All gamers know that there’s certainly no shortage of zombie video games to experience. No matter what gaming device you own, you can find a way to behead a few of the undead. With that being said, Techland had to have quite the title on their hands for Warner Bros to put its production and marketing chops on the line for it. Does Dying Light execute?
From the gate, Dying Light is visually appealing across the board. Lighting, textures, and environments are solid from the ground up with few pop-ins. Enemy and NPC animations are pretty vanilla considering the shambling zombies, but there are no glaring issues. On top of all this, using the various weapons on enemies offers up contact area-specific damage that one should expect on next-gen titles. So when you swing that upgraded machete you snatched from some blood stained battleground, you’re likely to leave some rotting, severed limbs in your wake.
With a fluid free-running experience being the focus for traversing the post-apocalyptic open world sandbox, the controls are tight —thankfully. Mirror’s Edge comparisons are easy to make, as it set standards for fluid first-person movement. Dying Light takes an approach that feels realistically more weighted and although you start off not being able to move too quickly, stat upgrades will have you dashing across the map efficiently as things progress. As players begin scaling the landscape, you find that the game’s climbing mechanics work quite well and function smoothly. With nearly every ledge climbable, you’ll be making Assassin’s Creed-like movements as you run for your life.
When it comes to game play, Dying Light hones in on melee combat, resource gathering and free running throughout large open spaces. You’ll find many different materials scattered around the area and in possession of the assailants you take down. Weapons start off pretty simple with the usual end-of-the-world weapon fare: gas pipes, crowbars and of course – the trusty wrench. As you gather blueprints and harder-to-find gear, you’ll be crafting fire and electricity-enhanced swords with reckless abandon. Guns do become a part of the equation and the shooting mechanics don’t break the game, but it’s very clear how the devs want you to play.
Evident from the marketing of this title, the game play at night time drastically changes things. Whilst you’re the epitome of fast moving, brutal bad-assery during the day, you become a cautious, fleet-footed ninja in the night. With your vision realistically obscured, stamina at a premium and unique and aggressive zombies on the prowl, the nocturnal game play in Dying Light is intense and dramatic.
With an open world title, it can be tough on the developers to string together story quests that make sense with so much freedom afforded to the player. On top of that, supplementary quests can easily spiral into meaningless fetching that can be easily tossed aside by all but the most meticulous of gamers. In surprising fashion, Techland keeps things fresh and interesting when, at their roots, the missions aren’t all that different. They use set pieces scattered throughout Harran and subtle shifts in situations (weather, available weapons, enemy density) to make the scenarios seem new. When looking at the whole picture, the team too often leaned on the radio towers to move the story along (they needed this for a major plot device later on), but that didn’t take away from the fun.
With a narrative that begins so strongly with interesting characters and the focus on human nature, the story spirals into the category of “cliche” rather quickly. The lead character’s motivations aren’t realistically developed and the player isn’t given the chance to choose, which leads him to make some questionable decisions. Rather than leaving player’s feeling confident in his motives, we are instead dragged along an inconsistent ride through Crane’s character development. It’s a shame the game that’s so well developed falls apart so drastically in this sense.
While Dying Light can be thoroughly enjoyed alone (I encourage it, especially during the night), Techland allows co-op throughout the campaign. The assistance from friends can be fun, but the real fun happens when another player invades your game. The objective changes up entirely during these moments, getting players to destroy nests whilst being hunted by a powerful monster. 4-v-1 can be tough to balance, but the devs found a happy medium that can be a blast with the right team.
With Dying Light, Techland has taken their FPS experience from Call of Juarez to Dead Island and developed a fantastic new IP. Zombie survival is nothing new in the gaming world, but this title stands on top of the growing pile of rotting bodies.
This review is based on a digital copy of Dying Light for the PlayStation 4 provided by Techland.