It’s no secret that zombies have done a number on the game industry. It’s hard to say when the craze really started, but once it did, it spread like the iconic virus/bioweapon that most of the storylines are known for. This gave rise to a tidal wave of blood, guts, and a whole lot of head shots.
Today we’re here to talk about the latest craze in the crowded world of zombie games: Dying Light. This one comes to us from the makers of Dead Island, which, in my opinion, lost points from the moment everyone realized that the heartfelt CGI trailer for it was nothing more than a charade to make people think the game had a moving and emotional story.
It didn’t, and it was filled with glitches to boot. Not a bad game, but not great either. Still, I let bygones be bygones and walked (shambled?) into Dying Light with a fresh perspective despite Techland’s last attempts to toy with my emotions. So, is this open-world parkour zombieland all it’s cracked up to be? Strap on your running shoes folks, because we’re about to find out!
Zombies? Check. Parkour? Check. Story? Yes, actually
One of my other problems with Dead Island was I felt like the world and its story were an afterthought. I promise I’ll stop holding Dying Light accountable for Techland’s last efforts, but I needed to make that point.
Dying Light starts strong with an interesting opening that, while adhering to the usual storylines of government quarantines, virus outbreaks, and global relief efforts, manages to set the stage nicely with it’s stylized visuals. Once you get into the game, the action doesn’t wait long.
You’re air dropped in after being briefed about your mission: you are Kyle Crane, an operative for the Global Relief Effort or GRE for short. You’re being air dropped into Harran to recover a stolen file for the GRE that contains some sensitive information. This is all in the first five minutes but I’ll leave the rest for you to see.
The point is, you parachute into this city that is controlled by zombies and anarchy. The opening is intense and fast, setting you up with a faction of “runners” lead by parkour instructor (clever Techland) who carrying out missions to find supplies for the other survivors. Again, not breaking any molds, but it works within the context of the game.
The main story isn’t going to win any awards, but I found myself consistently engaged by it. It has fits and starts, but it’s always pushing you forward while never dragging you along. This isn’t like Dead Rising where you have to finish certain missions before a certain amount of time, so you have plenty of opportunity to explore between missions for side objectives and collectibles (although you will be reminded when something big is going down that you should continue the story sooner than later).
There are moments in the story where a time limit is set and I found myself going through multiple in-game days (well past the time limit) without progressing the story. In that regard there is some suspension of disbelief, but overall the story manages to keep itself interesting throughout.
Surprisingly enough, the side missions almost (if not entirely) steal the show when it comes to story. You’ll find yourself doing everything from collecting parts for bombs, to stealing tissue samples in the dead of night. Not every side mission is created equal, some are your run-of-the-mill farming quests where you collect herbs in an “area” for an exorbitant amount of time, but some of them have some genuinely great mini-stories that I would recommend you experience.
The voice acting and dialogue are good for the most part. A couple moments of cringe-worthy accents or cheesy retorts will have you shaking your head, and sometimes the more intense moments can be overshadowed by less than perfect writing, but overall it holds its own, especially for how large the world is and how many different characters you come across.
Honestly, I really look for great stories in my games and while Dying Light doesn’t put Bioshock, Dragon Age, or Telltale’s Walking Dead to shame, it does improve greatly on the literary front in comparison to other zombie games and serves as a great motivator for the action both in story missions and in the secondary ones.
That Moment When You Wonder How You Played Any Zombie Game Without Parkour
Dying Light’s gameplay feels a lot like another parkour first-person game that you may or may not have heard of. It was called Mirror’s Edge and while it didn’t have zombies, it did have great parkour. Dying Light’s developers must have played it because the parkour in this game is almost perfect in every way.
I only say almost because there’s small glitches and more than a handful of “What do you mean I can’t climb that?” moments in conjunction with some fatal leaps of faith. All in all though it feels like Assassin’s Creed levels of exploration paired with the smooth parkour of Mirror’s Edge. As you progress through the game you also get some additional tools and skills that make this already great system even greater.
For the vast majority of the time though, the game has you leaping over rooftops, climbing towering structures, and outrunning zombies like it’s going out of style. With a such a massive world to explore, the possibilities are immense.
A Trio of Skill Trees, an Infinite Number of Weapon Combinations
Before we move into the more nitty gritty aspect of combat, I wanted to touch upon the robust weapon customization and player upgrade system at work here. In terms of weapons, you can expect to use a variety of bludgeoning, slicing, and dicing tools on the undead around you. You’ll find everything from wooden plank, to crowbars, to full on broadswords. There are guns as well, but they are sparse and you won’t see them until you’re a little ways into the game.
These weapons you find can be further augmented with socketed upgrades and modifications that you find, or earn blueprints for via side missions. These modifications and upgrades offer everything from bleeding damage, to fire, toxic, electric, and ice bonuses on your weapons, grenades, and thrown projectiles like shurikens.
Yes, you can throw exploding shurikens and strap a blow torch to a hatchet. Does it make sense? Not always, but you won’t care once you see it in action, I assure you. Weapons do lose durability and break after a number of repairs, so don’t get too attached. You can of course use your blueprints to craft new upgrades and mods, in addition to projectiles, medkits, and more. It’s a robust crafting system to be sure.
The skill trees in the game are divided between power, survival, and agility. What’s interesting is that each one has its own unique currency of experience meaning you can upgrade all three simultaneously as you progress. The survival tree gets points when you save survivors, complete side missions and the like. The power tree earns points when you fight and kill zombies in gory gladiatorial combat with amalgamations of death and destruction.
Finally the agility tree earns points from pulling off parkour moves and death-defying drops into garbage or onto a zombie’s face. The game does punish you by subtracting survivor points when you die though which can seem unfair during a tough story sequence, but it keeps your will to live in the forefront of your mind for sure.
These skill trees offer new and exciting abilities are you progress, keeping the game fresh and exciting every time a new skill point is earned across any of the three options.
Night is Coming. Good Night, Good Luck
The final aspect of Dying Light’s robust gameplay that I wanted to touch upon is the day/night mechanic. You won’t see a natural flow between the two until a certain point after the introduction of the game, but once it’s there you’ll rethink everything. You see, at night you earn double XP across your skill trees. Why is that? Well, it just so happens that there’s a super-powered species of zombies called Volatiles that only come out at night.
Like the game advertises, you are a predator by day, and prey by night. You can sleep in safe houses that you unlock to avoid the night, but some missions (including story ones) must be done under the cover of darkness. It’s a great way to flip the whole game on its head and makes for some incredibly scary moments when the sun goes down.
If you notice the difficulty curve in the game, that’s normal. The game gets a smidge easier when you level up a bit, but it’s never easy. There is support for up to four player co-op in the open world of the game doing story, challenges, side missions, whatever you like, and it works very well. Again, you’ll need to reach a certain point in the story first but then you can have friends jump in and out to play with you.
Everyone finds unique loot, and all the progress you made and the experienced they earned sticks when they leave. There’s also a fun competitive mode where you can invade other player’s games as a “night stalker” and compete against the humans. It’s not going to pull people away from Call of Duty’s online multiplayer, but it’s fun nonetheless.
Gosh Dying Light, is There Anything You Don’t Do?
Dying Light is a great zombie game. It may not bring home the Grammy for it’s storytelling but it does offer a vast array of interesting threads for you to follow. The gameplay is polished and tight (just be sure to download the latest patch) and graphically it’s very good looking for such a large world. The character’s faces and lip sync make me remember the days of Skyrim and Fallout, but otherwise it’s a very good looking open-world experience.
There’s moments of frustration and the occasional bug or glitch but overall Dying Light impresses with a great set of RPG elements and fun parkour/melee gameplay that proves to be a shining example of how to do an awesome open-world zombie game.
A final tip for all my faithful readers: download the Dying Light companion app on your smartphone or tablet. While it will bombard you with notifications, it actually allows you to find and send crafting supplies and med-kits to your game on the console. This is a HUGE help for people struggling in the game and gives you an edge you may desperately need in the opening hours.
If you’re a fan of zombies, games like Far Cry 4, or anything in between, you need this game in your PS4 collection.
Final Score: 9.0/10
Game Category: Horror
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert Date: 2/6/15
Post Launch Update
You asked for it. We will deliver. The first of many additions to come. pic.twitter.com/i0ODuupsIa
— Dying Light (@DyingLightGame) February 11, 2015