Techland, most notable for Call of Juarez and Dead Island, has had a rocky past to say the least. Their games are for the most part interesting in their premises, but adequate to poor in terms of their actual game design and storytelling. Yet, like a grotesque beacon of light, they’ve delivered what is essentially the spiritual successor to Dead Island called Dying Light. The infusion of parkour elements to a zombie game caught on to the gaming scene and there was a lot of buzz surrounding this apocalyptic action spree. But after playing through the game, I feel the best way to describe it — and you can take this as an insult or a complement — is that it’s the Michael Bay’s Transformers of the zombie horror survival scene.
Aesthetics (Story, Graphics, Sound)
In a moment’s notice, I found myself in a zombie-infested city called Harran, being harassed by ruthless survivors and zombies while trying to uncover a plot to spread the virus outside the bounds of the quarantine. This is the role of Kyle Crane, a GRE contractor, who finds himself in the midst of a civil war surrounded by zombies. In terms of this game as zombie apocalypse — a genre that has been rehashed so many times that it’s basically become a monotonous game of Mad Libs — Dying Light is by the numbers. It’s rabies (again) and this game does nothing to reinvent or even try to diverge from the generic zombie setting. So what about the story and the characters within this mold? Well, they’re voice acting is expertly delivered, but everything else kind of just falls by the wayside. The game’s narrative components aren’t horrible in some specific elements, but they are all utterly forgettable.
When it comes to the graphical quality of Dying Light, the game is splendid, but not entirely amazing. The environment itself looks spectacular at most quality settings even though most of the textures are bland and open world design is basic. Character models are pretty sharp and the game has some collision interaction when it comes to combat, like actually pinpointing where a model was struck and applying the correct damage representation. There is a lot of other smaller details, like foliage, lighting and environmental objects, that are on par with a lot of AAA titles out there. However, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before and it doesn’t really go beyond the expectations of what a standard rig can perform.
Gameplay (Combat, Systems, Mechanics)
Here’s where Dying Light separates itself from its spiritual predecessor Dead Island: parkour mechanics. The game’s heavy emphasis on vertical movement as well as what is essentially 3-D platforming makes traversing Harran a somewhat unexpected treat, which is good because without any semblance of a fast travel system, running from rooftop to rooftop became a majority of the game. Techland did a great job of pushing for a visceral feel with every slide, near ledge miss and the occasional dropkick; each action has a solid, heavy haptic feedback that translates well to the player. But, and this is one of the greatest setbacks of Dying Light, too much of a good thing does wear thin. Almost every quest turns into a simple fetch quest or a timed destination quest as if Dying Light was trying to hammer me over the head repeatedly saying “look how good our parkour mechanic is”. Even the more innovative uses of parkour in combat or in escape became stale as soon as nine hours into the game. Solid mechanic and enjoyable to boot, but Dying Light fails to spice it up.
What does spice ups Dying Light‘s repetitive gameplay is the inclusion of the day and night cycle. During the day, the game is effectively set on easy mode: zombies walk, obstacles are clear, and there’s really no heightened danger. Dying Light, however, shines at night. Nighttime is a harrowing, heart racing part of the game that sees stealth take the place of exploration as ruthless super zombies come out to roam the streets and rooftops. It instilled a fantastic tension in the game that is seriously lacking during the longer day cycle.
But if you do want to spice it up a minuscule amount, there’s the drop-in multiplayer. In terms of functionality, there’s nothing quite that different from the various game modes presented; the cooperative play doesn’t change the core gameplay up that much and the “Be a Zombie” mode is interesting, but nothing laudable.
So there’s plenty of zombies shambling around while I zipped between them and above them, but Dying Light isn’t just an action game with multiplayer features. Along with traipsing across buildings and brawling with zombies and survivors in the street, the game boasts a pretty hefty level of RPG elements.
First off, the leveling system. Instead of receiving general experience for completing tasks and performing the activities previously mentioned, each major action is split into three categories — survival, running, and combat — and subsequent experiences points are doled out respectively based on the complexity of the action. I enjoyed this system because it gives incentive to explore new solutions or try different techniques; I was anticipating getting to that next tier and adding new weapons or agility moves to my growing, running repertoire. Yet it also forms the root of something that is fundamentally flawed in RPGs when it comes to skill balancing, something that is also felt in Dying Light. Since the game is built on the crux of parkour being essential, I felt a majority of the time I would have to go out of my way to level up my combat skills or my survival skills. It intentionally veered me away from playing a more aggressive survivor and instead heavily favored fleeing from encounters. This ties into the idea mentioned in the previous paragraph that Dying Light is beating the proverbial dead horse known as parkour. That isn’t to say the leveling system is necessarily bad or disengaging, but it effectively stifles a lot of the freedom expected in an open world RPG.
Secondly, there’s the weapon and loot systems which are nearly identical to Dead Island’s. Dying Light is a survival horror by categorization and it pulls that off somewhat well; supplies are kind of limited and weapons do break. True to RPG fashion, what supplies I found, where I found them and how much was there was randomized to an extent, but even though there was this sense of conservation in the ammo and weapons I found, the guns in Dying Light throw that balance off completely. Sure, they’re rare and sure, they attract zombies but even with some ammo — which is extremely powerful — and the fact that I was quicker than most of the zombies diminished these consequences to the point that it didn’t impact me. And when I say supplies, I mean materials with which you can upgrade or create weapons and not the base weapons found around the open world. There were so many that I was never really forced to choose between using one particular weapon. It’s realistic to a fault.
The best way to describe Dying Light is that it’s a more polished version of Dead Island. While there’s no exact “wow” factor to the game, it succeeds at delivering a good survival horror experience, complete with desperation as well as intensity. The title does have its problems, such as a limited scope of gameplay that becomes repetitive and an acceptable, but ultimately forgettable narrative, but that’s not really a strike against what’s meant to be pure, straightforward, shallow entertainment. If you’re a fan of the survival horror genre or zombie games in general, I would recommend giving Dying Light a try. It’s not going to be innovative or particularly exceed a standard set of expectations that accompanies the genre, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.
Final Score: 7.5 / 10
Written and Edited by Tim Atwood