There is something about a good zombie/infected game that makes them so appealing to gamers. Zombies are basically nameless hulks of rotting flesh that we don’t feel terribly bad about killing, as they are already dead. Zombies are a part of every culture and they are something of a common threat that everyone can relate too. Sure, there have been some instances where we’ve seen stories of “good” zombies, but for the most part, we use zombies as cannon fodder when we don’t want to put a face to the enemies we are facing. For me, I just love that zombies aren’t really real people I am going up against. They’re just zombies, creatures that can scare the living snot out of you under the right circumstances and creatures that can offer a genuine challenge that mere humans just can’t.
Back in 2011, I played a sweet little zombie game called Dead Island by Techland. It was very different from many other zombie games out there because much of the combat was melee based, using weapons that you had to be close up to use and weapons that would actually degrade with use. This made the experience of going up against hordes of zombies quite nerve racking because you were no longer doing it from afar at a safe distance.
Now it’s 2015 and Techland has a new zombie thriller called Dying Light. It follows much of the same formula of Dead Island, but builds upon that with new game mechanics, mainly the new freerunning element and the introduction of a day/night cycle that drastically changes the urgency and difficulty of the game.
Dying Light takes place in the city of Harran, a fictitious city where for all intent and purposes, a zombie epidemic has spread causing widespread infection and death among its residents. Those how are infected show signs of zombie like symptoms if not regularly treated as well as mutations which cause them to become even mode dangerous creatures. Those who are still living do what they must to survive and have joined one of the two main factions to do so.
You play as Kyle Crane, and undercover operative working for the GRE (Global Relief Effort). You mission is to locate Kadir Suleiman, a rogue government official with a stolen file that he threatens to use and release to the public if they don’t leave him alone. The file is said to have something damaging on the GRE that could destroy the agency and undermine their efforts in Harran and the rest of the world. He is thought to be hiding in one of the two main factions in the city and you must infiltrate both to find him.
Things go awry when Kyle is ambushed by some thugs upon is arrival and then subsequently bitten by one of he infected. He is rescued by Jade and taken to the Tower where he is treated for his wounds. Upon awakening two days later, you discover that you are at the base of one of the two known factions in Harran. This is where your adventure begins and where you learn the ins and outs of Harran and how to survive.
I won’t say much more about the story as to not spoil it for you, but let’s just say that much of it has you balancing on a thin line between doing what’s right and doing what you’re told. You’ll soon be questioning why you’re doing all this in the first place.
This is the part of the game I really care about the most. Sure the story is important, but you can only get so far with story if the gameplay is substandard and I can tell you now that Dying Light is anything but that. If you’ve played Dead Island, Dying Light follows a similar formula in terms of gameplay.
It’s a FPS with a heavy emphasis on melee weapons. Sure there are guns that can be found, but much of the combat here will be up close and personal. The type of weapons you use as well as the condition of said weapon plays a huge part in how much damage you can deal on zombies and that’s exactly how it was too in Dead Island. The inclusion of weapons that can degrade over use and time is a fantastic feature and makes the game much more realistic. I also like the fact that weapons can be customized and upgraded to become more powerful which means you will need to scavenge for materials any chance you get. Never miss an opportunity to loot as you never know when you’ll need parts.
What differentiates Dying Light from Dead Island though is the inclusion of freerunning. You’re able to move around almost effortlessly in the world with the agility of a cat. You can climb up almost any wall or obstacle with ease which presents more opportunities for escape and safety. This is a game that encourages more running and hiding than it does combat. I don’t mind at all because it gives you that option of either taking the high ground and avoiding any danger, or going straight in and trying to kill everything in sight (which I do not recommend at all). This of course makes for some decent strategy with how you want to tackle missions.
Control wise, it’s not too difficult to ease into. Most of it will be familiar to FPS fans, though the jumping mechanic takes some getting used too. Jumping requires that you must look at where exactly you want to jump and grab onto, otherwise you will fail miserably. Also jump requires the use of the right shoulder button which will feel quite weird at first as many FPS games use one of the face buttons instead for jump. It took me a while to get used to this and when I switch from other games back to this one, I often forget about this. You just need to reorient yourself and when you do, you’ll find that it becomes quite natural and it keeps your thumbs free to do other things.
One of the big things with Dying Light is the crafting system. If you’ve played Dead Island, this isn’t anything new except that now with Dying Light, you can craft items anywhere and not just at a crafting table. Crafting items here requires material that you gather from the outside world. In order to craft special items however, you’ll have to find blueprints that are scattered throughout the city. You can either find them, buy them from dealers, or gain them as rewards from successful missions.
When it comes to saving your game, there is no real save system here. The game basically saves on its own when it thinks it’s appropriate, like if you unlock a new safe zone or craft new items. If you die, you basically start off at the last autosave and at the closest safe zone. You however don’t want to die as the penalty for dying is a bit steep. You don’t lose items or money. Instead, you lose experience points which can be detrimental if you’re trying to level up. My advice is to craft enough medical kits to keep yourself healthy at all times. Quitting out of a game does not penalize you.
One last thing. Dying Light has coop play. Sadly, I wasn’t able to try this mode out yet as I don’t know many people with Dying Light yet. However when I do get a chance to test it out, I’ll update this review with my thoughts. If it’s anything like Dead Island’s coop mode was, it should be very fun. Of course you can also play co-op with strangers via matchmaking, but I’m not really a fan of playing with strangers.
Dying Light is a game worthy of the PS4. The world of Hassan is gorgeously rendered and littered with details. This isn’t just a gorgeous looking city, neatly rendered city. Hassan looks like a place where an outbreak has taken place. The environment is in disarray with crumbling buildings, trash littering every inch of the streets, and items left scattered from residents that once occupied much of the city. Techland did a great job here of creating a city that looks beaten and broken with an atmosphere to match.
Of course since I’m playing Dying Light on the PS4, the graphics are simply amazing. The last game I played from Techland, Dead Island looked pretty good on the Xbox 360, but this is just so much better in every way. The PS4 is able to render so many more zombies on screen at once and the draw distance in this game is quite far. Character models for the uninfected look quite good and very realistic and lifelike and same goes for the zombies. The zombies look better than anything we’ve seen in the past from Techland and I definitely wouldn’t want to run into any of these bad boys in real life.
Seriously, there really isn’t anything to complain about in the graphics department with Dying Light. This is the best looking game Techland has ever developed.
The audio in the game is also quite well done and especially creepy if you have your 5.1 Surround Sound setup hooked up. With headphones on, it’s especially immersive with the moaning of the dead all around you. I like that there isn’t much in the way of in-game music, though that’s not to say there isn’t any. For most of the game, it’s pretty quiet with only the sounds of zombies keeping you alert. Music does come up though during some missions, but it’s there to either increase the tension or to hype you up for combat. It never gets in the way of the gameplay though and for the most part, you might not even realize it’s on.
Techland seems to have the whole zombie thing down to a science. Seeing as Dying Light isn’t their first foray with this genre, I would expect nothing less than at least a game that is just as fun and if not more than Dead Island. With Dying Light, I believe they’ve accomplished that and built a beautiful successor.
This is a zombie game that is worth playing that features all the realistic tension you expect from a zombie apocalypse with no real right way to play. Combat heavy players will enjoy this as much as those who are more stealth oriented. The freerunning aspect of the game also makes Dying Light quite unique and adds a really nice gameplay twist to the classic formula.
Overall, I highly enjoy playing Dying Light, even if I haven’t quite delved into co-op play yet. I enjoy the different ways you can play the game, the crafting aspect, and that for the most part, this is a game that you can either pick up and play for a short burst of zombie bashing or long runs trying to complete the story.
Review code provided to us by the publisher/developer.