27th January 2015
Dying Light Review
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the disappointment I felt upon playing Dead Island for the first time. I mean, everything was fine when I started it, with the mandatory linear tutorial sequence and cinematics. No, things fell apart for me when I realised that Dead Island wasn’t a sandbox game. Really, it was just a rather spacey corridor shooter with melee weaponry assuming the leading role. I was afraid something similar would happen with Dying Light, too. So I played carefully for one hour… continued for a couple more… and nothing happened. There was no staggering revelation that the game was bad. Quite the contrary, Dying Light seems to be one of the few games that manage to draw me in completely, making me actually wish to play the bugger as much as I possibly can. I’d say the zombie ‘survival’ game exemplar has finally been released, but you’re not going to be content with that, now will you?
Dying Light’s storyline isn’t that of a typical zombie game. You’re not a survivor trying to cope with a world-wide pandemic this time around. Instead, it would seem that the infection is somewhat kept in check in the city of Harran and its surrounding areas. The protagonist, Kyle Crane, is a mercenary tasked with retrieving an ominous-sounding ‘file’ from the game’s antagonist rogue agent, Rais, who previously worked for the same organization Crane is working for now. The game begins with a scene that instantly reminded me of my first playthrough of Crysis, and you’ll see why as soon as you start the game. Either way, things don’t go as they were planned and Crane gets bitten. Soon, he (you) starts working with the local runners in an effort to scour Harran for resources, find supplies and keep their people as safe as possible. The characters are interestingly varied and, while not too fascinating, damn well are above the set standard of the genre. Especially if you remember the Dead Island NPCs. I shudder. I’d like to avoid the spoilers, but expect a lot of stuff to do in the main quest, even more side quests and a boat-load of additional challenges strewn through the map. There’s a fair amount of replayability to be found here, rest assured.
Storyline aside, it’s the gameplay you’ll surely be most thrilled about. Mechanically, it works quite similar to that of Dead Island, although is much more responsive and intuitive. You’ll be swinging your weapons towards the undead shamblers while avoiding their attacks, sure, but the game’s freeform movement system is a real game-changer. Parkour hasn’t been done well in a lot of modern titles, but I’m happy to say that Dying Light absolutely nails the mechanic. Granted, it’ll be a tad sticky and awkward
in the beginning, but it becomes much, much smoother as you invest skill points in the Agility tree. If you see something that looks as if it can be climbed, there’s about 90% chance you can actually do that. The movements aren’t contextualized as in most games, but totally reliant on your own input, therefore allowing you to nicely outmaneuver the enemy. By providing you with the tools of achieving verticality, Dying Light practically begs you to fight cleverly. With a vast amount of advanced combat moves such as slide-to-leg-breaking or zombie-jumping, you’ll always be at an advantage if you know how to use those moves. You’ll want to pick your fights too, or at least try to lure the shamblers into areas you know well and have prepped-up traps in. This way, you’ll be able to kick, push and smack your way through the undead with less effort. The combat itself is very visceral, very intense, but also somewhat strange at start. Crane can only swing his weapon a couple of times before getting tired, while being able to climb like your average chimpanzee with little to no effort. Hit feedback isn’t what I’d like it to be either, with hits that have obviously connected occasionally not visually registering at all. Not a major issue, but it will be very prevalent in the opening sequences, as you’ll be severely underpowered to face a real zombie threat.
[pullquote]I’d say the zombie ‘survival’ game exemplar has finally been released[/pullquote]
Give it a couple of hours however, and Dying Light will grow on you. The gameplay systems that seem a bit shoddy at first soon evolve into masterfully realised additions, such as the parkour and combat mechanics. Weapons are varied, with a whole bunch of melee armaments and a couple of ranged ones. The thing to take note of, however, is that every weapon only has a limited number of repairs available before it breaks. While this means you’ll never be overly attached to a hammer or a machete, I can assure you that nobody will mind, judging by the amount of randomly strewn weaponry and “weaponry” I’ve found during my travels. One can also upgrade these armaments with a slew of statistical and visual enhancements. Adding a bleeding damage upgrade to your knife, for example, will add another snazzy-looking blade to it. Some skills will improve your weapon handling too, allowing you to use the same armament for much longer. Speaking about skills, there are three implemented skill trees for you to work with, each leveling independently of the others. One will help you in combat, one with your movement and one is just filled with your regular old buffs and stuff. All three are equally important however, and you’ll quickly realise just how much better the game gets once you invest a couple of points in, say, agility.
The game’s main twist is that the gameplay fully changes after the night falls, and this is oh-so-very-true. Sure, the undead are terrifying enough during the daylight and you definitely do want to pick your fights carefully, but it’s a whole new level of terror during the night. Specially evolved Hunters come out after the moon rises, and these things are magnificently mortifying and terrifyingly dangerous. From a rooftop runner game you’ll have to adapt instantly to stealth and careful advancement, trying to avoid any contact with the undead at all costs. Sure, the UV lamp helps, but it’s not enough once the infected gang up on you. The night gameplay ties in nicely with the game’s multiplayer mode – Be The Zombie, where four players have to destroy the nests of the infected while a single hunter has to take them all down. While sure as hell not integral to the experience, Be The Zombie is a nice addition to a game that’s already filled to the brim with content and I don’t think these player invasions will be overly popular among the players. The COOP itself, however, is spot-on, and don’t make me talk about combined takedowns because those are just too badass.
Visually, Dying Light is a real treat. Being a proper ‘current-gen’ game, you’ll notice a LOT of things happening on screen at all times. Be it several dozens of zombies on screen at any given time, birds flying overhead, cloth swaying in the wind… whatever you find, you’ll have something to feast your eyes on. Hell, even the zombies’ clothes get a fair amount of wavy properties, and I have to say that this is one of the first games in which cloth doesn’t seem like it’s a part of the character model, but actually something that’s holding onto the given character. There’s a whole bunch of particle effects flying around too, with the combination of dust particles, wind and sunlight working in tandem to create some really impressive sights. One thing I find fascinating is how well the game’s engine is optimised. After the fiasco that was Dead Island (and yes, it’s still lagging on my PC for whatever reason), I sure wasn’t expecting this much from an engine that’s… well… somewhat similar to the old one. Surprisingly, the framerate doesn’t fall much in any situation. No matter how far up I’ve climbed, no matter how large a horde I’ve been facing – my framerate remains stable. So, great job on the tech front, Techland.
Of course, the game has its problems. First of all, I’d like to address the fact that both movement and combat feel a tad floaty and wobbly at first. Yes, you’ll have to upgrade your character a bit before these mechanics truly shine and become enjoyable, so I’m hoping people stick with the game long enough to actually see that it sure as hell does get better. I’ve also encountered a couple of quest-related bugs that required a restart to be resolved, but it’s nothing compared to the issues Dead Island had in the beginning. I’ve also had the game crash on me upon the initial loading, but then again, I was running Chrome with seven tabs open, Skype and some other things too so it could very well have been my damn fault for running out of RAM.
On a final note, I’m finding Dying Light to be one of the most enjoyable titles I’ve played in quite a while. It nails the gameplay, nails the zombies and absolutely feels like a proper zombie-themed running simulator at times. I’d recommend this game to just about anybody, so get out there and hack some zombie meat!
The gameplay is enthralling.
The visuals are striking.
The zombies are gruesome.
The game is awesome
A bug here and there.
The combat is a tad wonky at times.
I feel as if the characters' potential could have been used even better. Same goes for the storyline.
Me writing bad poems.