A game of day and night.
Not being required for the development of the next Dead Island game, developers Techland have instead turned their hands to a new zombie-filled adventure in Dying Light for Xbox One, PS4 and PC. The launch of Dying Light was, in the end, a little messed up with gamers here in the UK still having to wait until near the end of February for a physical release of the game. But Dying Light is now available digitally, so players who don’t mind a digital release can get some rooftop running zombie action right now.
Stepping into the very agile boots of Kyle Crane, players are charged by and organisation called GRE to parachute into the city of Harran and recover an important file. The city itself has been infected by some mysterious pathogen which has resulted in hordes of zombies wandering the streets. The choice to send Kyle into this city alone would suggest that he is more than capable of dealing with and sort of threat. However, despite his assumed skills, Kyle quickly finds himself in trouble and is rescued by a couple of rather friendly survivors. Gradually, Kyle finds that everything is not as straight forward as previously imagined, which leads to various story missions that will see Kyle making his way around the open world of Harran and dealing with situations in a suitably heroic manner – most of the time.
As an open world game, players are free to choose where they go and what to do, and there is plenty to do in Harran. However, they are limited by their own abilities which make the early game a little more difficult than was perhaps necessary. Missions and side missions that the player picks up in the early part of the game will be tense affairs as the player deals with a feeling of being ill-prepared. At this point, facing the zombies, or even other humans, head-on can be a recipe for disaster, so the game takes more of a stealth feel, finding alternate, less dangerous routes or methods for distracting the enemies.
The Parkour abilities that Kyle brings to the city certainly give the player some hope, but even they are often lacking in this early part of the game. The first-person Parkour movement, clambering up walls and leaping from rooftop to rooftop, add an enjoyable new layer to the game. The movement system works very well and even when the abilities are in their infancy, they are enjoyable to use. There are moments later in the game when precision becomes slightly more important and the movement mechanics feel a little more clunky, but for the most part moving around the Harran rooftops is great fun and an obvious solution to the very real problem of not dying.
Over time spent in the city, players will gather experience points in three skill trees – Survival, Power and Agility. This, in turn, will unlock skills that will make survival that bit easier and less frustrating. However, the missions do tend to become repetitive over time and making them easier by improving Kyle’s skills does make this more noticeable. Gathering some much needed supplies for someone becomes less interesting when the player can fight through the zombies and take out the humans with superior equipment.
Gathering supplies is not something that the player will only do for the sake of missions though, as it is also closely tied to the combat in the game. Unless the player stumbles upon a dropped rifle or something, guns are something that the player will have to wait to unlock. Even when they eventually turn up, they still carry a risk when using them as they are not as powerful as you might expect, and can attract more of what you are trying to avoid. So, until the guns become available (and after the the more cautious), players will find themselves having to scavenge melee weapons from whatever they can find, be it a pipe, a table leg or a solid lump of wood.
By scavenging various bits and pieces, and obtaining a blueprint, the player will be able to craft their own more powerful weapons for taking on the city of Harran. The weapons have limited use, so stocking up is advised before heading out on a mission. The same can be said for medi kits or firecrackers, which are ideal for distracting the zombies.
The melee combat itself is very brutal and very satisfying. It feels frantic and edgy as the player swings their weapon, keeping in mind that each swing takes a chunk from their endurance, losing all of which will leave the player very vulnerable. The melee is not as smooth as perhaps it could be, but the slight clunkiness raises a level of urgency and reminds the player that they may have been better off just running around the rooftops.
Or maybe they would have been better off staying at home. This is especially true when night falls over the city of Harran and Techland’s wonderful day/night cycle makes itself known. Things change at night and only the foolhardy or desperate will head into the city after dark, maybe making a quick dash from one safe house to another. With night comes a whole new species of zombie, predators known as Volatiles, creatures much tougher and much faster than your usual zombies. For the brave, there are rewards for night time escapades in that the player can earn double experience. However, as death results in losing some experience, night time city jaunts are a gamble when the player isn’t forced out by some mission or other.
Playing with others can make the city seem much less daunting and co-op is available for up to four players. Not only will this make missions that bit easier, but there is also a certain level of competitiveness involved with little objectives, such as the first to reach somewhere or the most zombie kills, making things more exciting. The “Be the Zombie” mode, which was originally a pre-order bonus but was then given to all as an apology for the tardiness of the release, allows one player to invade other players games as a deadly zombie known as a night hunter and generally cause trouble. This mode is quite enjoyable when you can find someone else willing to play, however, it is only a distraction from the main game.
Dying Light is a game that gets easier as the player progresses, but also less interesting as the difficulty level and the sense of threat are the real stars of the show. The open world of Harran is incredibly detailed and beautiful to look at. The Parkour system works really well, and the day/night cycle changes things up substantially. Dying Light is almost a sequel to Dead Island, using many of the mechanics from that game and improving in other areas, so that will give you an idea of what to expect and if you are going to like it. Dying Light combines action and stealth in an open world, zombie filled setting that offers some nice ideas, but can get tedious once those ideas have been fully realised.