There was a moment when Dying Light clicked for me - it was close to sunset, I had the warning come over the radio and I was a long way from the nearest safe house. I left the building I had been looting and below me I saw the whole city bathed in golden light. It was beautiful. Between me and safety there were a few hundred zombies - shambling, easy-to-dodge corpses. I set off at full pelt, vaulting over the festering dead and I lost myself in the flow of movement - scrambling up buildings and leaping from rooftop to rooftop.
I was having fun. It was eight hours into the game and up until that point I hadn't been having fun, I had just been playing in order to gain an informed opinion.
I've played through Techland's previous open world zombie game Dead Island
and enjoyed it. I had been worried that Dying Light
wouldn't be different enough and to some extent I was right to worry. The inclusion of parkour-style movement goes a long way to separating it from the developer's previous efforts - it makes for a quicker game that can generate an exhilarating feeling of speed and elegance as you move through the undead horde.
The combat wasn't as fun as I hoped, even with cool-looking improvised weaponry and satisfying slow motion head shattering it boiled down to the same gameplay beats - aim for the head, press attack button until stamina was drained or head came from shoulders; move away; wait for stamina to regenerate; check surroundings and continue to wail on the mobile cadavers in my way.
All the fluidity and grace of moving quickly through the city is instantly lost when you are forced to stop and fight, the quick dodge alleviates this problem to a degree but there is still a stark change in pace. This is a symptom of using a first-person perspective. For rapid combat of the sort that would flow from a free running movement set, you would end up with sudden, short animations and quick changes in orientation that would generate motion sickness even in the most stable of guts.
So we are left with dull melee combat. But, all is not lost because we also have grenades and other throwables. There is nothing more satisfying than standing on a roof top and tossing some firecrackers in to the street to draw in the large herd of stumbling infected and then nonchalantly tossing a Molotov cocktail in to the milling mass and cackling with glee as the fire spreads, clearing out a whole section of road, giving you enough space and time to pick the lock on a police van and claim the goodies inside.
This brings us to guns. They exist in the game, but they tend to be more trouble than they are worth. They are loud and they tend to bring out volatiles too quick to shoot.
When night time falls the city of Harran changes. Zombies give way to mutated abominations called Volatiles - fast, agile monsters that are almost unstoppable in the early game. If you try to run you will die, if you stand and fight without your UV torch out you will die. Depending on your own preferences the game has a very forgiving checkpoint system. If you die you are revived at a nearby safe house, and if you had just completed an objective before dying you don't have to repeat that objective. This takes away some of the tension because dying can be the easier option (providing you don't mind losing some experience points), but it also means the tedium of repeating already completed objectives has been removed.
I haven't mentioned the story yet and that is because it comes in third place after the gameplay and setting. The story isn't bad, it just isn't very engaging. You play as Crane, a GRE operative sent into the quarantined city of Harran to track down some guy who stole a file from your employers. You end up playing a double agent, helping the survivors within the city as well as using them to find the file.
The majority of characters are forgettable. Only Jade, your rescuer and potential love interest stick out, and that is mainly because she is the one you see most or at least hear from the most as she tells you that night is coming and you had best find a place to hide.
Graphically the game is capable of being really attractive, except that for 90% of the time everything is brown, or some off-shade of another colour that desperately wants to also be brown. Character models look really good until they open their mouths or you get close enough to see the horrid expressions on their faces. Zombies aren't varied and you can expect to encounter the same bikini-clad bald female zombie over and over again. The interiors you rummage through in the city are also cut and paste over and over again. (Either that, or I've been running through the same place time and time again.)
If you enjoyed Techland's previous games you will likely enjoy Dying Light
, just don't expect it to be Mirror's Edge
with zombies. It has a lot of fun moments and a lot of content to work through, but you could grow bored of doing the same stuff.
A brief note on the multiplayer, especially the Be The Zombie mode - it has potential to keep the game alive for a while, but if you're playing with random people it can be infuriating, as is the case with most co-op games.
However, if you are the zombie be prepared to become an undead Spider-Man of sorts. You are guaranteed to have a blast tormenting your human prey, especially if they are uncoordinated and bumble around in the dark. It is a fun diversion from the main game, but only that and most people will only give it a passing glance.
Whatever Techland do next I hope they move away from the Zombie genre and try something new, because they seriously risk stagnating.
+ Fast, fluid free running
+ Addictive loot system
+ Fun multiplayer
+ The game is very pretty...
- ...But way too brown in hue
- Combat is dull
- Lack of variety in zombie models
SPOnG score: 7/10