With the absolute glut of zombie related games, does Dying Light have what it takes to stand head and shoulders above the rest of the pack? Or is it just shuffling it’s feet without it’s head?
Plainly put, the story is horrible. You play as Kyle Crane, undercover operative sent to locate a rogue agent and recover a file that could potentially ruin the reputation of the GRE who are humanitarian organization sent to help the infected in fictional city, Harran. The game starts off as Crane is about to parachute into the city while a disembodied voice spouts off exposition. Once Crane lands in Harran, he is ambushed by soldiers and is bit by a zombie, but is ultimately saved by a group from The Tower. At the tower you meet Jade, one of the runners who saved you, Rasheem, Jade’s brother, and Brecken the leader of this ragtag group of survivors. A little while later you are introduced to your target in the investigation, Rais, a despot who is using the zombie apocalypse to maintain his power. Once the story finishes setting up the characters, you quickly realize that the game follows other standard survival tropes to a â€œT.â€
Jade is unequivocally the prize to be won at the end of the game. She starts off cold and distant to Crain, but through his errands begins to earn her trust and she becomes a romantic interest. Rais, on the other hand, is a pure reprehensible despot who is running his operations with blood lust and an iron fist. His presence in the game is to merely be an absolute villain to Crane to make him seem less like the antagonist. Clearly, the group in the tower are meant to be seen as the chivalrous troupe while Rais’ men are to be the brute force that doesn’t care about anyone else all the while Crane is the man in the middle trying to do his job but have a conscience during the whole thing. It just comes off as forced. He extorts money from random survivors viciously, I might add, and afterwards has an inner monologue about how it was wrong, until he goes and does it to another group. Instead of Crane coming off as sympathetic, he comes off as flip-flopping between two extremes for no reason.
The sidequest storylines fair bit better, but do suffer from tonal shifts. There are a few that are heartfelt, that deal with trying to do what’s right. And there are others that just silly. Techland’s decision to make a more mature and serious follow up to their Dead Island franchise just didn’t quite work for me, but there is a saving grace in the game and that lies in its gameplay.
The gameplay is where Dying Light shines the brightest. There is a myriad of things one can do in the game, but they all work well and nothing feels like it suffers for the benefit of another feature. From freerunning to crafting to leveling up, all of it works well and there is little to no slogging through anything you don’t want to do. The game has a leveling structure similar to the Elder Scrolls games in that you level up what you use. So if you’d rather just run through a crowd of zombies or blast through with your knife and a well placed molotov, Dying Light will reward you accordingly.
The absolute best thing about this game is how much fun running on rooftops, jumping from awning to awning trying to get away from an infected or even just trying to find an alternate route into a building by climbing up a pole then to a ledge to get to a door on the roof. After a bit of getting use to the controls, running and jumping onto a ledge feels incredibly natural. The sense of speed is great, too. Getting from point A to point B is an absolute blast in this game. From getting a running jump onto a ledge and then leaping to a roof and then jumping to a wall to climb feels seamless. Crane isn’t sticky and he won’t automatically attach himself to a ledge unless you tell him. The amount of things that are climbable make it so that you don’t have to search very long for something to latch on to. The only major downside is that you can’t climb a flat wall or rock face. However, there is almost always something nearby that you can use as a literal jumping off point.
At this point, most games have some sort of crafting mechanic in place. In games where survival is the primary goal, there is always some sort of resource management to create necessities. The system implemented in Dying Light does what it needs to without being needlessly complicated. You pick up odds and ends throughout the environment to create items, from medkits to lockpicks to weapon upgrades. Items are used between blueprints, so you have to decide if you want to make yourself that medpack in case you need it, or create some molotovs to take out a horde of zombies since they both use alcohol. Luckily, you can carry an infinite amount of consumables and crafting items, so you don’t have to worrying if you have the supplies to make something out of necessity. Weapons can be upgraded as well. You can add different effects, such as elemental effects, or things like knock back. So that little knife you have can cause electric damage to change the tide of battle. The weapon upgrades are a bit more down-to-Earth rather than the outlandish ones like the ones from Dead Rising. Luckily, the crafting system doesn’t force you to needlessly create spare things just so you can create something useful. Blueprints are obtained through the story, side quests, bought at vendors, or even just found in a locked chest hidden on top of a radio tower.
As a first person game, the combat is straight-forward. The combat itself is driven by melee weapons rather than guns. Now there are guns in the game, but they are sparse and much more valuable to keep just in case rather than using it as your primary weapon. There are several different melee weapon styles, from blunt objects like bats and batons to sharp objects like knives and machetes. In order to keep tension up, your weapons can succumb to being broken over time. So you can’t rely on just using one weapon too long. You can, however, repair the weapon with spare parts, but it will make you vulnerable for a few seconds. On top of that, there is a stamina bar that affects your ability to attack and run. You cannot constantly wail away on that horde of zombies otherwise you will be left defenseless while you deal with it. You can, however, use a consumable like a molotov, a flare, or firecrackers to get some distance while you recover. Both the stamina bar and the weapon durability helps to add tension in an otherwise tension less game. You can also use traps that are already setup throughout the open world if you need to get away. Like electrocuting several zombies that have you cornered, or just kicking them into that strip of road spikes.
Just like crafting, a level system seems to be par for course when talking about modern game design. Rather than setup a proper unlock system, developers often go for a level system. Despite all of that, leveling in Dying Light actually rewards the player based on how they play the game. There are three separate categories that Crane levels up, Survival, Agility and Power with certain abilities only accessible at certain levels in a specific branch. Survival is your general branch with abilities like bartering and carrying more weapons. You get experience points in this branch when you complete missions. Agility and Power is where the good stuff lay in wait. Agility levels up through freerunning and climbing and dodging enemies. You can get abilities like vaulting over enemies or increased stamina bar. You can also get the best ability in the game and can drop kick a zombie several yards away. Power is leveled up through fighting zombies and soldiers. You get abilities like being able to do a power drop from up high, taking more damage or a heavy attack that does more damage. Outside of RPGs, I like this system of leveling up. You can have a completely different experience than your friend and makes it that much more of a watercooler game. Talking about how one time you took out that large group of zombies with a few traps or how you ran up to some enemy soldiers, drop kicked one out of the way and threw a molotov cocktail at another. On top of the normal ways of accruing experience points, You can also get double experience in Agility and Power for going out at night. The only downside to that is there are stronger zombies that can and will over power you. However if you can escape, you get extra points. If you die you lose those experience points. It makes you look at if you want to go out and night and reap those rewards, or play it safe and stay inside.
Visually, the game competent but not very memorable. As with most post-apocalyptic zombie outbreak games, the game is very dingy, brown and not much saturation. The cityscape doesn’t have any memorable landmarks to guide yourself. I’ve often found myself trying to remember how to get back to the Tower on my own, but in the end I just use the mini-map’s quest indicator to tell me how to get where I need to go. With an open world/city type game like Dying Light, it’s hard to get locations that are completely different from each other. It does a decent job, at least, of trying to do something different when it can. The zombie designs are decent, and it’s nice to get several different skin tones in a city that seems multicultural, like Harran. Much like the environments, the enemy designs aren’t memorable. There won’t be much fan art of any of the special infected. Which is fine, it’s competent at what it does. There is much debate online about the film grain/filter that the game employs. There is no setting to turn it off, but I personally liked it a lot. Of course, as an open world game, there are going to be tons of bugs. I had a bug recently that halted my progress in the game. For whatever reason, I don’t have an icon on my map/objective to track to continue the story. I played it on PC, and there definitely are some performance issues and tinkering that needs to be done, but it ran fine after a little bit of messing around with settings.
While the game’s story is atrocious and the visuals aren’t anything to write home about, the gameplay is absolutely where the game shines through. It is definitely worth playing, but you probably won’t remember the game in six months. The game is a blast to play in single player exploring the map, or with three others friends. And with the level system, each player will have a different build to make each person unique.
Be sure to check out Joey’s Dual Review on Dying Light here.
Reviewed on Windows PC (Also available on Playstation 4 and Xbox One).
CPU:Â Intel Core i5-3570K @ 3.4GHz
Motherboard:Â ASUS P8Z77-V
RAM: 8 GB
GPU: GigabyteÂ Radeon HD 7970