Dying Light Review
Dying Light is perhaps a perfect example of what I call a game of two halves. One half of the game is downright brilliant with great parkour, meaty combat and two large maps that encourage exploration. On the other hand the game has an awful story, cheap mechanics and a whole raft of little niggles that sour the good impression the game makes.
As zombie stories go Dying Light is incredibly generic, you’re a white feller called Crane, dropped into the fictional Turkish city of Harran to find a document for your mysterious and obviously evil employer. From there Crane is bitten by a zombie and becomes desperate for a drug called Antizin that staves of zombification for a time, while also looking for a more permanent solution. The games characters are for the most part insufferable, with one insisting on calling you ‘noob’ every five minutes as if they need to reinforce the idea that he’s a gamer. The games writers clearly thought they’d be going the GTA route of characterization, having everyone but the main character being slightly unhinged in some way, of course that works for GTA settings as they aren’t one infested with zombies, where survival relies on not being a fucking moron.
When you’re first let off the leash and allowed to make your way around Harran for the first time, the game is incredible. You begin to scavenge for weapons and equipment, searching for something better than the rusty pipe you carry. In the early game you avoid conflict as best you can, zombies litter the streets so keep to the roof tops, other humans are even more deadly and should be avoided at all costs. You’re weak, you don’t last very long in a fight and can be easily overwhelmed. Your weakness doesn’t last for long however, as you learn routes through the slums, find a weapon you like you soon begin to have a semblance of control over the environment. As you level up you’ll gain access to a whole raft of skills to improve your mobility and combat prowess. One skill gives you access to a grappling hook that turns the game into the closest we’ll get to a first person spider man game, allowing you to ascend buildings and streets with incredible ease.
The parkour works surprisingly well in first person, hold down the stick to run and jump and climb with the right shoulder button and your away. As you level up you gain access to a range of new tricks such a vault maneuver and the ability to run for longer periods of time. There is a great sense of progression as you learn the most effective routes around the games two maps, memorising where to jump and what ledges are best. It’s a testament to how fluid I thought the free running is, that I wanted to see what the game would be like with a VR headset on and as a skeptic of that whole thing thats saying something.
The first person melee combat will be pretty familiar to anyone who’s played Techland’s last game Dead Island. The name of the game is keep hitting zombies until they don’t get back up, at first this takes quite the effort, with scavenged pipes not being particularly useful at fighting the undead hordes. But after a while you’ll find some weapons that work for you. When I found my first Katana the game changed dramatically, instead of bashing against their skulls I was chopping off heads and cleaving torsos in half, I stopped being a survivor and became a butcher. If you’re like me and not simply content with slicing and dicing your way through the undead, you’ll like the games crafting mechanics, allowing you to add various elements to your favourite weapon. I saw zombies run in terror after I pulled out my broadsword that both set fire and electrocuted any sap in my way. Bewarned however, All weapons in the game do start to breakdown with use and you can find yourself unarmed if you weren’t careful with that much loved fire axe of yours.
Dying Light as the name would suggest features the dying of the light or as most normal people call it the night. Night time is fucking terrifying when you first start playing, the zombies of the night evolve in to big bastards called Volatiles who look like the vampires from Blade 2 but even more pissed off. For the majority of the game when you hear the warnings to find shelter now that night is falling, you’ll drop everything and get home safe. But if you’re one of those brave (or foolish) enough to go out at night there are plenty of rewards for you. The rate at which you gather exp is doubled making a run across the roof tops close to power leveling. While combat exp is also doubled you won’t want to go out farming zombies too early in game, Volatiles will find you and find uses for your corpse that you’d never dream of.
The game encourages you to come into conflict with other humans from time to time via random events in the world or the air drops. Air drops are released over Harran and it’s up to you to decide if you’re quick enough to get to them before someone else does. These air drops are perhaps one of my favorite parts of the early game, seeing a smoke signal in the distance gets your heart pumping as you run over there as fast as you can, if you’re too slow you may have a fight on your hand or maybe have the whole drop stolen. Being such a highlight of the game it saddened me to find that these drops aren’t continued after a point in the games story, instead replaced by static caches that you always have to fight for. Now in games I understand that when you reach a certain point in a story the game has to change to keep up, but to take out such a good mechanic for the story struck me as a remarkably stupid move (This from a guy whose blog was initially about games stories)
The issue with the air drops is to me indicative of a lot of other parts of Dying Lights design, thought out but not play tested enough to see how they’d work in practice. The combat is designed in such a way as you will almost always take damage in any fight, with hit detection that makes little sense, leading to your health being whittled away. Story missions are littered with enemies who can kill you in a single hit and lead to me tossing the controller down and calling BS on the game. Unskippable and pointless dialogue for certain quests, the inability to restart challenges, meaning you have to wait a to restart them. All these little issues and quirks stop the game being truly great.
As an improvement on the Dead Island series it’s safe to say Techland have nailed down what works for them. With all the little issues and quirks of the game being easy to fix it would be safe to assume that a Dying Light 2 would be downright brilliant if they can learn from their mistakes and improve on the decent foundations of Dying Light.