During a time that is typically slow for game releases, it never hurts to drop a hotter genre game. WB Games and Techland do just that with the release of Dying Light. But does it do enough to offer an interesting take on the genre?
What Is It?
Dying Light isn’t quite a run-of-the-mill zombie apocalypse game. Sure, it pits a hesitant, yet heroic, protagonist against an overwhelming amount of zombies and diabolical humans while ultimately desiring a cure, yet it’s an alternative take on an already alternative world setting.
The hero, Kyle Crane, works for an organization looking to help humanity and is dumped into the Turkish-type city of Harran. The city was meant to be host to Olympic-style games but the zombie outbreak occurred just prior to the start of the games. When the Global Relief Effort (GRE) drops Crane into Harran a few months later, the streets are littered with the zombified bodies of general citizens and athletes. Crane is meant to investigate a few of the leaders that have popped up within Harran, one of whom has likely stolen a highly classified document belonging to the GRE. The traditional Harran government has fallen and that paves the way for a couple primary factions to rise to power.
Dying Light‘s primary antagonist is Rais, a rogue political figure who leads an incredibly militant and grotesquely violent group, and he’s assumed to be the holder of the GRE document. Crane winds up working with an unnamed group led by Brecken, whose group comes across like traditional freedom fighters and gains Crane’s sympathy. It’s that sympathy that creates a conflict within Crane–should he stick hard and fast to his GRE mission, or divert in order to help Brecken’s group?
Ultimately, it’s an engaging enough story only really sullied by the game’s tendency to draw out missions with retrieval tasks. There are plenty of times where just as I thought I could advance, a mission would require me to check something else out. It becomes just enough filler to keep things a bit hazy.
Why Should I Care?
While Dying Light isn’t quite the game that takes major risks, its presentation is decently refreshing. Much of the gameplay focuses on parkour-style movements tempered by a survival horror mentality. You are sneaking around just as much as you are running around. What the game ultimately forces you to do is think. What’s the best weapon for this? Should I use distractions? Is this even worth a fight?
Dying Light does what it can to highlight melee combat, not unlike Techland’s previous efforts in Dead Island and Riptide. I had finished at least half the story before really coming across a gun, which become more common after the first introduction, but only slightly. Most are locked up within emergency vehicles or behind steep prices at merchants. Once you get a gun, it’s not the savior one might expect, but it’s a good ace in the hole for a tight situation. Melee weapons can be upgraded with special powers but ultimately depreciate and can only be fixed so many times. That added layer of strategy makes the game move at a slower pace than you might expect from a zombie game. At times, you can hack and slash your way through the streets, but never for extended periods of time. You’ll quickly lose too much stamina, your weapon will break, or there will be just way too many zombies trapping you in a corner. In order to conserve resources, you need to move slow, yet there are still times where you need to just book it across the map. While that doesn’t muddle Dying Light’s identity too much, as it does help the game becoming too set in its genre, it does slow down the pace and create a lengthy game.
Missions are long and involved but not due to interesting intricacies. You will progress, only to find out you’re suddenly required to go check something out first, then this, then that. Some more side missions will then pop up. There’s plenty to do, but it can muddle the story. At times I almost lost track of what was truly happening after being so caught up in just powering through a tough task. The complete lack of travel doesn’t help either.
With such a big map, it’s a chore to move around. Streets packed with zombies and deserted cars, mixed up buildings varying in height and distance, make traveling a slow process even when just going about 200 meters. The situation gets worse at night, when select zombies become more powerful Virals. These “fresher” zombies still have human elements to them and can sense you much more than any other zombie, making movement trickier. You can’t turn on a light because they’ll see it, but you can’t keep it off because you can’t see anything. You’re likely to end up in the arms of another zombie or falling off a building. So unless you are willing to camp in certain areas to wait out the night, you’re likely going to end up running from Virals and often in direction you shouldn’t be going. It’s better than death, though, as Dying Light could be far too punishing when it comes to dying.
Dying costs you Survivor Points. Survivor, Power and Agility points are earned by clean mission completions, successful kills and plenty of parkouring, ultimately increasing what you can do with your character. Only Power and Agility points are yours to keep. Death will cost upwards of 2,200 Survivor Points. It’s not so punishing that you lose an entire rank but it was enough of a punishment to limit some enjoyment.
Dying Light offers drop in or drop out cooperatively multiplayer as well. You can play through any story missions here or just complete one-off challenges, such as “kill all the zombies” or “collect all the packages”. The latter aren’t particularly difficult or beneficial to any one team member. It’s very cooperative in the sense that you can do next to nothing and still earn the same amount of experience points. Overall, the multiplayer wasn’t something overly exciting; I preferred sticking with the single player mode.
Techland also offers up the Be the Zombie DLC pack for free, which is King of the Hill type of gameplay. The mechanics of the zombies aren’t too tricky and actually allow for quicker navigation than human controls thanks to some Spider-Man inspired slime swinging.
Is It Worth My Time and Money?
Dying Light proves to be a lengthy, tough and demanding game. It pushes a heavy agenda for strategy, which is mostly justified. Occasionally, the game seemed like it was trying too hard to prove its tagline “Good Night Good Luck” to be apt. It wasn’t always enjoyable, but at the end it felt like a fair accomplishment. If you’re in the market for a zombie game, I’d recommend checking out Dying Light. It provides a different take on the genre and mixes up parkour and survival horror elements fairly well. In the end, it’s a strong effort only flawed by how much it dives into its own features.