When I first heard Techland were coming back into the zombie genre with Dying Light a little piece of me sank. Not only am I not a great fan of melee smashers, or indeed the undead, but over the last few years I’ve taken in and hated Dead Island, its Riptide add-on and all the buggy issues that they both contained.
But the more I read about Techlands plans for Dying Light, the more I saw developer playthroughs and the more I watched some stunningly good parkour videos, the more my mind started to turn. Started to believe that what was planned could indeed become a great reality.
Thankfully, it has!
For I make no bones about this; I bloody love Dying Light. Not in a Triple A, 10/10 nothing beats it type of way but in a ‘just wanna keep playing it for hours at a time’ type of way. The best type of way.
Flying in to an infection ravaged fictional Middle-Eastern city of Harran, you play as undercover operative Kyle Krane who drops in with the objective of infiltrating the quarantine zone and locating a missing officer. It is from here (and pretty much from the very first seconds of your drop into Harran) that you realise that the city has been completely over run with the undead, with a small group of survivors being your only hope for survival.
It also becomes quickly apparent that these survivors need you as much as you need them and through searching The Tower (the main hub for the uninfected), you’ll come across many different characters, all with a back story and all with a mission or five for you to take in and complete.
Much of the missions you’ll take on will see you navigate your way around the reasonably sized city of Harran. It’s not a massive area to take in but it will take you some time to traverse your way from North to South and East to West. The fact that there are literally hundreds of undead walkers filling the streets, occupying buildings and clogging up the sewers, Harran will quickly feel like a bigger city than it is. Parkour is a big addition to Dying Light and it’s obvious that much thought has gone into the way you move around the environment. Stick to the streets and you’ll find yourself either dodging or fighting the zombies that will stumble your way. Take the high road however, jumping from rooftop to rooftop and you’ll quickly discover the joy that free running brings. It’s not entirely explanatory and takes a little while to get used to the way Techland want you to play the game, but give it a few hours and moving from building to building, car roof to car roof and wall to wall will become second nature.
And that’s very much a good thing because if you snooze you lose in Dying Light.
Stand still for any length of time and either the stumbling infected will eventually find their way to you or the quicker more violent and deeply infected zombies will start circling you ready for an attack. It’s about then that you need to decide on a plan. Do you run and rely on your Parkour free running skills to keep you out of trouble, or stick around for a bit of a dust up, grabbing whatever weapon is at hand and piling the damage into your enemies? The choice really is yours and each situation will need to be weighed up and considered as it comes to you.
If you do decide that the stand and fight attitude is the one for you then you’ll need to make sure you have upgraded your fighting tools sufficiently enough to make the fight fairly even. In the first few hours of Dying Light, before you’ve had the chance to discover weapons and crafting blueprints, you’ll probably struggle to make a dent on many of the more powerful zombies you find. But get creating some electrical upgrades or add some blades to your bog standard hammers and it won’t be long before you can dish out a bit of justice like the very best fighters. Much of the weapons you find will see you going hand-to-hand in melee combat but sink enough hours into Harran and the big guns will soon be yours…bringing yet another dimension to the game.
The sheer amount of tools you can grab, customise and make your own is astounding and when you include a huge array of upgradable skills via three completely unique skill trees then those who need something a little more in their open world adventures than a run and gun will be more than happy. Each and every action you do during the day earns you XP points that will quickly give you the chance to become more powerful, increase your free running skills or help out in the skills department.
But go out hunting in the dead of the night and Dying Light becomes a whole new ball game.
Experience points are doubled and whilst that may sound great, the flipside of the coin is that you’ll be hunted down constantly by some of the hardest, fastest and most dangerous zombies you’ll find in a game. ‘Volatiles’ are enough to give you the very worst of nightmares and you’ll need all your skills and cunning to keep away from them and survive the night. Again, it’s a case of weighing up what needs to be done and whether you really do need to leave that safe house in order to get your objectives completed. Personally, if I can help it, I’d much rather stay put and sleep until dawn but of course certain missions require you do go out at certain times, so if you have to go hunting at 2am in order to get paid, then that’s what you must do! Just make sure you take a UV light or two with you as they could well be your only hope of survival.
So, Dying Light works rather superbly as a single player but as is much the case nowadays, wouldn’t be complete without some form of online action you can take in with your friends. Thankfully, it also comes complete with a cracking online cooperative experience in which you can team up with friends in order to hit those objectives and missions. With a full drop-in, drop-out experience, when you do manage to match up with some friends who are micced up, Dying Light really does come into its own. Standing around planning your next move with some mates, trying to work out the best way to tackle the zombies in front of you is great and quite possibly my most favourite team based objective hitter of recent times. Of course, if you’d rather not take on any new missions with friends then there is absolutely no harm in just hanging around a street corner pounding the hell out of a few undead to release some stress.
Unfortunately, things don’t work quite as well when you drop in to a random encounter with strangers as the vast majority just seem to run off and do their own thing. If you are going to play a game like Dying Light with ‘team mates’ then a switched on mic is a bit of a necessity. But then that’s more of an Xbox Live issue than a game problem.
If you fancy something a little different then you can also switch on ‘Invasions’ which turn the game into a completely different kettle of online fish. Taking Dying Light from the coop experience and turning it into an asymmetrical multiplayer fighter, you’ll get to experience the action either as part of the Human Team or as The Hunter in a battle to the death. Whilst the humans play out proceedings just like that in the single player, the inclusion of the Zombie really does make turn the game into something different. Who will win? Noone knows. But you’ll have great fun whichever side you frequent.
Including the massive single player game, giving you the chance to experience it all again with a few mates and taking into account the Be A Zombie game mode, Dying Light quickly turns out to be a bit of a gem. It’s not completely perfect but really isn’t that far off with some repetitive missions and difficulty in online cooperation when with mutes being its only real downfalls. On the whole though, Techland have seemingly put the bugs of Dead Island in the past, bringing us what is possibly the premier zombie basher on the latest generation of consoles.
Dying Light is a gorgeously detailed, fully open world adventure by day, and a hectic, frantic, scary encounter by night. The transition between the two completely different experiences is seamless and really makes you think about not only which objective to take on, but exactly when would be the best time to action it.
Because if you time things incorrectly it really will be a case of good night and good luck!