I still remember when I first saw the teaser trailer for Dead Island. It was one of those moments where you knew you were watching something new and special, and it made the anticipation for the game nearly unbearable for me.
Of course as we all know by now, the final product really had nothing in common with the trailer’s tone (other than maybe location), but regardless, I still enjoyed Dead Island quite a bit. After so many Dead Risings and Left 4 Deads, it was nice to see something like Dead Island with a more deliberate pace and emphasis on scavenging and exploration. However, the one thing that I never really like about an of the Dead Island games was the fact that your character moved around slowly and tired easily, even with stamina upgrades.
Dying Light is what I expect Dead Island 2 to be (which begs the question: why are we getting both Dying Light AND Dead Island 2?). It retains most of the gameplay concepts that Dead Island had (breakable/upgradable weapons, crafting, scavenging, first person view, etc.) and adds a few new mechanics that make it feel like a natural evolution of the series….except it’s not. It’s a whole new IP. Yes, I’m having a hard time letting that go.
The best way to describe Dying Light in a nutshell is that it’s a combination of Dead Island, Far Cry 3, and Mirror’s Edge. DL takes the core gameplay concepts of Dead Island polishes up some of the annoyances (such as being restricted to weapon upgrades only at workbenches), and adds a Mirror’s Edge-esque parkour movement scheme. In fact, the controls for jumping and climbing even use the shoulder buttons, just like Mirror’s Edge, which took a little while to get familiar with (I’m used to pressing “A” or “X” to jump like in 99.9% of other games). The game also borrows liberally from Far Cry 3 (possible FC4 as well; I haven’t played it) by forcing players to unlock various safe zones and antenna towers through the city. It’s like a “greatest hits” of gameplay concepts from all three games. I’ve seen a lot of forum comments from people accusing Techland of “ripping off” other games, but let’s be honest here; when was the last game that wasn’t inspired by some other game before it? When was the last truly unique new innovation to come along? Guitar Hero? Just Dance?
There are two gameplay mechanics that makes Dying Light stick out from other zombies games that I’ve played (in a good way): the parkour and the day/night cycle. Your character, a GRE operative named Crane, moves much quicker than his Dead Island counterpart. Crane is able to sprint, climb, jump, vault, slide, etc. with no issues. Going from the ground to the roof of three story building is as simple as looking at the ledge, holding the “jump” button down, and climbing your way to the top. Calling it “parkour” might be a bit of a stretch, however. I’m not claiming to be a parkour enthusiast or anything, but based off of other games like Assassin’s Creed, Mirror’s Edge, Prince of Persia, even Darksiders 2, the amount of things you can do as Crane never really progress beyond running and climbing fast. There’s no wall running, flips or anything like that. It certainly doesn’t detract from the overall experience, it’s just not what I think of when I think of parkour.
The second mechanic is the day/night cycle. When you’re traversing the city during the daytime, you’ll see hundreds of slow, lumbering groaning zombies, freshly infected humans called Virals who are much faster and agile, can climb, and are attracted by noise, and a variety of other zombies like ones that explode or ones that hock giant, poisonous loogies at you. While it seems like a huge variety, daytime rarely ever throws anything other than Biters (“regular” zombies) at you. The other varieties only comes about after you trigger parameters (ex. create noise), or they’re loosely scattered amongst Biters. It makes daytime the more “fun” of the time cycles since you have more freedom to come and go as you please with very little fear of dying (unless you make dumb decisions like I often did).
Night time, however, is legitimately scary. First of all, the most obvious difference is your visibility. Without a flashlight, the night is DARK. It’s not like other games where it’s more of a dark grey; no, night here is pitch black punctuated only by the occasional light. Sure you can light a path with your flashlight, but do you really want to be drawing attention to yourself? Maybe you think you can just run through the dark as fast as you can without the flashlight. Let me be the first to tell you that running into a pack of Biters that you can’t see and then being mauled to death in the dark is not fun at all. .
Then you have to take Volatiles into account. Volatiles are like a super powered mutant version of Virals. They are fast, smart, attack in packs, and can basically end you as soon as they see you. You’re only defense against Volatiles is 1) the fact that their cone of vision appears on your radar map, and 2) your trusty UV flashlight, which can momentarily incapacitate Volatiles (keyword MOMENTARILY). You can also (after an upgrade) press the “Y” or “triangle” button to look behind you while running, which slows down time, and shine the UV flashlight into the face of your pursuers. Or you can learn the city, set up various UV light traps, arm yourself with flares (which act like a portable UV flashlight), and traverse the night that way, hoping to catch Volatiles in a light trap or flare circumference. Regardless of how you choose to tackle night missions, know that there are a variety of techniques. Oh, and did I mention that you gain an XP boost for braving the night? That’s one huge incentive to even step foot outside of your safe zone once the sun goes down.
Combat is pretty rough when you start the game, as you have chintzy weapons and are severely underpowered. Zombies take a good ten or so swings to take down completely, and by swing five you’re out of combat stamina. In those early hours of playing Dying Light, it really behooves players to avoid combat when more than one zombie is present. Eventually you’ll be able to level up your skills in combat, along with agility and survival. As you progress throughout the game and start leveling up, you turn into a badass zombie killing machine. You’re never so strong that you start mowing through zombies like in Dead Rising, but with better combat skills and stronger weapons with better upgrades, you’ll be able to deal some pretty gnarly damage. It’s a slow start, but it gets pretty cool if you stick with it.
There’s a story in here somewhere, but I have to be honest…I didn’t really pay much attention to it. Something about Crane jumping into Harran to uncover some files from an operative that turned bad, and making friends in the Towers along the way. The main story is fine, just nothing too exciting, but the side missions are what really kept me playing. They’re just more interesting. i don’t know if they’re shorter overall so they don’t feel as long and drawn out as some of the main story missions, or if I just didn’t care for the main story that much, but I found myself delaying the main story as much as possible to tackle side missions. Of course, if you look at my open world game history, I tend to do that regardless of the quality of the story, so it’s entirely possible that it’s just me. Either way, Dying Light is a LONG game. It took me over 40 hours to complete the story, and that’s not even completing most of the side missions. It should keep me busy for a long time.
Graphically, Dying Light looks very good, but more so in the fact that the environment seems so alive as opposed to graphical fidelity. Anytime during your travels throughout Harran, you’ll see papers fly by in the wind, foliage swaying around, dust being kicked up, etc. Little touches like that go a long way in making any fictional world feel more alive. Most importantly, the game simply looks good enough to freak me out. For a zombie/horror game, isn’t that what we’re hoping for?
Probably the only real complaint I have about this game is that 1) many of the side missions end up being simple fetch quests, which are fine, but can get redundant, and 2) some of the checkpoints force you back to the beginning of a sequence, which can be frustrating if it’s a tough part of the game and you’re dying a lot. Time is not the luxury it was once was in my life now that I have two kids running around, so replaying entire levels can be quite a time killer. Of course, I understand that this is specifically my issue; I’m sure there are lots out there that don’t mind replaying levels until they get it right. I just wish there were a few more checkpoints on some of the longer levels.
Like I mentioned before, Dying Light does one thing very well, and that’s freak me out. I get genuinely stressed out and tense when playing this game. It’s not so much that it’s “scary,” but more so the fact that you’re always under attack by SOMETHING; whether it’s a hoard of slow, lumbering Biters, a gang of thugs, a group of Virals that you hear shrieking in the background and you know they’re coming to find you, or a pack of Volatiles running you down in the dark. There’s never really an opportunity where you can just stop for a moment and relax. Sooner or later, something is going to find you, and that keeps players on their toes at all times. Dead Rising 3 may have been able to shove an obscene number of zombies onscreen at once, and games like Silent Hill may push the boundaries of disturbing content, but Dying Light makes me sweat and my shoulders hurt from being so tense. It sets the tone right.