Dying Light Review

Following on from the reasonably successful Dead Island, and it’s not so great follow-up Dead Island: Riptide, Developer Techland’s latest foray into the open world zombie genre leaves the tropical island setting behind in favour of the Turkish city of Harran. Players take on the role of a commando who parachutes into the zombie-filled city on a mission to track down a bad guy who has stolen the cure for the outbreak, which he plans to weaponise. This of course sets the scene for rival factions, deadly survivors, more zombie types and the ability to run and climb just about everything. So how does it stack up against its spiritual predecessors? Let’s find out…

Dying Light is an open world, first-person action game, which in a broad sense could be described as a next-gen version of Techland’s previous zombie title, Dead Island, with revised gameplay mechanics. These mechanics borrow heavily from the free-running action seen in Mirror’s Edge and includes a swathe of side-content and mission types that resemble those from other open-world games such as Far Cry. Yes, it does have its own unique ideas and gameplay mechanics, but by and large fans of open world titles in recent years will find themselves right at home in Dying Light.

The game features a stamina-based combat system similar to the Dead Island games, so that players are unable to mash the attack button and instead need to use it sparingly. Players can target specific areas of an enemy to inconvenience them somewhat, such as by breaking limbs to alter their attack patterns, or go in for the kill by giving their noggin a floggin’. It can be a little tricky and frustrating at times to get the hang of, but it gets easier with time and better weaponry.

To add a little more depth to the melee combat related shenanigans, melee weapons also have the annoying habit of breaking quite often and either need to be repaired quickly on the fly or be discarded altogether. Fortunately, there are plenty of objects scattered throughout the map that can be picked up and used as makeshift bludgeoning apparatuses. Additionally, the game has a fairly robust crafting system that players can utilise to create or modify weapons using crafting resources scavenged from the environment. Modifying weapons to give them an electrical charge or effects that cause damage over time is good fun, and although the options pale in comparison to the ridiculousness of systems in games like Dead Rising 3, it’s still a nice addition that has been well implemented.

Whilst combat is an option, it’s only a last resort kind of thing in most circumstances. Instead, by far the major focus of the game is on the use of parkour techniques to traverse the rooftops in an attempt to avoid the hordes of zombies inhabiting the streets below. There are ramps, makeshift bridges and handholds aplenty, encouraging players to utilise the system and explore the verticality of the map. Unfortunately, the parkour system is not quite as effective as the one seen in Mirror’s Edge, which can prove infuriating when it’s not as responsive as it should be and there are flesh hungry enemies lurking about.

Dying Light has also incorporated a levelling system in which players can earn skill points to invest in one of three skill trees: Survival, Agility and Power. Similarly to Skyrim or Oblivion, experience points are earned by performing or participating in skill-related activities; Agility experience is acquired for exploring the environment, climbing buildings and using parkour manoeuvres; Power experience is garnered from engaging in combat and killing enemies; whilst the Survival points are tied into completing missions, optional tasks and side-quests. Each of these skill trees feature a massive number of perks and upgrades to manoeuvrability and combat enhancements that players can invest in to make their life in Harran a little easier.

The game has also introduced a day and night cycle that provides players with two quite different gameplay styles. During the daytime, the world is occupied by the slow, shambling zombies that we all know and love. They are easy to avoid and, as long as you keep your distance, can be manoeuvred around with minimal difficulty – it’s the looters and other survivors who are the bigger threats to your time with the sun out. Once the sun goes down however, the game changes completely.

Night time is when the real threats emerge from the darkness. Here you will meet the much more specialised and aggressive forms of zombies, including recently infected volatile zombies that still retain some semblance of agility – they are fast, can climb and will chase you, oh, and they can pretty much insta-kill you and are extremely hard to kill. It is possible to elude them by sneaking around their cones of vision, but their sometimes erratic behaviour means they can be tricky to avoid altogether. Night time excursions are terrifying and exhilarating in equal measures, with limited light and the slightest noise or misstep alerting the zombies and nightmares to your presence. It becomes a constant sprint for survival from place to place with zombies nipping at your heels.

In addition to the main campaign missions, the game also features a large amount of optional content to keep players from getting bored. There are safe zones to unlock, quarantine zones filled with zombies and loot to clear out, challenges to test out your parkour, and weapon-based skills and ambient events that ask you to rescue survivors. These are but a sample of the side-content available with the real highlight being the large number of optional narrative driven side-missions featuring some unique and interesting characters and objectives, which easily outshine the main campaign content. Although these objectives and side-content will definitely feel familiar to anyone who has played a recent open world game, the addition of zombies does put a unique spin on things.

Dying Light’s multiplayer is comprised of two parts – up to four player co-operative open world gameplay and the competitive ‘Be the Zombie’ mode, in which players can invade other gamers’ game worlds and attempt to take them down. Whilst both are functional, I had significant trouble finding a stable game for the ‘Be the Zombie’ mode, with it constantly disconnecting me in multiple attempts over several nights on the Playstation 4. When it does work however, it is fantastic. Knowing that another player is in your game controlling a zombie is a great touch, and it builds tension by adding an element of unpredictability to the gameplay.

The game looks gorgeous with excellent textures, well rendered characters and a city environment with a range of differing locales, which range from beautiful old European architecture, to a shantytown-style slum area, sewers and a business district littered with skyscrapers. This range of environs looks exquisite and the good deal of attention to detail helps to give the city a range of atmospheres, while simultaneously keeping the game’s world feeling fresh. The guttural sounds of zombies is suitably freaky (especially at night) and although the voice acting is decent enough, even it can’t make up for the sloppy writing and terribly clichéd story, which amounts to a patchwork of ideas and characters pinched from every zombie movie ever made.

Unfortunately, as with the previous Techland games, the game is not without its issues. The biggest issue is that with the parkour taking a major focus of the gameplay, the interaction with the environment required for the free-running manoeuvres is not always as contextually sensitive as it ought to be, which can be extremely frustrating. The core story missions are quite mundane, with the majority featuring fetch or kill quests, leading to an overwhelming sense of repetition. The nature of the story missions, coupled with the lack of fast travel, means that traversing long distances over rooftops and back again starts to lose its appeal much quicker than it should. There are also issues with the occasional weird animation and zombies getting stuck in objects, which breaks the immersion in what is otherwise a well realised game world.

In the end, Dying Light is a decent game that falls short of being great. It’s well thought out free-running, entertaining side-missions and the tension-filled horror of night time prove to be incredibly enjoyable, but they never really make up for the sub-par main story missions or the cobbled together mechanics from other big name franchises. Whilst Dying Light is certainly the best zombie game to come out for quite some time, its borrowed gameplay mechanics, questionable mission design and silly story holds it back from reaching its true potential.

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