Robert’s take: After infiltrating a quarantine zone to uncover the cause of a pestilent outbreak, protagonist Kyle Crane demonstrates a dexterous command of parkour while traversing the region. From scampering across lofty, patchwork rooftops to springboarding off the shoulders of the ground-based undead, the character operates on an extensive range of elevations. Fitting, these highs are lows are also demonstrated by Dying Light, the latest title from Techland, the Polish developer known for the Call of Juarez and Dead Island series.
Undoubtedly, Crane doesn’t make the best first impression. While airdropping into the area, his chute becomes snagged. He’s subsequently ambushed and bitten, which makes him appear less like an accomplished operative and more like a lumbering JROTC dropout. Similarly, the first two hours of Dying Light do little to challenge this reaction. At first, the hero can only run for short distances before stopping to catch his breath, like a squirrel with a two pack-a-day habit. Jumping, which is mapped to the controller’s shoulder buttons, requires practice before the timing becomes instructive. Combat is another matter- weapons are especially delicate, needing repair after only a few uses, while a stamina bar restricts the number of consecutive swings. To make matters worse, enemies are remarkably resilient, often requiring multiple strikes to slay.
Gradually, Dying Light ascends from this basin, endowing players with a toolset that’s more appropriate for open world survival. Foes begin to snappishly perish, as decapitations and overwhelming assaults begin to occur with increased frequency. Actions like running around, killing, and completing main and side quests begins to fill your Agility, Power, and Survivor abilities, unsurprisingly bestowing a bevy of perks that augment the character. As with any respectable sandbox game, Dying Light takes players on the journey from feeble to formidable, as they begin dishing out ground slams and flinging melee weapons in an accomplished exhibition of wish fulfillment.
Certainly, having a budding skill tree helps as night, as once Dying Light’s daytime hours expire, the zone getting overwhelmingly dangerous. While cautious players might want to seek nocturnal refuge at a safehouse, significantly stronger and faster enemies appear at night, with the dreaded Volatiles giving a dogged chase if the player is spotted. The upside of all is your Power and Agility experience are doubled during duration of darkness, making scavenging an especially seductive temptation. Given Dying Light’s emphasis on crafting, you’ll certainly want to take on a few nighttime loot hunts.
Eschewing the crafting tables of Dead Island and Dead Rising 2, the title permits players to build and repair weapons on the fly. Cleverly, forging additions to your arsenal won’t take long. Once players discover a blueprint and amass the correct parts, the process in quite trouble-free. Dying Light takes a protracted approach to arms, making players wait until they can assemble guns. Once ballistics can be built, they’re wisely constrained, as the sound of a discharged firearm will attract a fuming horde of enemies. Pleasingly, foes attack behaviors demonstrates a span of divergence, with some creatures trying to trap the player in tight quarters, while bandits utilize strength in numbers and ranged strikes to wear down the protagonist.
Although Gonçalo appreciated Dying Light’s plotline, I wasn’t quite as enamored. While I praise Techland for the desertion of Dead Island’s campy cast, here characters’ motivations were telegraphed early, diminishing the potential for dramatic tension. This is especially true for Crane, where the story tries to build a quandary of conscience, but given the characters disposition, his determinations are persistently predicable.
Where I do concur with my colleague is the issue of Dying Light’s PC performance. Co-operative play with up to three participants operated smoothly, as did asymmetric multiplayer where a group of humans battle with a player-controlled super-zombie who can zip around the playfield via stretching tendrils. However, the game’s local performance doesn’t match the quality of its net code. On a high end rig, Dying Light’s framerate would sporadically dip, while on a midrange SLI-equipped machine, the game struggled to achieve fluidity.
Gonçalo’s take: Developer Techland has amassed an interesting cult following with its Dead Island series, appealing both to George Romero fans as well as gamers with a fondness for action RPGs. Dying Light however, places a greater emphasis on storytelling, compelling characters and a Mirror’s Edge style parkour.
Dying Light has you explore the zombie filled city of Harran. This open sandbox approach is reminiscent of the Far Cry games though here, exploration takes precedence. While players may choose to engage in combat with never-ending hordes of zombies, it’s generally wiser to walk past them as Crane, our main character has a faster pace than most enemies. That is until nightfall comes, at that point the city changes drastically, as that is when the deadly, lightning fast Volatiles appear. While fighting them is possible, the smarter choice would be to run for your life, they are a constant threat at night and soon enough you will start dreading the sunset in Dying Light and instead make way for the various safe havens spread across town.
Luckily, our hero is quite capable if handled properly. RPG mechanics ensures your character can learn new skills divided into three categories: Agility, Survival and Power. Players can also craft weapons and even learn how to lay traps, the latter of which is especially useful to an encounter with previously mentioned Volatiles.
Zombies aren’t the only force to contend with though. Throughout Harran there are scattered pockets of humanity, some have gone tribal and will attempt to kill you as soon as they spot Crane. However, others will provide aid and side missions, each with their own attributed rewards. Although there’s a healthy amount of optional objectives to undertake, the vast majority of them fall under fetch quests, I can only be asked to deliver so many packages or items before repetition sets in.
Story-based assignments are more varied if often frustrating. Some of these missions place the player in easy to die situations where it’s difficult to get your bearings, often times I found myself dead before I even knew what was happening. Dying Light’s plot isn’t particularly noteworthy with one shining exception: its characters. Most plot-important characters were believable, expertly written and their lines well delivered, I genuinely grew attached to these people and wanted to do my best to help them in their predicament.
Unfortunately, not everything about this experience is smooth, playing the PC version of Dying Light revealed some technical issues which hindered my experience. The most prominent of which is a seeming lack of optimization, creating sporadic framerates, this problem is so widespread that Techland already released a patch to minimize its effects, though they are not yet fixed. During my playthrough I also noticed a few graphical glitches, in one particular scene a character I was escorting became stuck inside a wall.
For the most part, these were minor inconveniences and though an erratic framerate is annoying I eventually became accustomed to it. One can hardly be offended at an uneven framerate when a game presents one of the highest graphical fidelities I’ve seen. Whether walking around in enclosed locations or exploring the vast, open city of Harran, Dying Light is one of the most impressive looking games I’ve seen.
Combining gameplay elements from so many different games is not an easy task, but developer, Techland successfully created a game which draws from its competitors strengths and incorporates it all into one package. Technical issues, repetitive side-quests and an occasionally frustrating mission design mar the experience somewhat, but Dying Light’s mix of first person RPG, survival horror and parkour creates one of the best zombie apocalypse experiences in the market.
Dying Light was played on the PC with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release date: January 27th, 2015 (US)