Techland bring your worst nightmares to life in Dying Light.
The first thing you do in Dying Light is get saved. Your trusty pistol is gone and you’re taken in by a ragtag gang of rebels and parkour geniuses and you begin to wonder what exactly is happening in your life. The following activity involves you walking atop a crane casually stretched out between the top of two buildings to create a walkway. After that, you’re told to jump off the roof of the building and onto another floor, which begins your tutorial into climbing, jumping, running and throwing some pretty epic parkour in order to prove to your new friends that previously saved you that you have the cojones to be in their gang of ragtag no bullshit misfits. Once you’ve proven yourself, you then have the joy of going out into the wild surrounded by zombies to collect stuff on their behalf. Whilst you’re jumping from one roof to another to another to another, the zombie horde is following you and trying to rip your face off. While you’re setting traps zombies are slowly moving towards you like a drunk stumbles its way into a 24-hour McDonalds. You set the trap and then make your way on top of a van, evading the incoming force of zombies that for some reason look like they’re all part of a tribe that must have black lines on their bald zombie heads. I can’t actually remember breathing much in the first hour, and this proved one thing and one thing only to me –
Dying Light isn’t fucking around.
Now, make no mistake, Dying Light is not an easy game. It doesn’t start easy. It doesn’t make you feel at home immediately and it certainly doesn’t soften the blow with familiar controls. Hell, the ‘jump’ button is R1 man. What Dying Light does – and does very well – is make you feel out of your comfort zone almost from the off. This is a strange new world and you aren’t particularly welcome in it. There’s no doubt there is an almost persistent feeling that someone, or something is watching you at all times and is ready to pounce. Dying Light is almost the most refreshing action adventure game there’s been for quite some time for this reason. Yes, the first person perspective will make you instantly think of Dead Island, and that’s fair. At first, with the crafting and the chasing down parts and the seemingly enormous magnitude of side quests to do, comparisons to the Techland title are fair and justified. It’s a spiritual sequel in a sense, almost as if they’ve combined the worlds of Dead Island and well, The Last of Us to create a game that should by all accounts be called The Mirror’s Edge Last Dead Island of Us Rising. Um, or something. It takes plenty of influences from other games and films – I Am Legend, Sole Survivor, 28 Days Later came to mind whilst playing through the campaign – and creates a mash of all their best and worst parts.
Your character is Kyle Crane. An all-American soldier who has been sent to the virus struck city of Harran undercover to find the original source of the outbreak which has turned 95% of the town into flesh-eating zombie beasties. There’s not really much to him as a character, sadly. You never see his face so you’re kind of stuck in his eyes, his voice – provided by Roger Craig Smith, who is currently the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog and freakin’ Ezio Auditore – is bland and gets dreary to listen to after a while. It’s fair to say actually that voice acting across the board could have been far more engaging.
Crane, being a soldier is a fit man who can jump, climb, pull himself up and get where he needs to be with relative ease although it doesn’t last forever. If you’re endlessly running he can get tired and just grind to a halt, which is REALLY fun in parts…, and then you have to wait until his stamina rises until you can keep going. He can be upgraded as the game goes on, but at first you certainly wish this soldier had a bit more about him in this first-person, role-playing, survival platformer. Nathan Drake would kick his ass as Crane would just get too tired to keep fighting, which is another aspect of this guy I don’t seem to understand. The lack of balance between his abilities is a little frustrating. As I mentioned above, he’s fully ok with running for a good while, jumping and climbing without breaking much of a sweat, but engaging in combat he hits out four or five times and has to take a breather. It’s maddening in certain areas and discouraging. All you want to do is just keep fighting but Crane who has just scaled two buildings and jumped across vans, rooftops and balconies has only about four swings in him. Upgrades can solve this but you feel like you’re playing with a bit of a crappy rookie near the beginning. Blissfully, he doesn’t have regenerating health, so looting for stuff to make medkits is an essential aspect of Dying Light. You’ve got to find your own weaponry – there’s no Destiny loot cave here. Well, there is, but I’ll leave you to find that one -, which is normally a pipe or a wrench or something you can cause some damage with if bashed over the head, though his lack of fight resulted in me having to call in Paul Collett to help me out. So there were two Kyle Cranes going at it and feeling rather tired by the end and needing a medkit against an enemy count of four. Ugh.
Make no mistake, the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against you. This is the ultimate game for training for the actual zombie apocalypse. Due next summer.
Still, he can do parkour and fight zombies. And those two things make for a damn fun game all told. The parkour is happily very, very good. It’s intuitive, rational and very simple to master. After the first tutorial you’ll be running around Harran like you owned it. The city becomes your playground as you tear it from roof to roof bashing undead heads in. Still, he’s no Ezio Auditore – again, voiced by the same actor as Kyle Crane and mistakes will bring you down quicker than a synchronisation free-fall. What’s good about the parkour system though is that if something looks too high for you climb, it probably is. If you give it a go then go for it, but chances are you won’t make it to the top and will eventually fall, injuring Crane in the process. And with medkits being insatiably hard to find, you’re going to want to take as much care as you can.
The parkour is brilliant when you’re on a run. When you get going and throw a whole run together of just jumping and climbing, it’s a great feeling and the city is designed for you to do just that. Survival has been paramount for the lone survivors and creating a city that’s as easy to get around above the ground as it is upon it ensures you’re never short of a way to go. We had attempts at getting from our headquarters all the way to the other side of the map by using just roofs and balconies. It can be done, oh yes it can. Multiple paths, as well. When you see the sea of zombies you’re leaving trailing in the dust it’s a damn good feeling. A quick tap of triangle to see what you’re leaving behind and you’ll think Dying Light was meant for Ezio. Or Faith Connors.
Course, if you wanna get stuff done you can’t stay on the roofs forever. However it is tempting working out the best route to missions or other activities. Don’t forget to save the waypoints.
And it’s fun, too. The very best aspect of Dying Light is Harran. It’s freakin’ enormous and looks very nice, if not incredible. If you’re into exploration – whilst zombies are watching your every move – you’ll love this new city to run around in. Sunsets look pretty spectacular, as long as you’re somewhere safe. In the words of Loki, you won’t be overly fond of what follows…
By day, zombies are dumb, slow, stupid. Easily avoided. Then the sun goes down. And well, the shit gets real. In every aspect that sentence can be taken in. Nothing gets you ready.
I’ve been deliberating for a while about how to approach this particular subject. Dying Light at night almost makes everything I’ve said before this utterly mute. There is no question in my mind that when it gets dark in Dying Light your senses are going to overload into fear, panic, sweat, aggresion, crying and shouting. Possibly more. I wasn’t ready for it but fuck me, I had a blast getting to know Harran in the evening.
At night, the zombies become murderous, smart, organised. Brand new zombies seemingly appear out of nowhere that are genuinely frightening. I don’t think I’ve ever ran so hard and so fast and so concentrated on any game in my life, never mind my actual life. You’ll run your absolute balls off until you get to higher ground or to a safe zone. The tension and fear I felt was unlike anything I had ever encountered before in a videogame and is something Techland must be commended for. I’m not great with ‘scary’ games. I tend to avoid stuff like ‘Outlast’, ‘Silent Hill’ etc, but I really love Techland so wanted to give this a go. I’m bloody sure now. Dying Light is a game so terrifyingly exciting, so on point with its fear factor and so completely dissolving of my heartbeat that I can only commend them. That first escape run when I experienced night for the very first time was perhaps the most tense segment of a videogame I’ve done in years. Pressing triangle to see how close these monsters were behind me was a fucking bad idea and made me jump out of my skin. My wonderful girlfriend ran out of the bedroom to see if I was ok after she heard me almost panting for breath once I got the safe zone. It’s utter madness, in the very best way possible. My pulse was racing and I’m not sure I ever really recovered. I was pumped and wired and everything a videogame like this should make me feel.
Can you take them down? So far, I’ve not even come close. Facing them head-on, you may aswell just kill yourself. The tired, slow, dumb zombies of the daytime are now more aggressive, quicker and far more aware of you. You’ve simply got to get to higher ground as quick as you possibly can, there’s no other way to survive it. If you escape with your life you’ll get extra XP and everything is doubled as you race across the rooftops. Which is a nice touch and makes it kinda worthwhile. I think I’m still feeling it, funnily enough to only thing I want to do right now is do it all again. It’s desperate. It’s terrorising. You won’t remember paths, you just gotta fucking get high because if you don’t you will become bits and pieces thrown across Harran for all to feast on. And don’t forget, you’re all alone.
So waxing lyrical about the night is great but what did it do to the rest of the game? Sadly, it made daytime rather dull. It didn’t before, but then I had nothing to compare it to. When you’re on your own and not in co-op Dying Light is a lonely experience. When you’re exploring this vast city you don’t have friends to call up on, you don’t really have anyone to talk to, lest trade dudes who want to sell you items for the cash you find looting dead zombies. You run around the rooftops, you feel free as a bird and it’s great but the tension of the ‘night’ is completely gone and makes the daytimes a damn slog just looting and doing work that a bunch of lazy-ass ‘survivors’ should be doing. Padding the games ’50-hour gameplay’ with mostly looting for items is kind of cheating Techland, I’m sorry to say and isn’t what I signed up for. You may welcome the relief of a break from the insanity of the evening, but after another four or five missions of just running around turning on switches and chasing down dodgy drug hostiles, you’ll wish for it back in an instant. The balance of the two has certainly been upped in the favour of the evening. No denying why, it’s fantastic. The daytime sadly then becomes a necessary evil that you feel you have to get through just to get to the exciting parts again. Shouldn’t the whole game be exciting?
This is where Dying Light’s biggest issue lies. The difference between Day and Night is so remarkably, surprisingly vast you’ll spend half the game wanting to play the other half. The daytime becomes a chore rather than an experience and you’ll wonder why more couldn’t be done to push the boat out a bit more. I understand the concept and I’m completely on board with the Night, it’s just brilliant, chaotic, bewilderingly good fun. But what happens when the night isn’t there? You’re off collecting stuff again. No doubt it’s fun to parkour all over the place across rooftops and balconies and the like, but Harran is a vast place and that’s the single way you get around, so it takes time. You can’t get anywhere in a hurry in Dying Light and that’s not a bad thing really, you just have to keep powering through. It’s about as realistic as a game about surviving monsters and zombies can be. You’re on your own, left to fend for yourself and surviving on the most limited of supplies throughout. It’s up to you to make sure the work is done and you have to survive outside lest the best laid plans will go awry. The faith in you is insurmountable and nobody believes you can do it, not even you. It’s up to you to prove you can survive in the most terrifying of scenarios. Dying Light puts you as an individual to the test. Provided every roof you have available to you to parkour across has a flat surface, mind.
So where do we stand on Dying Light? I think the game is a bit unsure as to what it is. The endless looting, the crafting and the characters will please RPG fans, whilst the Night will bring out the action adventure demons among us. It’s a game that has almost everything but only does one of them exceptionally well. The crafting menus are confusing, diluted and difficult to navigate. The looting gets very dull very quickly. The visuals aren’t spectacular when at this point they should be, the voice-over work is un-exciting and well, it’s just at odds with itself.
Is the game worth picking up just for the Night time aspect then? Yes. There’s plenty more right than wrong with Dying Light, but with a game that has such a split personality as this one, the candle is only really burning at one end.
Publisher: WB Games
Dying Light is now available physically and digitally.
Full disclosure – In order to complete this review, we received promotional codes provided by Dead Good Media.
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