It’s been about a week since Techland’s Dying Light was released to a relatively uniformed audience. The reason that the press was not given review copies was much less devious than Ubisoft’s twelve hour review embargo of Assassin’s Creed: Unity (primarily, the game was horrible). It was primarily due to poor planning and the developers working on a 1.02 content patch that was to be released in tandem with the official launch. As such, many fans have been hitting various review websites, waiting for credible press reviews to be released, but with little avail. As such, I’ve decided to provide you all with my own thoughts about this title.
If you’re familiar with Dead Island, then Dying Light will feel like a spiritual successor in most every measurable category. You’ll play as Kyle Crane, an agent of a mysterious organization that has tasked you to recover an experimental drug formula. In the opening moments of the game, you’ll be dropped into the zombie infested quarantine zone of Harran (a fictional city influenced heavily by Mediterranean landscape), where you must befriend the local resistance group in order to gain valuable intelligence to complete your mission. The plot is thin but thankfully, the action is not.
Unlike Dead Island, Dying Light instead allows players to not only engage in melee combat with zombie hoards, but also perform advanced parkour maneuvers to traverse the landscape. Similar to Mirror’s Edge, players will run, jump, slide and climb across various structures in the city as they avoid zombies and perform various tasks, such as defeating certain enemies or looting specific areas. The option to run and climb around (and eventually slide and drop kick!) are just a few of the numerous traversal methods by foot. It’s a great feeling to know that at any time during combat, your character is versatile enough to make a pretty exciting escape.
But for those players who prefer combat, that element of the game exists as well. You’ll be initially limited to a small set of weapons and an even smaller move set, but over time will be able to craft some bizarre weapons (such as the flaming police baton or the electric wrench) which you can use to mow down the undead at pretty rapid speeds. The weapon crafting system can now be accessed anywhere (not just at a pre-determined workbench), giving players the freedom to swing away with little worry of being stuck in the field with broken gear. In addition to the standard combat, numerous traps are scattered throughout the city for utilization, such as spike walls and explosive barrels. It’s nice to mix up combat with the occasional environmental kill.
Whether you prefer to sneak around or to engage in combat, the game will reward you appropriately by earning experience in one of three skill categories, which will allow you to enter points into various skill trees. Characters that prefer to brawl will learn stronger moves and can spend talent points into passive skills to increase the change of critical damage or overall attack power, whereas characters who prefer to run and jump will earn skills which reduce fall damage or allow for quicker regeneration of stamina.
The most unique feature about this game is the day and night cycle, the latter of which brings on stronger, faster, and more difficult enemies. The risk and reward is that certain missions are only available at night, and that experience gains are increased dramatically. Players looking to level more quickly, or to obtain the best gear in the game, are strongly encouraged to explore the city of Harran at night.
Regarding my experiences, I must say I’m having a great time with this game. I decided to approach this game more evasively, focusing on sneaking and stealth as opposed to more of a bruiser style. There are numerous gaps and ledges to jump onto, and free running across large areas of the map without touching the ground (and avoiding most of the zombies) is something I’m really enjoying.
What many have argued that the “check in the box” features of the game, including a cookie cutter leveling system and world looting system aren’t that exciting, I contend it’s a great way to customize a character. Blueprints, which are earned via overall character leveling, can also be reached via chests or car trunks in highly populated areas. As such, I feel like exploring every inch of the city, looting everything I can get my hands on, making my character develop in a way that best serves my play style. I imagine that with enough time and patience, you could level every single statistic in the game to maximum, but right now, focusing solely on stealth and combat evasion is quite rewarding.
The ambience of the game is what really stands out to me. At every turn, you’ll be treated to some impressive set pieces that really set a mood of desperation. Husks of car on the highway, plumes of black smoke peppering the horizon, and rifled through stores are all visually impressive. The soundtrack, which can best be described as eerie 80s synthesizer music, plays a huge part in the game by influencing the right mood and caters to the situation you’re in.
What really sells the game for me is the ambience. You’ll come across biohazard suit scientists who have now turned (and that wheeze through their oxygen masks), abandoned safe houses that were overrun and are now full of zombies. You’ll even witness other NPC survivors attempting to battle for survival. While each of these areas contain plenty of rewards, I have found that I’m too weak to be all things to all situations, and often times watch in horror (at a safe distance) as the sandbox interactions play out. Some zombies, in their haste, will lunge at you, plummeting to their death, triggering alarms or other loud noises that attract the herd. I’ve spent many hours planning on doing a particular mission or exploring a certain zone only to get sidetracked due some of the crazier NPC interaction I’ve had.
Multiplayer is also equally rewarding, allowing you and a friend to divide and conquer. Being “bait” for another player who explores a hard to reach area is challenging, and the matchmaking mode means that help is only a random connection away. There is another humans vs. zombies mode, but I didn’t dabble too much in that, as it takes away from some of the randomness and open world hijinks that I’ve been experiencing to date.
I’ve encountered a few bugs here and there, but nothing that has completely shattered my experience of the game. Occasionally, enemy zombies will trip over clear hallways due to bad collision detection and NPC opponents will simply disengage combat with you for no apparent reason (or run aimlessly in the corner of a room). It’s also quite possible to game the system by standing on the border between safe zones and the open world, but overall the game looks, handles and plays very well.
If you’re a fan of Dead Island, this game will definitely feel like enough refinement to warrant a buy. For those of you who are new to the series, the game plays like a combination of Dishonored and Mirror’s Edge, but with a much darker tone. It’s a great title that should not be missed.
Check out our video review of Dying Light.