Dying Light was developed by Techland, the same studio behind the Dead Island series of zombie slaughter. With the announcement that Dead Island 2 would be developed by a different team, I was curious to see why Techland had decided to branch out and release a similar game under a different name. Once you’ve played Dying Light for half an hour, it becomes pretty clear why they decided to break away from their established franchise – Dying Light is one of those rare games that takes a chance and tries something different. It would have been easy for Techland to stick to their tried and true formula for zombie smashing fun, but I’m glad they didn’t. The result is a brilliant blend of parkour, coherent story, and zombie genocide.
Dying Light places you in the shoes of Kyle Craine, an operative for the Global Relief Effort, whose mission is to recover a stolen file that, if released, would endanger countless lives. Throughout the course of the game, you are put in contact with many different survivors, many of whom will engage you for aid in various tasks, like fetching items in an overrun part of town, or helping to find someone that’s gone missing. While the side quests are fairly generic, there are a few that were quite entertaining and that have mini story arcs across the course of the game. The main reason I didn’t mind the fetch quest nature of many of the side quests is because the movement system in Dying Light is so refined, which makes running around town a joy, not a chore. I will admit that at the start I was disappointed that you couldn’t change the button layout, but after playing for around 15 minutes, I found it made sense and helped with the fluidity of the parkour system. It is a little odd at first – in order to climb a ledge, you have to be looking at it when you jump, which means that you need to use the right stick when climbing about. This well imagined system makes it a breeze to escape from the constant sticky situations you find yourself in.
One of the first things a Dead Island veteran will notice is that they’ve thankfully done away with the horrible voice acting the series is known for, and the whole experience is better for it. Further, they’ve chosen to do away with the worn-out idea that the hero of the story is immune to the infection. Instead, everyone who’s infected has to somewhat regularly inject themselves with a drug called “Antizen,” which doesn’t cure them, it simply delays the inevitable. While this is a nice change of pace, I would have liked to see it in play as an actual game mechanic rather than a story tool. Dead Rising 2, for example, had players trying to find Zombrex for their daughter every 24 hours, which could have tied in nicely with Dying Light’s day/night mechanics. There was one more small thing that bothered me about the story. There’s a point in the story where a timeframe of 48 hours was given before something drastic was threatened to happen. In a game where you can sleep in a safe house to change day to night, it doesn’t make sense to give a timeframe that realistically only relies on progression of the main story. It just breaks the flow of the game for me a bit.
The game does a great job of making you feel powerless in the beginning, scavenging for gas pipes and floor boards to use as makeshift weapons that barely keep a single zombie at bay. It forced me to change my regular approach from taking zombies head on, to hiding on the rooftops and avoiding danger as much as possible. This had me questioning if the whole game would be like this, and if it was, if I would enjoy it. I think the main point of this initial difficulty is to make the game a little more realistic, and after playing for a few hours and picking up some better weapons, I found it started to pick up its pace. I was able to take on small packs of zombies, but still had to avoid large herds as it’s still pretty easy to get overwhelmed and killed, even at a high level. This design gives the game a great sense of pace and forces you to change your play style if you’re used to any Dead Island games.
The whole progression system received an overhaul as well. Your experience is broken up into 3 different categories: power, agility, and survivor points. These are acquired in different ways: to gain agility points you can climb, jump and kick zombies off structures; power points are gained for attacking and killing zombies; and survivor points are gained through quest completion and by scavenging air drop supplies and handing them in to quartermasters. Each of the three trees has a relevant skill tree with some pretty cool and handy skills that allow you to take down zombies easier, traverse the environment quicker, and craft crucial items.
As mentioned previously, Dying Light features a day/night mechanic, which is really important. During the day zombies act pretty dopey; they meander around and if you get too close they will start shuffling towards you. Not too scary, not too hard to dodge. When night falls, however, the normal zombies are much more alert and aggressive and they seem to appear in greater numbers. This is the least of your worries. At night, a new breed of zombie appears: the Volatile.
Volatiles are far more alert than regular zombies – significantly faster and immensely stronger. Once they spot you, it’s very difficult to get away. You do have a few tricks up your sleeve though, they are susceptible to UV light and the other survivors have set up traps around town to help you escape. You also have a UV flashlight and some flares that can be used to help break their pursuit long enough for you to run like the wind and get to a safe zone. Why would anyone in their right mind go wandering around at night, you might wonder? Well, some missions require it, but more importantly, you get double agility and power XP, and you also get a survivor point bonus for surviving. So if you want to level up quickly and you think you can survive, this is the quickest way to do it.
If you find the game too difficult, don’t fret. Just get three friends together, as Dying Light features four player co-op, and it’s all kinds of fun. The entire game (except the last mission) can be played with friends or strangers, depending on the online settings you choose. You can even leave your game open to be invaded by a stranger playing as a Volatile in the “be the zombie” mode. This mode pits you (and your friends, if they’re in your game) against a solo player controlling a Volatile. The human’s goal is to destroy a certain amount of zombie nests, while the Volatile tries to reduce their numbers to zero. While this can be a tense battle as you run around being stalked by another human, it wore out its welcome pretty quickly and I found myself changing my online settings so no one could invade.
The is not without its flaws however. There are two sections in the game where you lose all your equipment and retrieve it later. On both occasions the game didn’t return all my items, which was frustrating. I’ve also had an issue with an achievement not popping when it should and there are some quest issues associated with the co-op gameplay. While none of the issues I’ve come across are game breaking they are annoying and can break up the flow of your game.
While it did have a pretty rocky launch (the physical copies were delayed by a month in many countries), Dying Light is well worth your time,particularly if you love zombie apocalypse-themed action games. The story is coherent, the visuals are fantastic, and the core gameplay is great fun. Add to this the drop in, drop out co-op and I think Dying Light will be amongst my top 5 games of 2015. Do yourself a favour and play this game sometime this year.