Dual Review | Dying Light
In every form of media, the dead are indeed taking over, with varying degrees of success. Techland has set out to make a better open world zombie game than their original offering, Dead Island. The games, while looking quite similar at first glance, play quite a bit differently to one another. And that’s a good thing in all facets.
Dying Light takes the appeal of the dead, their demeanor, their fatally dangerous actions and their overall creepiness, and complements it with a bit of fun. Techland has added their own flair to the genre, and in all all cases, it makes for a pretty fantastic experience.
Dying Light’s story is one that follows the typical zombie outbreak timeline. The outbreak occurs; you have to help find the cure yada yada with all the double crossing thrown into the mix as well. But, while the main story missions are very typical, the characters within those main missions and the side-missions are what hold the whole thing together. In a zombie infested place, you’d assume that quite a few characters would have a screw loose, and in Dying Light you have the chance to meet quite a few of those. Yes, they are still essentially fetch quests that are the plaque of most open world games, but the dark humor that is wrapped around them is what keeps you running through the streets. You will still run into those, “hey I need some herbs, go grab some,” and the classic “kill this guy to get me this,” but those are easily outweighed by the crazies you deal with in Harran.
The main storyline follows Crane, your character, being dropped into Harran to find the infamous Kadir “Rais” Sulaiman from exposing the GRE. Crane follows the GRE’s orders to a T, but as per usual, things aren’t always so straightforward perse. You’ll meet many other survivors along the way that have their best interest in mind. It’s quite interesting that, as deplorable as many acts are, there’s the ability to rationalize with each one of them. Had Dying Light added in those RPG elements of your choices actually taken into account, it would have given the story that extra oomph it desperately needs. Crane is kind of just along for the ride being a glorified, albeit badass, errand boy.
While the story is a little lackluster overall, to its detriment is the amount of pretty throwaway sidequests. For every five or so mediocre side quests, there’s one or two pretty engaging ones. They certainly exist, but it’s hard to get past that overwhelming feeling that there are quite a few that need not be there. It seems, and this goes for just about every open world game, the developers didn’t really know when to say enough is enough. It doesn’t seem as bad as the AC franchise, but it isn’t that far behind.
Dying Light is one of those few games that does a great job of melding a handful of different game elements into one and comes out with a nicely finished product versus a jumbled mess. The parkour elements feel just as solid as the fighting mechanics; the crafting is useful and, most importantly, not all that grindy. Skill trees fall under three categories: survival, agility and power. The rank-up system, one that has been seen in plenty of games to date, is based upon what you perform. For instance, my agility is quite a bit higher than my power level because I tend to out-maneuver the dead heads than to out muscle them. Having said that, I did find that the game can be played in whatever manner you so choose.
The Survival tree is upgraded by completing missions given by the various survivors within Haraan. SImply do the quest, and you get the points for the tree. But, there is a way to rank up said skill quite quickly, that is if you are willing to risk it at night. Dying Light has a neat take on their day/night cycle. When a game gets to the point of making you sit in a cave to wait out the night because you are ill equipped to deal with the volatiles, and your exp is doubled during the night, it creates quite an interesting risk versus reward dynamic.
When Dying Light was first introduced, our dreams of having Mirror’s Edge “free-running” with actual fighting/shooting mechanics came to fruition. And it’s safe to say, the “free-running” is sublime in the final product. Granted, in the beginning stages, things may seem a little slow as you’ve yet to even gain the ability to dodge. But after a couple skill tree unlocks, and after you get the godsend of a grappling hook, things get exceedingly fun. You quickly go from a novice free runner to an extraordinarily adept traceur. The level design is exceptionally strong in that you rarely have to actually run across the ground. From speed vaulting across awnings to tic-tacing between walls, the omission of a fast travel system is of the least importance when you can traverse across Harran with the greatest of ease.
If you’ve played Techland’s other zombie brawler, Dead Island, you’ll feel right at home with the combat in Dying Light as it has remained quite the same. There’s a large variety of weapons that can be found, bought or looted from dead enemies, and each one has its own inherent strength and weaknesses. The combat, especially in the first half to three-quarters of the game remains largely of the melee variety. And just like in Dead Island, you can find and receive blueprints that will augment your weapons with various forms of elemental damage. To the dismay of some and relief of others, weapon degradation is back, but it shouldn’t be a problem as there’s loot aplenty throughout Harran.
As stated previously, the level design is done extremely well, and the bombardment of sidequests and collectables will have you scouring every piece of Harran. Once cleared, Safe houses become a safe haven for Crane, where you can manage your stash and advance the day/night cycle.
Dying Light integrates a seamless cooperative experience which does a great job of enhancing the already brutally fun combat. Where doing certain missions felt like a chore, seeing your friends parkour around Harran and following their lead is quite fun. Having the ability to play through the entire campaign alongside your friends is something that is being added into more and more games, and it’s definitely a worthy addition into Dying Light. Be The Zombie mode, the once pre-order bonus that is now open to all, allows you to be the zombie (surprising I know) and kill four hunters before they can destroy your volatile nests. The core mechanics of the game feel great, and the fluidness with which you move around as the zombie is unique compared to that of a hunter. You actually feel like a force to be reckoned with, and you shoot your tendrils to get around; which really gives the feel of being Spider Man, that is if Spider Man pounced on people and killed them. But while the concept seems great, through 15 minutes, I’ve only been able to play one match to completion and it was only against one other person. Between not being able to find a match, and being vastly underleveled to those you can invade (your zombie character does have a skill tree), the experience isn’t something that must be played. It could be the case that people aren’t setting their game to be open to Be The Zombie matchmaking, thus making the number of people that can be invaded quite small. I could see this mode picking up after more people finish their playthrough, but that is all just conjecture on my part.
Dying Light is a mixed bag when it comes to its presentation and performance. I did my play through on the PC version, and I had quite a few hiccups and jarring framerate drops early on. But, the first patch did wonders with the highly fluctuating frame rate with which the game launched. The game does look quite good, but I can’t look past the grainy filter that kills some of the image quality. It does make sense for what they were going, but in a world where the image quality is being compared to animated films, it’s best to take the grain out or at least make it an option. The number of enemies on-screen does give the performance a hit, but the frames dropping up to 20fps were mitigated by a patch a few days later that had us seeing frames dropping more rarely and only between 5-10 and 15 tops. Strangely enough, there was always a hit when being grabbed by zombies, pre and post patch. But overall, the patch did wonders for stability, and I would have to imagine there’s another one down the pipeline. While the game isn’t going to win any awards for its visuals, its tone and art style does reinforce the feeling of how deadly and depressing Harran has become.
Reviewed on PC (also available on PS4 and Xbox One).
CPU: Intel Core i7 4790K @ 4.00GHz
Motherboard: AsRock Z97 Anniversary
GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970
As this is a Dual Review, my fellow editor Rob also reviewed the title on PC and you can view his thoughts at the following link: Dual Review | Dying Light By Rob