Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Release Date: Jan. 27, 2015
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Genre: First-person Survival, Action, Horror
Disclaimer: A digital copy of the game was received for Dying Light review on PlayStation 4.
Dying Light might look like any other zombie game, but I assure you, it’s not.
Yes it is made by Techland, and no it isn’t just another Dead Island clone. It’s something special and unique that represents the culmination of everything the developers learned from their mistakes with the previous games.
While Dying Light does borrow heavily from the core mechanics of Dead Island, the game has a deft and fluid grace that its predecessors lacked thanks to its new parkour-based locomotion.
And it also takes some of the best elements of the former series like crafting–adding makeshift blowtorch modules onto garden sickles or electrifying a police baton–as well as a RPG progression system.
Drop-in/drop-out co-op is also included, and is responsible for a good portion of the game’s replayability and fun factor.
Complimented with a bigger open-world sandbox filled with quests and activities and unique day-to-night transition that seamlessly changes a players role from hunter to hunted, Dying Light is one of the most entertaining and truly fun zombie games I’ve played in any generation of consoles.
Now let’s take a closer look at the bloody streets of Harran. Are you afraid of the dark? You should be.
A hero’s (zombie) journey
The overseas city of Harran is in flames. Misshapen monstrosities roam the streets, and the dead walk the earth, tearing swaths in the remaining population. The tropical resort has become a hellish nightmare that only gets worse when sun sets: that’s when the real terrors come out.
Society has splintered off into survivor factions, all fighting for precious supplies like weapons, food, and antizin, a drug that delays the symptoms of the zombie virus. But antizin is used as a commodity by Rais, a brutal despot who extorts survivors with his band of machine-gun toting ruffians.
Players take the role of GRE operative Kyle Crane, who acts as the central agent of change for the city of Harran.
Crane is a nondescript hero who must juggle a number of alliances to uphold his undercover status, ultimately leading to a true test of his morals and willpower as things become more and more dire for the citizens of the Tower.
The story has a distinct dramatic flair, with a few twists and turns, but overall is a decent backdrop to a ruined world. The stage is set by a soldier who soon realizes that his mission will ultimately compromise his humanity–standard fare in the weight of secrets upon a truly good-hearted hero.
But it becomes more and more dynamic and winding the more you progress, taxing our hero more and more. At one point Rais captures him and forces him to fight in an arena against undead, which ends up going quite amazingly well.
To me Dying Light feels distinctly like a B-movie, and that’s one of the many reasons I love this game.
Having seen a ton of horror movies and monster flicks, it has a decidedly cultish flair that seems to marry classic Romero sentiments with outlandish Troma-style gore. And the music feels very Carpenter-esque (something of a mix between Halloween III and Manhunter‘s creepy synth-tones).
And like a lot of campy B-movies and cult flicks, Dying Light makes use of no-brainer concepts like keeping safe zones completely devoid of ladders or stairs. Some zones are even built on floating piers, away from prowling undead.
Small things like these speak wonders and make traditional pop-culture zombie franchises look rather foolish by comparison.
It has style, it has its own allure that is suffused with a number of visceral horror elements that make it stand out quite clearly when compared to other zombie games. It’s a delightful mish-mash of both subtle fear and obscene blood and guts that shines an intimate look at the genre as a whole.
This is mostly fleshed out by the game’s day and night transitions.
During the day, players are pretty much free to do what they like: scout for items, molotov an entire horde of undead, tackle sidequests or just soak up the rays on a tropical beach. In the daytime, you’re the hunter.
But during the night? You’re the hunted. You’re prey.
Terror rules the night. The symbolism of night being dangerous and full of evils (as GRRM would say, the night is dark and full of terrors) has always interested me. So it’s with no small enjoyment that I found myself utterly captivated by the disorientation of being hunted in the dead of night.
Night is when the Volatiles, those super-powerful agile zombies, come out and play. And not all the parkour in the world can save you once you have a horde of those horrors on your back.
To even the odds Crane has a UV light to ward them off, and there are also UV light traps strewn through the city, but overall stealth is your best bet at night.
Strategic undead warfare
Combat is the most enjoyable part of Dying Light, and it’s a delicious meal that has all sorts of dishes and tastes.
There are so many different ways you can take on zombies in the game. If you’re the type that likes to bathe in zombie blood, jump right in and start swinging with a meat cleaver for some slicing-and-dicing.
You can use the multitudes of spike traps or explosive pools of gasoline to annihilate groups, or pick them off with well-placed shots from a rifle. Be aware that Walking Dead rules apply here, and loud bangs will attract tougher menaces to deal with.
Crane is a very nimble fighter, and in many ways he kind of reminds me of the Waterdancer Syrio Forel. His dodge move allows him to easily hop out of the way of an incoming Demolisher’s strike, or a skull-crushing swing of a two-handed rebar maul.
The kicks are another amazing feature. When I played Dead Island: Riptide as John Morgan, I kicked and kicked and kicked some more. I loved it. And this game adds the kick as a simple secondary feature, letting you disarm and sometimes even stun enemies.
Strategy and preference make up one half of combat, and really it’s all up to you how you dispatch the undead.
I myself love using firecrackers to get zombies massed together, and then tossing a molotov to slowly burn them out. When you level up your Survivor tree things can get much more interesting.
For example you can use freezing throwing stars to immobilize troublesome baddies in place, or toss a toxic grenade in their midst for some slow poison damage. You can even use some flammable liquid and combo off of your fire-enhanced weapons for explosive damage.
Loot, sweet loot
Items are the other hemisphere of combat, and Dying Light one-ups Dead Island in a few key ways. You can still pick up swords and axes and hammers–the basic advantages of melee weapons over guns still stands–but Techland has raised the ante a bit in terms of customization.
Every item can be upgraded and fit with a custom mod for double the carnage. Upgrades only raise stats like damage, durability and handling, whereas mods will imbue the item with interesting elemental affinities.
Also a lot of these affinities can combo off of specific materials and items–we’ve already explored how flammable liquid combos off of fire weapons, but the same is true for conducting liquid and electrically-charged crowbars, swords, etc.
There are a ton of unique items peppered through Harran, some of which are secrets. There’s the Excalibur sword hidden in a zombie corpse, the devastating sick bomb that’s awarded to you after a tedious game of checkers, the ultra-powerful Korek machete (named after a Techland employee) and a number of other goodies.
Sometimes, though, the best items are the ones you make yourself. Other times you’ll want to go ahead and just upgrade a Korek machete with a King’s Mod and just go to town.
Bloody chaos and parkour
Combat is a visceral, bloody and brutal experience.
You get up close and personal with the zombies–the game makes you feel when you hit that perfect critical and smash in their heads, bringing the total panicky terror when you’re overrun by dozens of undead.
Sometimes it can be satisfying, other times it can get out of control. I myself keep things interesting by complimenting my melee strikes by using throwing weapons, traps, and other mechanisms of destruction.
In terms of movement, the game flows exceedingly well thanks to its new parkour system. This pretty much gives you the freedom to explore and move across any area of the game, sprinting across rooftops or wall-jumping and leaping across high distances.
The parkour is smooth, and to me it’s smoother than Mirror’s Edge simply because you don’t have to keep that momentum going at all times. Plus later on you get a wall-jump that pretty much makes it so you can grasp any ledge, no matter how high it is.
That being said the parkour can be finicky at times. Early on you’ll learn what ledges you can grasp (anything without barbed wire) versus those you just can’t. And sometimes you’ll miss anyway. It happens.
And there’s a grappling hook. Yes, it’s amazingly fun, but you won’t get it until you’re level 12 in Survivor rank.
Speaking of ranks, there are three major RPG skill progression trees: Agility (running, jumping, sliding, parkouring, etc), Survivor (saving NPC’s, doing missions, side quests, grabbing air drops) and Power (killing zombies in any fashion, whether with weapons or traps).
Each tree has three tiers, and my favorite is the Survivor tree.
You can use it to create some pretty badass items, from elemental throwing stars, shields that can actually soak up damage and inflict status ailments, boosters and tonics too buff your armor and stamina, and even makeshift grenades.
Add to that a massive open-world sandbox filled with tons of easter eggs, hidden items, blueprints and volatile zombies and you’ve got the city of Harran. The in-game world is pretty huge and there’s a ton of side quests and NPC’s to interact with, along with a sprawling metropolis replete with different sections and areas.
In short there’s always something to do in the game, and all of it is pretty entertaining.
The co-operative play is amazingly well done.
Even when I’m playing with a full team of four I have hardly had any lag, and we pretty much decimated everything that was in our path. It’s a great way to blow off steam for some mindless chaotic fun, and to earn a lot of cash looting the dead zombies.
The only gripe I have with co-op is that all the players have to be in the same spot to initiate a mission or quest. A lot of the time random players will scatter to the four winds, but if someone’s trying to kick off a quest, you can actually teleport to their location in a jiffy.
I’ve had a blast with the co-op so far, and I’ve actually met a few new friends who I join for some high-stakes questing–and they even showed me a thing or two about Easter eggs, especially the incredibly amusing Super Mario Bros. parkour level.
I have to give a shout out to some of the most odd and comical NPC’s I’ve encountered in my time as a gamer.
Dying Light is full of unique characters who actually have character. It’s very refreshing to come in contact with a guy who’s willing to give me an impression before he just sends me on a fetch quest.
Some memorable NPC’s include those idiosyncratic twins Tolga and Fatin, who, after sending me on a fetch quest, initiated in a very entertaining bit of banter where they argued about who’s smarter Cornelius or Dr. Saius.
“Orangutans are smarter”, Tolga tells his half-wit brother in an obvious tone, “Cornelius didn’t even have a PhD.”
Then there’s Edwin Snowberg, a horror movie director who actually flew into Harran just so he could get cheap footage for his next zombie movie, Zombie Annihilation IV: Dying Lunch. Snowberg sends you on a mini-game where you blast zombies with a shotgun, and rewards you with cash. I love it.
Dying Light is zombie survival sim done right.
It keeps the tried and true Dead Island formula but patches up so many things that the original series missed out on, including free-flowing parkour, a more dynamic open-world, and more satisfying combat.
There’s a massive level of depth to the game that can be explored in so many ways, whether it’s with a friend (or group of friends or strangers) in co-op, or simply alone. The storyline is pretty decent and has some memorable characters like Jade and Rais to fill things in, but all in all the mechanics make the game what it is..
With a range of amazingly satisfying strategic-based combat mechanics, massive level of replayability, dazzling graphical fidelity, quirky NPC’s and a huge artillery of quests and side quests, Dying Light is pretty much my new favorite zombie game and we’re confident that after you try it, it’ll be yours as well.