Techland’s next venture into the land of the undead has arrived with the release of Dying Light for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. Those who played Dead Island will quickly adapt to the world of Dying Light and its controls. Have we been overrun by an excess of zombie games, or can Dying Light survive the cut.
You assume the role of Kyle Crane, a participant in a government humanitarian project. You are immediately dropped from a plane and straight into the action in the overrun city of Haran. Your mission is to obtain an important document from an individual in the city and that’s all you know. It isn’t long before you are off to the races, running errands for survivors and finding secluded ares to report to your superiors. The story of Dying Light is interesting enough but the real enjoyment of Dying Light comes from crafting and climbing to survive another night.
Dying Light separates itself from other zombie games by placing emphasis on free running and the day/night cycle. The free running mechanics take a bit to master and can be frustrating at times. However, when it works it can be surprisingly fluid and creates some of the games most exciting moments. It can be a real rush leaping between rooftops and clamoring up a ledge to safety. Dying Light contains more of a horror aspect than Dead Island and this is most apparent at night. Your heart sinks the first time Crane looks at his watch as the terror of night approaches. A voice comes over your radio providing the last bit of human contact for the night proclaiming the games tagline “good night and good luck”. Night becomes a struggle of whether or not to use your flashlight as you navigate your way to the nearest safe house. Without it you can’t see more than a few feet in front of you, but the light also attracts the undead. Along with the darkness, night also brings special infected that are fierce and extremely fast and agile putting your parkour skills to the test.
These parts of the game are great and keep the game interesting. The biggest problem that Dying Light suffers from is inconsistency. For every thing that is good about the game there seems to be something that detracts from it. Combat with melee weapons is fun and weapon impacts feel good. Weapons can be modified with special effects like fire and you can repair those you especially like a few times, provided you have the materials to do so. Gunplay however is weak and feels awkward by requiring you to aim down sights by clicking in the right analog stick. The campaign tries to tell an interesting story and some of the side missions introduce you to unique characters, such as one survivor who believes he is a werewolf and asks you to collect some supplies in order to cure him. But it is hard to feel too connected to Haran’s citizens as facial animations are stiff and robotic and character models are heavily reused. Most of Dying Lights frustrating moments could be fixed by providing alternate control schemes to choose from. Jumping with the shoulder buttons and aiming down sights with the analog stick don’t feel all that intuitive.
The game sports two different locations that are both decently sized and are fun to explore. The environments are somewhat bland in color and both materials and assets are heavily reused. The second location, Old Town is the most fun to traverse and feels better suited to the games parkour mechanics. This area features lots of old buildings with large towers and wide rooftops proving convenient paths above the chaos on the streets below. Vehicles are not accessible as in Dead Island and the only way to travel through Haran is on foot. This makes the grappling hook one of the most essential of the variety of upgrades that are available to you. It is reminiscent of the grapple boost from Batman: Arkham City by allowing you to shoot to the top of a rooftop with speed and ease.
Upon completing the short prologue you are allowed to play cooperatively with up to four players. Cooperative play is a lot of fun and speeds up the game quite a bit. Unlike in Dead Island special loot found is offered to all players, not just the player who found it firs which alleviates player friction, especially if you play cooperatively with strangers, though we recommend playing with friends if possible. However, if you’d rather go it alone you can survive just fine, just remember to keep an eye out behind you.
There is also a “be the zombie mode” which puts players in the role of the nightcrawler which can quickly navigate the city and latch on to human players by shooting out its long tendrils and catapulting itself to them for an attack. The mode works similarly to Watch Dogs’ invasion mode by dropping you in to other players games. Those who don’t want to be invaded by the nightcrawler can simply turn off the option in the games menu. The mode suffers from connectivity issues and is a short lived experience so those who didn’t receive it as a pre-order bonus aren’t missing much, but it can be purchased on the side if you choose.
Dying Light is worth a play for fans of zombie survival games and fans of open world games. It’s an inconsistent ride with some rough edges but also some great ideas.