As a fan of both Techland’s Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide, it’s safe to say that I was eagerly awaiting the release of Dying Light.
With development of Dead Island 2 being handed to Yager and seemingly changing tone to be a more comical game, it struck me that Dying Light could be the spiritual sequel to the original games that I had hoped for; expanding on the brutal melee combat system and the eerie, brooding atmosphere whilst fixing a myriad of technical and design issues. I’m happy to say that Dying Light goes some way to meet my expectations, but also introduces some new issues that unfortunately hold it back from being an essential title.
Playing as Global Relief Effort (GRE) agent Kyle Crane, you are dropped into the quarantined city of Harran to retrieve a sensitive file that has been stolen by Kadir Suleiman. From the very first moment you land in Harran, it’s clear that it is a terribly hostile environment, and after being beaten by thugs and chased by a horde of zombies, you are saved by Jade Aldemir who takes you to a sanctuary for survivors simply known as The Tower. Brecken, the leader of the survivors, explains the trouble they are having with the bandits, and Crane offers his help in compensation for his rescue. Crane quickly forms a bond with some of the key members of the survivors and he soon realises that completing his mission will force him to make some harsh choices and engage in some perilous situations.
Those who have played either of the Dead Island games will feel instantly familiar with Dying Light. Its art style, story/quest progression and melee-based combat system are all pretty much directly ripped from Techland’s previous zombie killathons, yet developed further to give the game its own character. Up to four player online co-op also makes a return which will please those that like to mix socialising with merciless slaughter.
Graphically, Dying Light is very pleasing on the eyes. Rendered at 1080p, the image is crisp, textures are highly detailed, and it all runs satisfyingly smooth. Throughout the vast city of Harran you’ll find a wide range of environment types that are all well realised and beautiful to look at in their unique way. The same can be said of Harran’s citizens, both dead and alive. Like Dead Island, the generic infected are fairly randomised which does go some way to make the game feel more organic, whilst the numerous special infected see some slight changes throughout the course of the game.
Dying Light sets itself apart from the Dead Island games with its inclusion and reliance on parkour. All travel must be made on foot, with no vehicles or fast travel available to cover large distances. Luckily Crane is a highly agile and athletic individual, enabling him to run, jump and climb around the game world with relative ease and also allows Techland to add a degree of verticality to the game. In the open world you’ll want to spend as much time as possible on the rooftops to avoid the deluge of zombies at ground level, while many missions will see you scaling radio towers, cranes and even high rise buildings.
On the whole, Crane’s parkour has been implemented rather successfully, giving the game a great sense of kineticism, but there are occasions where it feels lacking. Climbing pipes for example, proves to be troublesome at times, with Crane seemingly unable to navigate a 90-degree bend. Meanwhile jumping between ledges and pipes is often a dangerous affair due to Crane sometimes failing to get a grip on what you’re jumping to. I also found it strange that despite the games emphasis on movement, Crane is unable to wall run or climb down from buildings and ledges safely.
Night time is very dangerous in Dying Light. As you approach 10 p.m. within the game, you are warned to seek shelter for a very good reason: Volatiles. These creatures only appear at night and unlike the typical zombies roaming the environment, have a heightened sense of sight and sound. Engaging a Volatile in combat is not recommended as they are brutal and can take one hell of a beating, and being detected by one will result in it pursuing you relentlessly. During your frenzied escape it’s also probable that you’ll attract the attention of some of his friends too, making the situation even more fraught. This means that whilst in the day you spend most of your time running, jumping and climbing about the map, at night it’s necessary to take a stealthy approach to traversal.
Ripped straight out of Dead Island, Dying Light’s crafting system allows Crane to use everyday items to create invaluable supplies and customise weapons to make them more effective for combat. No workbench is required in this game however; items and customisation can be created anywhere, which proves to be useful in tight situations. At the beginning your crafting options are limited and weapons will break so easily that customising them would be a false economy, but by developing your skills crafting becomes invaluable to your progression.
Almost every action you do in Dying Light earns you experience points across three skill trees. Completing missions and sidequests grants experience for the survival skill tree, which develops Crane’s crafting and lockpicking skills amongst others, and even allows the use of a grappling hook for even more traversal options some distance into the game. The agility and power skills trees are developed by experience earned by your parkour and combat activity respectively, allowing you to greatly increase your combat options as well as improve Crane’s endurance and resilience to damage.
In the 30 plus hours I spent playing Dying Light, I completed the main story, a large chunk of side quests and a handful of challenges. Nearly all of the hours were enjoyable, but some issues did frustrate at times such as the game’s reliance on gunplay in lots of its later story missions, the lack of fast travel, and the inadequacy of the in-game map. I also found the game’s final confrontation to be a huge disappointment due to a pretty anti-climactic quick time event. Despite all this however, I wholeheartedly recommend Dying Light to anyone that enjoyed the Dead Island games or the action/adventure genre. Combining frenetic action, a surprisingly synth-heavy soundtrack and beautiful visuals, Dying Light is a game that you can easily get absorbed in and lose hours of your time.