Zombies are one of the oldest scare factors in classic movies and games alike. Their rotten flesh, bloodied eyes and shambling movements still bring fear into our heart – even after all those years. Techland obviously knows its way around zombies – even if their Dead Island games were far from perfect. Dying Light brings in a new perspective with a more serious tone, almost unbelievably good graphics, a day and night cycle in the fictional city of Harran and the addition of a crazy parkour system.
The small middle-eastern city of Harran in Turkey is infested by zombies because of a mysterious outbreak. A governmental agent (which is you, obviously) is thrown into the city to infiltrate a secret organization, to get his hands on some secret documents and of course to investigate the reasons behind the zombie outbreak. Things starts bad, because our hero gets bitten, so he has limited time to save his own ass, and the lives of millions of people. He must learn to climb walls, run on rooftops, slide, jump and of course hack’n’slash zombies like there’s no tomorrow.
Run like hell!
At the beginning of the game you are fairly weak and you have zero special skills to survive and kick zombie ass. The fact that you are bitten is just a sign for bleak future, but doesn’t affect our hero: thanks to a medicine called Antazin you can stay healthy as any other humans.
The first few hours serves as a tutorial to the game and to grasp the basics of the gameplay. The first-person free-running is of course similar to EA’s Mirror’s Edge – less polished in some aspects (the specific movements like the sliding under obstacles part), better in others (instead of linear levels, we can free-run everywhere in the whole city).
Killing zombies is a straightforward affair in the beginning and doesn’t gets really sophisticated later either. Basically we can hack’n’slash zombies with different types of melee weapons and kick the hell out of them, if they fall on the ground. You can trigger random executions as well, like beheadings and such, and later we can get our hands on fire weapons, but the basic combat model stays rather simple – yet fairly satisfying. Still it’s precise and satisfying enough so it gets old only after several hours in the game. Since we are talking about an open world game depicting a zombie outbreak, of course, you don’t need to kill each and every undead fellow so you can go easy on the combat.
The sheer number of the weapons and their upgrade system are a lot more “sophisticated” however. I can’t remember any game where I had so many types of pipes in my hand – even Super Mario would be proud of me. If you crave more sophisticated or stronger weapons, you can either find those in several types of boxes lying across the city, or you can simply buy them at your local arms dealer at the base, some safe zones, or simply merchants hiding in buildings. You can even upgrade your best weapons, but don’t forget, that sooner or later all your weapons will all deteriorate, so don’t become emotionally attached to any of them.
Also the amount of useless stuff and pointless weapons which bogs down your inventory is simply incredible. You can find them in the boxes lying around in houses and on their roofs alongside a yummy chocolate bar.
Besides the weapons there a fairly simple upgrade system for our hero as well, with three skill trees: survivor, agility, and power – the latter is used to upgrade your killing skills. Perhaps the most useful of them is agility, since it greatly improves your free-running skills, which is an essential part of the game not only to get away from the undead but also to get from point A to point B the fastest way possible in the city (which is quite big). It has to be mentioned, that we are getting skill points gradually in the specific trees, so we can’t “skip” to upgrade one in favour of the other, our only choice is retracted as to which skill we are upgrading within an existing tree.
My name is Crane. Boring Crane.
While the combat and parkour elements are both pretty good the story is nothing to write odes about – perhaps the best adjective we can’t find to it is “serviceable”. Each and every character are rather boring and that includes the main guy, government agent Kyle Crane who is played Roger Craig Smith – who actually sounds like the much overused Troy Baker. Other characters are “teleported” from other games, like Far Cry for example (especially the evil boss guy). Obviously the game tries pretty hard to have a 28 Days Later feeling to the story and shaky cam views as well – and it fails.
The worst aspect to the story are the overused “errand boy” type missions. I just can’t believe how many times I have heard the sentence: “You have to do me just one more thing, before you can get that other thing” in previous games, and you won’t miss this from here either.
Even if the story is just an excuse to free-run and kill lots of zombies, this time Techland tried to do a more serious game than their Dead Island so they could hire at least a decent story writer.
My beautiful Harran
Thanks god, the graphics of the game makes up largely for the botched story or clumsiness of the inventory. Dying Light is simply gorgeous with the exotic fictional Turkish city of Harran almost coming alive on your HD screen. That’s especially true about the weather effects and day and night cycle. When the sun starts to set, the fantastic lighting effects paired sometimes with dust particles and a storm or rain aren’t short of incredible. During daytime the sun occlusion and HDR effect are pretty awesome too.
The same level of attention to detail can be said about the visualisation the human characters or the zombie’s design. It’s obvious that a good amount of Dead Island money went to the development of the visuals and the graphical department indeed did an astonishing job.
A “far cry” from real innovations…
Graphics aside the Techland can’t deny that Dying Light is amalgamation of other open world AAA titles, like Far Cry 3-4, or Assassin’s Creed or Skyrim. Similar to the towers in Assassin’s Creed you will have to clear from zombies several so called “safe zones”, before “conquering” them and being able to use them during the game to rest and store/get stuff. Other than that you will have to climb radio towers like in Far Cry 3, which are such a pain in the ass, as in it was in Ubisoft’s game.
As for the much touted day and night cycle it’s actually a major gimmick. Yes, the zombies becomes supercharged for short periods of time when the sun sets and also the terrifying volatiles – which are large, nude, pale zombies with mandibles – appear. They are pretty fast, extremely strong and if they find you, not only your chances of survival are minimal while being face to face against them, but they also alert all their friends.
So in theory the night cycle is an incredibly adrenaline pumping and fun experience especially because of the volatiles. In practice all you have to do is just to avoid their cones of vision – or run away from them for extra points. The volatile’s AI is pretty lame as well, so it was kind of hard to take the game seriously at this point.
What’s pretty cool however is the “Be the zombie” mode, which was supposed to be only a DLC added later, but due to the production debacles it’s integrated now in the base game. It’s actually an asymmetric multiplayer mode, which lets you or other players fill in for zombies on the fly. It can be a bit irritating first since it starts a new scene and impedes your current story progress, but it does mix things up when you find yourself bogged down by a string of average quests.
Good game in need of some fresh blood
Dying Light is definitely a departure from the pretty average Dead Islands, but not so much, that it would receive the crown of the best action-horror games. The hand-to-rotten hand combat is pretty enjoyable, same as the parkour sections, the visuals are breath taking, but the story is merely average, the open world sections are all taken from other similar games, and the day night-cycle is a nice looking, but obviously just an overhyped gimmick.
It’s actually a shame, because with a better story writer and some more original designs decisions Dying Light could have been a blast. It’s a good zombie action game which could be unfortunately quickly forgotten only to reappear later in the bargain bins.
+ Gorgeous graphics
+ Cool parkour system
+ Solid combat
– Average story
– Unoriginal open world elements
– Day-nigth cycle a gimmick
Editor: Warner Bros
Genres: Survivor horror, action, adventure
Publication: January 2015