They’re coming for you. In numbers beyond reckoning and with unspeakable bloodlust, they are coming.
But this time, you CAN run and you CAN hide.
Welcome to the world of Dying Light. At first glance, it’s a game about fighting zombies and not much else, but there is more to Dying Light than might be immediately obvious. By introducing polished mobility, stealth and gunplay mechanics to the admittedly troubled first-person hack-and-slash subgenre, it crafts an enthralling time-sink, good for hours of urban exploration and decapitation.
From the creators of Dead Island comes the story of Harran, a city in a vaguely unnamed Middle Eastern/North African region in the grip of a terrifying and inexplicable plague that turns victims into mindless flesh eaters. Enter protagonist Kyle Crane, a government agent sent in to keep the foreign crisis from becoming a global catastrophe.
Immediately, the player finds themselves caught in the middle of the epidemic, fighting for their life and struggling to do the right thing in a bleak moral landscape. After a moderate tutorial period that introduces the free-running system that will allow the player to traverse Harran and the various dangers and resources in the city, the leash is cut and players are free to explore, scavenge, take on side missions and sharpen their skills by applying hard-earned skill points.
This freedom is what makes Dying Light shine, granting opportunities to pick off the walking dead, leap along rooftops and gather supplies while taking in the sights. Speaking of sights, graphics on the PS4, Xbox One, and PC are more than passable, with smooth animations and detailed environments helping to complete the experience. However, cut-scenes occasionally suffer from disconnected audio, causing characters to flap their lips after their dialogue has been heard. The rare glitch can also bring game play to a drastic halt, with the player character falling through the floor and into oblivion at inopportune times.
Minor technical issues aside, Dying Light manages to tell an interesting if not groundbreaking story, with plot points holding water enough to move the gameplay along. For many gamers, this is more than enough. Players expecting a complicated, relatable villain or nuanced thought-provoking moral dilemmas may be disappointed, but developer Techland did well to ensure the player knows what they’re doing in the story and why, leaving the action and adventure to speak for itself.
When the action speaks, it speaks loud and clear. Attacks have weight to them and deal very visceral damage. Swinging a machete and removing a common infected’s arm, leg or head is just as rewarding as it should be. Stamina restraints keep the fighting interesting and early on, running from large groups of biters or powerful mutants is a viable and encouraged strategy. High ground and breaking line of sight are your friends. Firearms are handy but not without drawbacks; loud noises including gunfire, explosions or collapsing roofs draw the attention of recently infected maniacs known as Virals, who can chase the player down no matter how high they climb.
However, after a healthy time investment and enough levels in the right skill trees, an experienced player can bash and butcher their way through an entire horde with little trouble. Scattered confrontations with hostile human enemies even offer an occasional divergence into true-blooded first-person shooter territory, where keen aim and taking cover are the keys to success.
That all changes when the sun goes down and infected enemies increase dramatically in strength and aggression. If that wasn’t bad enough, heavily mutated nocturnal predators known as Volatiles come out to feed. Their favorite meal? You, if you give them half the chance. While not impossible to kill, these nightmares easily outmatch the player in a stand-up fight, making misdirection and a low profile absolutely critical when venturing out of a safe house at night. Nighttime challenges and missions also make for unique co-operative opportunities.
A well-executed crafting system opens up a world of weaponry options, including blowtorch hatchets, electrified swords and toxic crowbars. Let your heart be your guide when trying to decide how best to dismember the opposition.
With an enthralling campaign, a laundry list of side activities, a serviceable plot, polished combat mechanics and co-operative support, Dying Light delivers a zombie game that stands tall on its merits and rises above its few limitations.
Prepare to surrender a couple weeks worth of free time, grab your nail-studded baseball bat and visit Harran. Come for the charming locals, stay because of the military-enforced quarantine.