Developed by Polish studio Techland, Dying Light isn’t a huge departure from their 2011 release Dead Island, or its sequel Riptide. As much as I hate monotony, that is a good thing. Dead Island was a nice break from the horror games available at the time by introducing breakable weapons, and an RPG style leveling system. Dying Light continues this trend of zombie slaying, and now adds free running.
The game starts you off as Kyle Crane, a man who working for a government agency. You are literally air-dropped into the city of Harran to find special files the government wants back. Smell like cover-up, anyone? You’re ambushed by zombies in a scuffle gone wrong with some locals and you wake up in a compound of refugees trying to stay alive in this hellhole of a city. The RPG elements show themselves in your three skill trees. Survivor, Power, and Agility. Survivor focuses on ways to help you get the most out of your supplies, and making it possible for you to set traps and such. Emphasis on your Power tree will make you better at combat, allowing you to hit harder, and opens up different abilities to help you with the undead menace. The Agility tree will probably help you the most, making you a faster sprinter and faster climber. It even includes some abilities that help with knocking enemies down for a faster get away.
Zombies in games have always been a bit of a cliché. Whether it’s a gun or a machete, you aim for the head and hope they go down the first time. The free running mechanic allows you a creative means to escape if the situation ever gets too heavy. Depending on how you spend your skill points, you can even vault over enemies only a few hours into the game. That makes combat a little more satisfying. I was having way too much fun vaulting over enemies, just to turn around and kick them into a spiked barrel. Free running becomes the most useful at night, when Volatiles come out. Volatiles are especially fast and aggressive zombies that can climb up ledges, jump across roofs, and just give you an all-around run for your life. Full disclosure, for one of my saves I took advantage of a glitch (it has since been patched) that allowed me to max out my Survivor tree. With that, I was able to wield guns and high level melee weapons quite early in the game. Even with a katana that could do 1300 damage, the Volatiles still took me down with ease. They hunt in packs so you’ll be hard pressed to find yourself being chased by a single one.
If you’re at all familiar with Dead Island, you’ll have an idea of what the story has to offer. By far the weakest part of the game, the story isn’t more than a reason for you to get yourself in extremely one sided situations. One mission had me in a fenced-in compound surrounded by waves of zombies trying to navigate a gauntlet of electrified gates. I have no recollection of why I was there. They genuinely try to get you to care about the story in one moment near the beginning of the game that saw you trashing a cooler of medicine, medicine that can help families trying to survive. It all just falls flat when you don’t actually see the benefits of these risky situation. Is it too much to ask for a thank you letter from a sick girl to pop up in my inventory unexpectedly?
Dying Light isn’t the best looking game, but it definitely holds its own as a current gen contender. If there’s anything Dying Light is best at, it’s the genuinely freaky atmosphere. More than a few times I have run into a shaded alley, only to be greeted by a handful of zombies that I didn’t see when the sun was in my eyes. The bodily details on dead people feels accurate (considering I’ve never seen a dead body), the sun shines bright and clear making it easy to generally know how much daytime you have left, and nothing has grossed me out more in a game then smashing a zombies head and watching blood, brains, and teeth spray onto the pavement.
It took me about half an hour of failing at free running before I decided to try one of the other control schemes. After I had switched to something more comfortable for me, free running and combat felt much more intuitive. Free running in particular became fluid and easy. The first few hours into the game I was using the terrain to hop over roof gaps, climb up poles, and jump 30ft down to the roof of a car; rolling off to get away. Before long I was outrunning Volatiles with ease, and with every Agility level increase I just got faster. Combat with melee weapons is crude, but fun. Later in the game when I had guns available I kept one on me as a ‘just in case’ for human enemies, but always used my melee weapons for standard zombie slaying.
Unfortunately I only had a few hours to spend with the multiplayer thanks to a friend, but this is definitely THE reason to play Dying Light. Nothing feels more surreal than getting your friends together to run down the street smashing everything that moves, liberate a safe house from human enemies, or take down a giant zombie brute slugging around a massive hammer. I was caught out at night once with a friend when we were spotted by a pack of Volatiles. He wasn’t as good at free running as he thought, and was quite pist when I left him behind. Survival of the fittest. Yeah, we haven’t played together since.
Dying Light aims for the head and swings; missing the neck but sticking you wholeheartedly in the face. From the graphics, to the combat, to the free running, to the eerie music that keeps you unsettled, Dying Light needs to be experienced. If narrative is what you’re looking for this isn’t the game for you, but as an exceptional, zombie slaying, multiplayer hoorah to fill out an empty night, nothing is more perfect.