Let me begin by saying that this is not my full review of Techland’s open world zombie game Dying Light. These are just my impressions of spending the first six hours with the game. The game is a lengthy one, and a full scored review will be posted once I complete the game. With that out of the way, this is what I think about the game so far.
Dying Light is another foray into games dealing with a zombie outbreak in first person view by developer Techland. Techland has previously brought us Dead Island and its follow-up, Dead Island: Riptide. But this is not a return to the blood soaked tropical island of Banoi. This time around players are dropped into the fictional Middle Eastern city of Harran, which has been ravaged by a viral outbreak that has turned a majority of its citizens into the undead. The zombies range in type from the slow shambling biters that are clumsy and fairly easy to evade (unless you get mobbed) to faster runners that climb to the very scary Volatiles that come out when the sun goes down. Yes, Dying Light has a day/night cycle, and when you notice things switching from bright sunshine to the titular time of day, that’s when you need to get worried. Because Harran, while unpleasant enough during the daytime, becomes a very nasty place at night. More on this in a bit.
You play as Kyle Crane, an operative for the GRE, a relief organization trying to aid survivors in Harran. The game opens with you parachuting into the city, where you are promptly attacked by thugs. The attack leaves you injured and bitten as the noise attracts a group of zombies, but you are rescued by a pair of survivors from the Tower, a high rise that holds one faction of survivors led by a man named Brecken. You pass out, and when you awaken your in the safe confines of the Tower, where your tutorial begins. Controls are fairly straightforward, but one that may give some players trouble initially is pressing the R1/RB button to jump and holding that same button to grab onto ledges and other climbable surfaces to pull yourself up. Much of your traversing in and around Harran will be done on the rooftops, as the streets are often crowded with the prowling undead. The movement tutorial takes place on the roof of the Tower as you learn to run and jump around the environment. It takes a little getting used to, but I soon found it to be second nature, enabling me to parkour around the city fluidly for the most part. Lapses can lead to falls, which may necessitate the use of valuable medkits, but as long as you keep a clear head (easier said than done when being pursued) the set-up works fairly well.
This is one of your views during training.
Once you get the hang of movement, you’re turned loose into the city. As in Dead Island, you end up doing errands for other characters in the game in addition to the main story line (which I won’t go into here except to say it’s decently done, if not wholly original, and has a couple of twists in my time with the game). Finishing quests and simply moving around and engaging in combat nets you skill points that you apply to three different skill trees- Survivor, Agility, and Power. In the beginning of the game you’re pretty underpowered, and your stamina depletes quickly, making it necessary to stop and take a break. In combat you need to back away until you regain your stamina. Combat is mainly used through the use of the R2/RT button for your main weapon, and L2/LT for your secondary weapon or item like firecrackers that you can use to distract or lure zombies away or into traps. Early weapons aren’t very durable, but once you learn crafting your weapons can be upgraded. Plenty of materials for crafting can be found throughout the city, as well as purchased from vendors and scavenged from corpses of enemies you defeat. Crafting is kept simple and can be done anywhere, without using a work bench like in Dead Island. This allows you to enter a menu, pausing the game, to make much needed items, should you have the proper materials.
Combat takes a little getting used to, and can be a bit clumsy until you get the hang of it. Enemies don’t go down easy, and larger enemies called Virals you’ll need to outsmart and use the environment against them, as trying to take them on will more likely result in your immediate death. Human enemies aren’t any easier, as they will dodge your attacks. In both instances you’ll need to be aware of your surroundings at all times, as you and will be can be attacked from behind. Your weapons may need repair during battle, but swapping between them is easy (just make sure you have enough equipped in your backpack). In most cases, running is your most viable option, except in cases where the mission dictates that you must eliminate an enemy. Opening safe houses throughout the city is key so that when you die you’re not set too far back, as you respawn at the nearest safe house to where you died. Fortunately, this doesn’t lose you any mission progress, but may make traveling back to where you died a longer trip. The game does auto save regularly, so that helps as well.
Going out and about in Harran during the day can be fun and thrilling, but once the sun goes down, the tension goes up. The game will even warn you to find shelter in a safe house to wait out the night, but it also increases the rewards toward your skill points should you choose to take on a nocturnal mission. The zombies at night (called Volatiles) are much faster and stronger than their daytime counterparts, and require a fair amount of stealth to evade. Your map shows their cone of vision to aid in this, but make a noise and they will find you. Then you need to run, and keep running until you reach a safe house. You will not lose them (tapping the Triangle/Y button will allow you to glance behind you, if you dare), and fighting them (especially early on in the game when you don’t have firearms) is inadvisable. Light traps will work against them if you have them set up, but any pausing by you to do any action will most likely end in you being caught (and killed). The fact that your skill points double at night and allow you to level up quicker may be enticing to more daring players. The tension at night felt to me akin that of being in a locker in Alien Isolation with the xenomorph sniffing around the door. If you’re up high enough you can wait out the night (I spent one on a balcony trying to be very quiet and not attract any attention), but it can be a nerve wracking affair. It’s quite a relief when the sun comes up and those cones disappear from your map.
So far, Dying Light is succeeding more often than not, and proving to be a worthy entry into the zombie genre. The parkour and day/night cycle help set it apart from other games, and its decent story and cast of characters are so far providing me with enough incentive to keep going forward in the game. I haven’t checked out the co-op mode or the Be the Zombie (where you can invade another player’s game as a powerful Night Hunter, a la Dark Souls), but will do so in future sessions. Stay tuned for my scored review, which I hope to have up in a few days.
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