Dying light is a game that takes inspiration from many sources although when you are stranded early in the game, at night, with no guns and facing a sprint across rooftops and under fences before you can feel safe, you struggle to see where developer Techland’s game is similar to others.
In essence this is what the game does fantastically well. With an excellent sense of scale the game conveys a sense of unease from the first moments. You play a government operative dropped into a city that has divided into various militia groups after a zombie outbreak. While skydiving to the ground you get your first look at the scale of the buildings and size of the map you will be exploring. After a slightly clunky story section you are given your first taste of the parkour action available by scaling and walking across a giant crane between two tower blocks. Most people will get this over as soon as possible but I found myself stopping halfway along and looking around. The sound of the wind and the draw distance of the graphics combined with the fact that the crane is quite narrow, made me feel totally immersed.
The feeling of immersion doesn’t leave either. Being told to make you way across the city to the next quest is as difficult early on as the quest itself. You are presented with groups of the walking dead at every turn. The first instinct of a gamer is to get stuck in and test out the combat system. If this is you then soon you will be seeing the death screen. The zombies in this game are incredibly tough. Your makeshift weapon will break long before their heads do and because of this you need to use your wits to survive. See a zombie with a gas tank on his back? Sneak around and aim a shot at it, marvelling as he jet-packs around the scenery before exploding. The explosion draws in ‘virals’ the games version of 28 Days Later runner zombies which pursue you over rooftop and underground. Beat these to death or kick them off the rooftops and suddenly you get a warning the sun is setting. You can stay out in the darkness with your torch to earn double xp but be prepared to run for your life as another mutation hunts you. The violent zombies you meet in the darkness need to be avoided as they will kill you instantly. Get the idea? In Dying Light the clock is always ticking.
Despite not being able to relax you eventually begin to get a handle on the games systems. You can craft weapons and supplies like in the games predecessor Dead Island just don’t expect to be doing this a lot at the beginning. Safe houses can be unlocked so your journey across the city can have a few pit stops. These are a triumph of common sense. Most of them involve getting into the zone and clearing out the zombies. So what is the first thing you do when you get in? Shut the door… In a move so simple I missed it the first few times, shutting the door or closing the compound stops further zombies entering, meaning you only have to clear what’s in there. This common sense approach to combat continues with environmental kills. Kick zombies off the roof, push them against spikes, make them walk through fire and set up electrical and light traps to kill them any way you mind can dream up. No fire? Throw a firecracker into oil, the fire burns and the noise makes the zombies come over.
The quests are mostly fetch and carry in the early game. We also have Far Cry elements coming in with communication antennae to climb. Another constant mechanic is scheduled air-drops. Once a day the supply drops are dumped on the map and if you aren’t in the middle of a quest you can race to the chest to get valuable medicine or supplies. Racing against you are various other human groups and it is here that the game falters. Like Dead Island the zombie aspect is well handled and you know that you need to hit a zombie with a hammer a good few times to take them down. A human should only need one or two blows with a hammer. If you hit me with one I’m probably going to die. Hit some of the other humans and the weapons have little effect. You need guns or crafted weapons to take them down easily and as such this leads to frustration. In Dead Island this frustration killed the cult game as the island setting quickly turned human encounters into a cheap FPS as you were only introduced to them after obtaining a gun. luckily in Dying Light there is enough going on and enough variety to make this part of the experience, as you have to deal with them from the very beginning. Despite the lack of realism grating, as a game mechanic having tough humans who don’t use a swarm or horde mechanic is another nice change of pace.
The skill tree is also well implemented. Parkour gives you agility upgrades while bashing enemies upgrades your strength. The third upgrade is the survival skill, you gain xp in this by completing tasks and staying alive. Every time you die you lose 400 points. This risk/reward element seems to have been overlooked in other parts of the game but just like Dark Souls it leads to some tense moments as you run for your life to get to a safe house before losing your hard-earned points.
So here you have it. In conclusion the only thing that has hurt this game is the delayed release in Europe. The US have had this game and been happily killing zombies for a month but with Europe only getting it this weekend most of the hype surrounding the game has died down. It was number one in the UK sales chart so hopefully enough of a community will develop to make the DLC worthwhile. The main campaign should last you around 30 hours but there is plenty of scope for taking in the scenery and when you are powerful enough, toying with the zombies.