-person shooters. But after spending some time with Dying Light, I think I may just have one more undead romp left in me.
We start our journey as Kyle Crane, a man who is about as bland as the name makes him sound, is working as a covert operative sent into the now quarantined town of Harran to retrieve some top secret intel stolen by a rogue agent. Having to hide your true colours, you’ll be doing favours for various different factions and leaders in order to get closer to your target. The story itself is a bit of a let-down and feels downright cookie cutter; big bad government agency, the solider questioning his allegiance, that sort of thing. If you’re looking for some award-winning storytelling, look elsewhere.
That being said, the story holds together just enough to motivate the gameplay, which is really the most important part of Dying Light. Playing much like its predecessor Dead Island, Dying Light steps things up with the addition of the Parkour style climbing ability. Feeling a great deal like Mirror’s Edge, only with less control, the game allows you to leap over buildings and climb nearly everything, which can be quite fun, and is very much vital to surviving. Unlike Assassin’s Creed, you are required to look at which ledge you want to move to, and actually have to use the R1 button to progress. That’s not to say it’s not easy, it’s just not quite as auto-pilot as the Assassin’s Creed games are.
Sadly, the combat still feels much like Dead Island. While the zombies seem to not take as much damage as in that title, the controls are still a bit clunky and slow. Mix that with the stamina bar, and you can get pretty annoyed, pretty fast. It doesn’t mean it hasn’t improved since Dead Island, it just still leaves a lot to be desired. They do mix it up with unlockable abilities like grappling, drop kicks, vaulting, grounds pounds, etc. These work for the most part, but can still feel a tad clunky when executed, which will lead to your death in most cases.
Your arsenal consists of just about anything you could swing at a zombie; bedposts, crowbars, pipes, shovels, and the ever popular cricket bat. You can of course modify these weapons with a massive amount of modifiers, everything from adding electricity and flames, to poison and ice. Of course the game has to bring down your fun with the mechanic of degrading weapons. I have to be honest here, I don’t care what reasoning you may have, degrading weapons in video games are the least fun idea imaginable. Luckily, you can use metal parts to repair your weapons, but only a limited amount of times. So prepare for that awesome axe you worked so hard for to become useless sooner or later.
The game also includes projectiles. Pistols, rifles and shotguns of course but also throwable weapons like ninja stars and grenades. You can additionally use flares and firecrackers to distract hordes and sneak past or clear out an area.
The missions consist mostly of fetch quests and the basic ‘go kill this dude’ affairs. While they aren’t exactly revolutionary, the way you travel to each location, and explore the world as you travel is what usually makes the missions themselves worthwhile. One complaint I would have about the world itself is how empty it feels. Sure there are loads of the walking dead but it has a distinct lack of still living humans. While you will run into the occasional person in distress, it’s just not enough to feel like a living, breathing world.
Keep an eye on your watch, because the real fight begins when the sun goes down. Making the entire city pitch-black, navigating the buildings because a real struggle once night arrives. Not to mention, that’s when the worst of the infected come out to play. Known as Volatiles, these creatures are insanely fast, can clear whole rooftops, are nearly invincible, and can kill you almost instantly. Their only real weakness being UV lights, you’ll more than likely want to run once one of these nasty fellows spots you. Lucky for you, there are loads of light traps set up around the city, but if you aren’t feeling too gutsy, you can always sleep off the night in one of the many safe havens located around the city.
I must say, if there is one thing this game does better than most zombie titles as of late, it’s the tenseness of being chased by those monsters during the night. Climbing while knowing one is right behind you can really make you sweat. Mix that with the ability to look behind you while running and prepare to have a few panic moments.
Playing Dying Light with a friend is a must in my opinion. The four player co-op is done fairly well, and really extends the enjoyment of the game. While I do have a theory that any game despite how awful it may be, is fun in co-op, Dying Light in genuinely a better experience when shared with friends. Nothing feels more hectic and exhilarating in a game than running for dear life with your preferred co-op buddy.
Visually, the game looks fairly impressive. Looking like the FOX Engine featured in the recent P.T. demo, the interiors of buildings can look incredibly nice. While there are a few blurry textures here and there, it’s a far cry from what we knew from the Dead Island games. Lighting looks great, especially with the setting sun. The UV light shining during the night looks nice as well.
The sound design is great. With humming generators, moaning zombies, and the occasional roar heard echoing through the night from one of the more deadly infected, the sound presents you with a convincing and tense atmosphere. The musical score leaves a bit to be desired; it’s not bad per se, it just lacks any sort of character. It falls into the basic instrumentals category I’m afraid.
Overall, Dying Light does what everyone expected Dead Island to be. It’s a fairly gorgeous game with loads of things to keep you busy. The world is massive, as is the arsenal and when you throw Parkour into the mix it can really create some memorable moments. While the combat is still a bit clunky, it is worlds better than what we experienced in the past. So grab a co-op partner and go to town. I think you’ll enjoy your stay.