I’ve played a lot of Dying Light, and the biggest compliment I can pay it is that I can’t wait to play a lot more. I’ve yet to even close in on boredom with the zombie-killing, free-running, first person action. In fact, it’s one those game that when you’re not playing it, you’re thinking about playing it – and that’s a status reserved for a very small number of games.
A spiritual successor to the Dead Island franchise, Dying Light is Techland’s way of showing that practice makes perfect. They took the formula introduced in Dead Island, iron out some kinks, gave it its own spin and delivered the zombie game that many of us had been waiting for.
Dying Light puts you in the shoes of Crane, a covert operative dropped into Harran to recover a secret file. He’s forced to play triple-agent, working with the island’s factions to fulfil his duty and play the hero, too. The catch? Harran has been overrun by a virus that has left most of the island’s inhabitants a bit ‘bitey.’ It’s really bog-standard stuff. The game does little to make you care for its stereotypical video game characters (yes, there is one with goggles on his forehead) or shallow plot.
The voice acting doesn’t help either as, apart from the always wonderful Roger Craig Smith as your protagonist, delivery can be quite stale and robotic. It’s a good thing then that story takes a back seat to gameplay.
Gameplay is king in Dying Light, offering players two sizable playgrounds where they’re free to run, jump, slide, zip-line and… dropkick zombies. The first-person free running mechanic is simple and intuitive, though comparisons to Mirror’s Edge aren’t quite apt. Dying Light ‘s action is much slower paced than Mirror’s Edge ‘s poetry in motion, with a smaller array of abilities with which you can traverse the landscape. I feel like that was always going to be the case, though. Mirror’s Edge was a linear, one-trick experience, whereas Dying Light has a lot more up its open-world sleeve.
Just running around Harran, finding new and inventive ways of disposing with the undead masses without becoming zombie dinner is an absolute blast. In the early hours of the game, I found myself taking a slow and considered approach as I tried to stay on the rooftops, only dealing with zombies as I had to. But as you find new, more powerful weapons and upgrade your character with better abilities (like the aforementioned, and just spectacular, dropkick), things quickly progress from tense survival horror to a full-blon zombie killing simulator.
The possibilities are seemingly endless. There are the obvious ways of ending the biters, like bashing them with a baseball bat or decapitating them with a cleaver. Even these ‘mundane’ acts are jazzed up with the ability to upgrade your weapons, adding things like electricity to the mix. The melee combat is a bit clumsy but I feel it actually added a bit of excitement to proceedings as you never quite know how many hits it’ll take to defeat an enemy.
There are ranged opportunities for raining death on the zed heads, too. By looting items from the abandoned buildings of Harran, you’re able to craft weapons like shrapnel grenades, Molotov cocktails and throwing stars. These can also be upgraded, with the exploding throwing star being one of my favourite ways of dropping a zombie.
Then there are all the environmental ways of dealing with your enemies. Drop a firecracker in a puddle of petrol, for instance, and you’ll be able to just stand back and watch as nearby zombies flock to their demise.
Eventually, you’ll get your hands on some firearms but they control like crap, making them the least fun method of zombie disposal.
I think I’ve made my point by now; Dying Light gives you a lot of choice when it comes dealing with walkers. And then night falls.
Dying Light’s gimmick is a day and night cycle which sees the game drastically change when darkness comes. The expansive and beautiful draw distances of the day are lost to a tiny cone of vision provided by your flashlight. Zombie killing experimentation is lost as you’re forced to stealthily sneak through Harran in search of a safe house for fear of being seen by the much more intimidating things that go bump in the night. The game toys with you at night, telling you that you’ll get double experience points for everything you do in the darkness whilst NPCs constantly remind you to get inside and hide before dusk. It’s a really interesting system, which adds urgency to everything you do; can you complete your quest and get back to a safe house before night falls?
The story missions are mostly fun, offering some more contained and scripted experiences that give a little variety. Side quests are all just fetch quests, though. Almost every side quest sees you going somewhere to get something, only to return said something and find out you have to go somewhere else for something else. I didn’t mind the excuse to explore Harran but it was slightly tedious.
Techland, thanks to their previous offerings, have become synonymous with glitches but I’m happy to the report that Dying Light is a mostly bug-free experience. In my hours of play I got stuck in the environment just once and it sorted itself out within 30 seconds, anyway. There is an annoying bug when opening doors, though. Crane seems to be a Jedi and uses the force to open doors without even touching them.
As I write, all I can think about is finishing this review and jumping straight back into Harran and taking on the undead, once more. That should tell you all you need to know about Dying Light.