Did you enjoy Dead Island? Well, then you’ll probably like Dying Light because it’s practically the same game, only more polished and better-looking.
As I wrote in my review in progress, Dying Light and Dead Island have many similarities. They’re both first-person, pretty gory, and set in a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested open-world. There are some major differences though, and I’m not just referring to how much more polished and smooth the game is compared to Techland’s prior attempt at a zombie survival.
Techland places a tremendous emphasis on movement, creating a traversal system inspired by parkour. The city is your playground, constructed in a way that lets you easily and conveniently hop fences, scale buildings, and jump from rooftop to rooftop in order to avoid the dangers below. Whereas most zombie games emphasize the violence and gore, Dying Light seemingly encourages flight over fight thanks in large part to the parkour movement system. This is especially true for night time when the infected become even stronger and more aggressive.
That’s not to say combat should be avoided entirely. In fact, Techland has come a long way with its combat system. Dying Light is a lot less clunky than what we’re used to seeing from Techland. The game works off a stamina system with each consecutive swing subtracting from it. As long as you’ve got stamina, you’re pretty much fine, able to swing relatively quickly. When the bar runs out, your swings become noticeably slower and weaker. I will say though, there are times when the melee weapon feels completely ineffective and it can sometimes get frustrating with how many times you have to swing at something to kill it. Perhaps this is another reason to run.
For the majority of the game, you’ll find yourself wielding melee weapons — pipes, crowbars, police batons, knives, things of that nature. It isn’t until about halfway through the story that you acquire your first gun. And even then, the game is designed in a way that encourages stealth and melee. Gun shots, explosions, and other loud noises attract more infected, so while more advanced weaponry may seem more convenient, they actually make your life harder as you’ll find yourself fighting off hordes of infected.
While Dying Light is a much more polished game than I’m used to seeing from Techland, it’s not without some hiccups. As a free-roaming game that allows you to practically jump to anything you can reach, you’ll definitely encounter some odd animation glitches, clipping, and in some instances, I found myself getting stuck in parts of the map.
What really makes Dying Light come together brilliantly though, is the day and night cycle. Although the story progresses on a mission-by-mission basis, time in Dead Island continually operates on a day/night cycle. And the game’s mechanics coupled with this system is truly what makes Dying Light stand apart from other zombie games.
During the day, the infected are generally more docile and easier to kill. That is, until you get to the second portion of the city. This is typically the safest time for you to scavenge for supplies and complete your missions (although some parts of the story require it to be night time and vice versa). While daytime is safer than night, it’s still not a cakewalk. The infected can still swarm and pose a threat to you, especially with a health system that’s pretty unforgiving. It takes just a few hits from the infected (and a few shots from survivors) to kill you, so you’ll constantly want to approach the situation with caution.
At night, forget about it. The infected become stronger and more aggressive. Mechanically, Dying Light becomes more of a stealth game at night, with certain more-aggressive enemies having a vision cone that you’ll want to avoid. Should you step in it, they’ll notice you and start swarming. Your best bet here is to just run as fighting them will almost surely result in death.
While I preferred to complete missions during the day, Dying Light encourages you to play at night by offering double experience for your character. And honestly, some of the game’s best and most intense moments happened at night, thanks to the adrenaline rush of being spotted and running for my life. There’s even a cool feature that slows down time and lets you look over your shoulder which I think is supposed to help you, but I enjoyed it more for its dramatic effect.
Dying Light’s gameplay mechanics aren’t perfect, but they’re far better than what I’m accustomed to with Techland. None of systems are truly unique on their own, but the way Techland brings them all together with such synergy makes Dying Light a great play.
As for the story, well, it exists merely to give you reason to jump around this hellhole. You play as Kyle Crane, an undercover operative who’s dropped into the middle of Harran, a city in Turkey that’s been put under quarantine due to a virus outbreak that has turned most of the population into zombie-like monsters. Although you’re sent in specifically to locate a terrorist in possession of a file that contains information pertinent to the outbreak, you quickly become attached to the local survivors. It’s a fairly mundane plot that surprisingly still managed to keep me intrigued and on edge, despite being able to predict the outcome to every cutscene. The voice acting is adequate enough, but some of the dialogue can be painfully brutal. And the music sometimes feels like something out of an 80s sci-fi flick. To that end, it gets the job done, even if that job is simply to give you reason to play the game. It exists merely to put you in situations that are intense and fun to play.
Dying Light also incorporates other elements of an RPG, including numerous side quests, a crafting system, and skill trees that improve your abilities. Although of these are systems we’ve seen in previous games, but add some more depth to Dying Light.
I personally skipped most of the side quests as I found the presentation of them to be boring and repetitive. Not to mention, tracking side quests in the game is extremely annoying since you can only track one objective at a time. And although it’s an open world, there are different zones that require you travel back and forth. To the best of my knowledge, there’s no instant travel between zones, making it extremely annoying to go back and do the missions I collected.
The crafting system is also pretty straight forward, offering you the ability to create items with the materials you scavenge for. Aside from crafting medkits and lockpicks, I found the system to be pretty useless.
Dying Light starts off extremely slow. At the beginning, following a pretty boring tutorial that’s far too long for its own good, you have very little skills. These skills are broken into three trees: Agility, which improves your parkour capabilities; Power, which improves your combat; and Survivor, which is a pretty general tree that improves how you interact with the world (bartering, carrying more items, etc.). You gain experience in each tree by performing actions that are associated to said tree. For example, to gain agility experience, you want to use the parkour system. Every fence you hop and building you jump across will earn you Agility experience. For Power, every zombie you bash earns experience. Survivor experience is earned by simply playing the game and completing missions; however, dying takes experience away from this tree.
There is a co-op/multiplayer option, but most of my playthrough was done solo. I did play a few times with a friend, and like Dead Island, the person who joins the game is brought into that person’s story. So if you join a friend who is further than you, get ready for some spoilers. On the bright side, any of the weapons you acquire in co-op, you can take back with you. So my friend who joined me got some pretty sweet guns and brought them back to his earlier missions. I have tried “Be the Zombie” mode a few times, which seems like a cool add-on, but the frustration of finding a suitable match was too much.
Overall, Dying Light was a fun playthrough; although, it may have been a bit too big for its own good. If there’s one thing that annoys me about open-world games, it’s that they often don’t know when to end. I’m not even talking about the side quests, but the main story itself, which seemingly dragged on towards the end. The last quarter-or-so of the game felt like more of a trial, testing everything I learned throughout the game to get to the final boss. I get that game developers like to jack up the difficulty of their game when you near the end, but in Dying Light it felt a bit too unfair, especially given the harsh health system which already doesn’t allow you to take a lot of damage. Perhaps it was carelessness on my part, led by a desire to reach the conclusion of the story — which could be a testament to a repetitive, boring mission structure; but, whatever the case, I found myself dying far too often at the end.
On a final note, I just want to touch on the graphics because Dying Light is one of the best-looking games I’ve played on PlayStation 4 yet. The lighting is magnificent and the particles, man, those particles are freaking gorgeous. Aside from a few animation glitches, which can be expected from Techland, there’s not much to complain about looks-wise.
Dying Light is a fun game with a boring beginning and a frustrating end. The middle is pretty sweet though, and makes for fun, memorable experiences.