If you haven’t heard of Dying Light by now, I can only assume you just crawled out from under a rock since we’ve covered it quite a bit in the past couple months. There’s been an incredible amount of promotion and hype for the game. It has a pretty decent pedigree and quite frankly, it looks amazing. An open world, zombie apocalypse, weapon crafting, free running simulator. It’s basically Dead Island meets Mirror’s Edge, what’s not to like? But anything that manages to build up this much hype has to be disappointing, right? I mean, can anything live up to the hype that surrounds it? Well… let’s see.
Let’s look at the most superficial. The visuals for this game are amazing. It’s a really, really pretty game. And this is despite it being fairly monochromatic. When I first started up the game and got to the top of “The Tower” (the area where you start playing) I spent a few minutes just looking at the distance. I don’t know if it’s the best looking game out there today, but it’s definitely one of the best looking games I’ve personally played. And if you like gore then you’ve come to the right place. The various zombies are pretty disgusting to start with and get mangled and mutilated in all the right ways, especially when you go for headshots. Zombie heads explode in a surprisingly pleasing manner. I admit, I’m normally pretty squeamish, but I found the gore in the game to be so satisfying I’m kind of worried. That’s not to say the graphics are perfect. When you talk to NPCs, things start entering the Uncanny Valley. The lip-syncing is way off, and the eyes look just… wrong somehow. You kinda messed up when the zombies look more realistic than your uninfected humans. At least the voice acting is top-notch.
The story is mostly unoriginal. A new virus starts turning people to zombies in a big, Middle-Eastern city (fairly original setting, at least), scientists try to find a cure, things get out of control, a quarantine is put in place, etc. That’s where you come in. You are Kyle Crane, an independent agent working for the GRE, an international relief organization. They’re the people who are dropping supplies in to the survivors. You get airdropped along with it in order to find a previous GRE agent who went rogue and a file he has that could lead to the creation of a cure. However, as you probably guessed, not everything is what it seems to be. There really isn’t exactly much in the way of original ideas, and the rest of the main storyline continues in the same vein. There are a lot of predictable “twists,” lots of forced drama, and a plethora of poor excuses to go on fetch missions. They tried to make Crane a deeper character than he is, but they failed. He keeps doing stupid things for no apparent reason, accepting blame for things that aren’t remotely his fault for no apparent reason, and sometimes he just acts inconsistently for no apparent reason. Seeing a pattern here? A lot of what he does seems to be “because we need him to.” Sometimes he tries to be the nice guy who just wants to help out but other times he becomes a sarcastic jackass. Then there’s the main villain, Rais, who has a sort of nihilistic pseudo-philosophy that feels like they were trying to copy much cooler villains from other games and movies. The funny thing is that while the main storyline is fairly meh, the side quests actually keep things interesting. A lot of them are small, contained stories in and of themselves and those are actually rather interesting. Some of them can be pretty funny, too, like when you run errands for a set of genius twins, or the dialog in some of the escort missions. The side quests really made up for the main story for me. I kinda wish there had been less main story and more side quests.
Now, here is where things get weird for me. You see, I’m a story guy. I’ll play a bad game if the story is good enough and I’ve stopped playing games that were halfway decent because the story was dumb. And while I have plenty to criticize about the story of Dying Light, I have to admit, it didn’t bother me all that much, because the game was just too much fun to stop playing. The main gameplay element is the parkour and it is glorious. I’ll admit it can be difficult at first to get the hang of what you can and can’t do and it feels awkward and even a bit clunky, but you get used to it soon enough and once you do it feels natural. Heck, it feels like what every game should move like. I really cannot emphasize enough just how right they got the parkour. It adds an extra vertical dimension to the game that most others lack, and it makes the world feel truly open. The fact that the city sections are walled off due to the quarantine is pretty convenient excuse to close the world off, as well. Well played, that. The parkour is fun enough that even the fetch quests, of which there are many, are fun. I mean, how many other games have you played that had fun fetch quests? I can’t think of any.
The game has plenty of other things it gets right. The zombie hordes are great. The city feels… well “alive” doesn’t really fit given the context. The city feels right. It alternates between empty and crowded in all the right ways. And you almost always have the option of fighting or running. Running is usually the better option, especially at lower levels, but don’t neglect fighting, because there are some pretty fun fighting abilities at higher levels. The crafting for better weapons and consumables adds another survival element to the game that I enjoyed. You have to keep an eye out for supplies, containers, and lootable corpses. At lower levels, especially, looting and crafting can be the difference in surviving encounters or not. The random encounters add even more to the dynamic feel of the game. They do get a bit samey after a while and I wish there was a greater variety of random encounters, but the fact that they exist at all does make the city feel less dead.
Finally there’s the day/night cycle. This was a great addition. The zombies are more aggressive and dangerous at night, and some of the most dangerous zombies only come out at night. It’s a lot more dangerous but you also gain experience more quickly. If you’re scared, then it’s actually pretty easy to ignore nighttime. There are beds at any of the safehouses littered around the city that you can use to sleep through the night. Just be warned, there are some quests that require you to go out at night, so you can’t escape it completely. Still, why would you want to always skip the night? Sure, you might want to more often than not if playing alone early in the game, but in groups and at high levels it’s really not that hard.
Speaking of groups, the multiplayer component to the game is decent enough, though far from a deal-breaker. Playing co-op makes the game significantly easier since four of you instead of just one can tear through mobs of zombies and make short work of the bigger zombies. They try to spice things up with competitions like “get the most loot in X amount of time” or “kill the most zombies.” You get the idea. It is kinda strange though, since, unlike the Dead Island series, you all play the same character. The versus multiplayer “Be The Zombie” is a great idea on paper, but I’ve personally found it to be rather broken, when you can find a game at all. The human zombie player is incredibly powerful, but unless the humans aren’t paying attention, they just have too many advantages. A good zombie player might be able to overcome those, but I’ve seen far too many complaints on various forums similar to the ones I have to think that it’s a matter of just me sucking. (I’m not saying I don’t suck, just that it’s not the only problem.) Asymetrical competitive multiplayer can be really fun, but I don’t think it was balanced properly for Dying Light. However, I’m hopeful that it’ll be fixed in future patches.
Possibly the best part of the game is the aforementioned openness of the maps. There’s actually a lot of room to explore, and rewards for exploring. Sometimes you can find high-level blueprints or powerful items for exploring out of the way locations, or on the top of buildings and towers… assuming you can reach them. There are also plenty of fairly random and hilarious Easter Eggs, but I won’t spoil those for you.
Bottom Line: Dying Light has nary an original bone in its body and is flawed in other ways as well, but it’s just so much dang fun to play I find myself having a hard time caring about any of that. What it does well it does really well. It’s definitely a game you want to play. It’s now available for PC, PS4, and XBox One.
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