Taking the zombie survival genre we’ve come to know and love, then making it into an open world adventure that lies somewhere between Mirror’s Edge and Dead Rising, this is a fantastic title! There’s something familiar but unique in the first person presentation of Dying Light’s parkour style gameplay. As a runner for a group of survivors you’ll venture out into the zombie infested fictional city of Harran. So what makes this such an experience? Read on to find out.
First off, the parkour style gameplay really sets Dying Light aside. Picture it as similar to some of the action you may have experienced in Mirror’s Edge, mixed with a first person Assassin’s Creed style climbing setup. It’s really something to take a running leap off of a stories tall building with the intent to grab a balcony in the distance. The game encourages you to look toward the ledge you want to grab and this is very much how the mechanic works. You do need to press and hold a shoulder button as well, but otherwise you’ll just jump. Focusing on your goal allows the engine to know where you want to go.
As you progress, you’ll unlock more abilities that will help you run and climb through the city streets faster than ever before. The city itself feels vaguely like playing a more recent Fallout title. With the city left to the zombies there are parked cars abandoned all over and many buildings to explore. Many locations have containers for you to open and pick items out of. This looting gameplay is encouraged and tends to keep you quite busy as you wander around. Lock picking also comes into play for some of these containers and works as a quick and relatively easy turn pin, twist to unlock minigame. Even the trunks of cars or bags abandoned on buses you can explore inside of contain loot.
When you’re not taking your time to free roam around the city, there are many people to help as well as main story missions to take on. These are all worked well into the gameplay via dialogue or picking up posted notes on a billboard. At first I thought it was strange that I couldn’t look around in the games first person opening cut scene, but you do get used to these story developing moments. Even fetch missions are oddly attractive just because you never know what sort of situation you’ll land yourself in along the way.
This is something I touched on in my preview writeup for Dying Light. You can find yourself running along through the streets and passing by another survivor in need. Or perhaps a cargo plane will fly by overhead, dropping some much needed supplies that you can bring back to your friends at the Tower which serves as your home base. Do you divert from your mission, or keep going? Usually this doesn’t have much of an impact on gameplay it seems. I haven’t had a situation where skipping a survivor has changed anything, at least to my knowledge. They seem to be random characters you come across, but it’s still a great addition to the game since they do reward you with items or cash. So there is an incentive there. On the other side of the coin, if you don’t reach a cargo drop in time, it could be picked up by other survivors who aren’t willing to share.
The day to night cycle is a nice touch. At night, more powerful monsters prowl the streets who pursue you, making for some wild runs through the dark. During the day they’re more relaxed and usually don’t stumble after you until you get closer. Also, the quartermaster at the start in the Tower will give you free gear every day. This makes morning a fun event and gives the game an actual fresh start. The whole day / night process is well done and from the screens released it’s obvious the team is proud of the lighting and weather they’ve designed for the game. It really adds a lot to the world.
You do need to pay attention to what time of day it is though. Warnings will come over the radio to let you know when it’s time to seek shelter at either a safe house or back in the tower. These are more important than your mission objectives. One time I had Jade waiting for me on a mission. Night was just about to fall. So instead of going to join my fellow survivor, I slept for ten hours, woke up, stretched, then wandered out to complete the mission. There is no penalty for this, at least in the cases I’ve done it, so it’s good to keep in mind. Alternatively, I got stuck on a timed mission when I didn’t sleep as night was falling. The timer only lasts a few brief minutes, but I’d managed to get the game set right into the transition between day and night. So as I run into the swath of zombies I’m supposed to survive through, they turn from happy go lucky daytime zombies into ferocious beasts of the night. Obviously the game gives you enough warning that night is coming, I just chose to ignore it. Be sure to get your sleep survivors!
In general, missions do have this overbearing sense. Free roam is fun and enjoyable. Missions tend to have you questioning if this is a task you would have taken on in the game in the first place, or a situation you wouldn’t want to get into. Crane has his motivation, and is quick to accept any sort of goal thrown his way. He’s also quick to see survivors as people in need of help, and he’s grateful to them for the assistance they’ve given him. This can lead to situations that feel impossible. Fortunately you do tend to persevere. One such instance I encountered was for the mission I’m about to talk about. While trying to get into a store, the shutters were closed. It could have just been coincidence, but the area was loaded with zombies. I’d tossed some fireworks to distract them, but they didn’t do much with this crowd. Eventually on my second try, I managed to clobber enough foes to the ground near the shutter to boost it open and get inside. Still, the shutter was now open and a street full of zombies were pouring in. It’s not bad that the game is challenging. It just creates moments that you really ask yourself how you’re supposed to survive.
I’ve found the story to be quite fun and engaging. You’ve got your own secrets, and the survivors have their own stories. Even side missions can be quite well written. There’s one that you’ll find yourself helping a troubled guy who refuses to believe that his mother has died. The situation is pretty dire and you need the medication he’s still been picking up for his deceased mother for the survivors. It’s cool that the story takes the high route and sends you on a mission to collect a movie and some chocolates so the guy can celebrate mothers day with his mom while you sneak in and collect what you need.
Often the stories are entertaining. It’s not disjointed survivor stories. That and the main cast are actually quite likable. They stand out with personalities and goals that set them apart. As much fun as the controls are in Dying Light, and the quality city design, it wouldn’t have been a great game without these enjoyable characters.
Originally when I was first playing the game, one of my biggest complaints was going to be fighting. It looks cool, and has a great sense of actually combating the foes you’ll encounter, but it’s really difficult at first. It isn’t that the zombies are in particularly aggressive, or that you can’t tell when you’ll get overrun by them. It’s the massive amount of health they seem to have! You’ll be beating the daylights out of zombies at the start for quite some time before they finally take that final blow and allow you to loot them. As you level up and gain access to weapons with higher stats, things do balance out. It isn’t too far into the game either that you’ll find this happen, so I wouldn’t call this an issue. I suppose it’s meant to make you feel more helpless at the start. After all, if you take away the fear of the zombies being able to take you down, the game would lose it’s luster.
As noted earlier, it’s the situations that develop that really make Dying Light’s gameplay so attractive. There’s lots to discover in the city, and even better, situations just seem to unfold. Lets say you’re looting a store. One zombie is shuffling in, having noticed you. No big deal. You run forward and kick them to the ground. That’s when you notice about four more coming in around the corner from outside! So you go back in with it being a tightly packed street outside. The back door to the store is barred shut, so it takes time to unlock it. There are items in the back store room too. You double back for those and end up having to shove one of the advancing zombies back with another good kick, and rush out the back door. A new group of zombies turn their attention to you, so you rush the opposite way down the alley. That’s just a basic situation. Many times you’ll find your actions can cause more trouble than you’d wanted, or just that you run into situations you didn’t anticipate.
Not that the game doesn’t have the occasional jump scare, but Techland has done a great job of not overusing them like crazy. In Dying Light, it would have been easy to make every unmashed body you pass into a foe that jumps up at you. I love Dead Space and hope to get lots more of it in the future, but by the mid point of the first game my paranoid Isaac Clarke was destroying any body he walked past. For Dead Space, that worked. Dying Light isn’t trying to be psychological in that sense, it’s trying to encourage you to survive hordes of zombies.
If you’ve played Grand Theft Auto V for the newer consoles and experienced the games first person mode, you can expect a similar quality here and then some. Not only is the first person view a quality experience in Dying Light, which captures the motion of your movements well, but this carries into in game cinematics. The game feels great when you’re talking to a fellow character while sneaking down a street and actually placing Crane’s hands on objects such as cars. Your character feels the world in these situations and the additional animation put into them really feel immersive. I mentioned in my preview that it felt weird that I couldn’t look around in the intro and instead the game was hard coded to show me what it wanted to. As the game went along I came to appreciate these moments because they are told so well.
The game itself is a decent length. How Long To Beat’s website basically sums it up as taking almost 24 hours with all of the extras that are available. I must be getting old however since I can never compete with some of these numbers, and I found myself enjoying the world too much to beat the main story in the listed 12 hours. That and of course you’re raising stats, distracted by side missions, doubling back to get free gear, unlocking safe houses, collecting items you find around the map, etc. There’s lots to keep you playing.
Dying Light isn’t just a great zombie game. It’s a sweet game engine that could be applied to future titles. I’d take any first person adventure in this style. It makes me wish the creators of Prey 2 could have worked with Techland. This is a mix of open world adventure and first person action that feels like a quality title you’d expect from a Fallout release. Perhaps that’s what the creators inspired to be, but on the plus side they accomplished that feeling. In that sense, Dying Light is a triple A title worth checking out.
I have not tried out the multiplayer yet, but that does sound like a lot of fun. Essentially it sounds like you join people in co-op, but there is also the DLC Be The Zombie mode as well that I have yet to try as well.