I was a big fan of Dead Island, sure it had its bugs but I really enjoyed its combat, scavenging for equipment and being able to co-op through the whole story with up to three friends. Techland have returned to the scene of the crime with Dying Light, a more mature and confident title that takes all the best bits of Dead Island and leaves behind some of the rubbish.
The city of Harran is in a state of turmoil, a virus has hit and the dead are rising from their graves. The city has been placed under quarantine and a huge wall erected to try and contain the spread of the virus – a sensitive file that contains the cure is missing somewhere in the city and you are tasked with airdropping in to find it… or so you are led to believe. Dying Light won’t win any awards for an original storyline and while some of the side quests have far meaningful stories, it’s all been done before in just about every other zombie game. Saying that, the story is far from awful and it’s main downfall is simply that the characters lack any depth so it’s hard to feel anything for them or the relationships that are forced upon you.
I found the pace of Dying Light to be perfectly pitched. Starting out as a rather weak character, which is ironic considering you’re a government agent, you must work your way through three skill trees (Survivor, Agility and Power) so that you can defeat the game’s tougher enemies and generally make the combat easier and fun to use.
There are a variety of weapons strewn around Harran and they have real weight to them. Each weapon can be upgraded or repaired at anytime providing you have the parts, which can be found by scavenging or by purchasing them from one of the many vendors. Crafting is textbook Dead Island, environmental effects can be added to your weapons and equipment can be crafted from scratch – exploding shuriken stars being my favourite. To start with, you tire quickly from wildly swinging your melee weapons like a batsman in the little league, but by upgrading your abilities and having a little strategy you will soon be leaping over zombies and laying the smack down like a pro.
Weapons have a nasty habit of breaking so don’t get too attached to any that you have found or purchased. Each one can be repaired multiple times before they are beyond repair – their demise is inevitable and only firearms are exempt from degrading. You also have to manage your inventory efficiently so as not to be caught out by degrading weapons. There’s no limit on the number of item parts you can carry but there is limited space for weapons and equipment. Zombies can take one hell of a beating before they go down so you need to be light on your toes and make full use of your abilities in order to avoid death, which carries a penalty of losing valuable Survivor XP – Dying Light isn’t a game where you can wade in like Dead Rising 3.
For the most part the parkour is smooth and fluid – only on occasion did I ‘miss’ a jump that I really should have been able to make. Descending seems to be a bit of a problem, you have to jump down and hope that you grab a ledge – it’s harder than it sounds. Once unlocked, the grapple hook solves this problem and you will soon be zooming about the map like Spiderman. There are also several environmental puzzles to make you scratch your head, especially if you want to collect the many flags hidden in hard to reach locations around Harran – I may have overcomplicated some of these climbs but my solution was fun to traverse – the grapple hook does diminish some of the fun by taking over from your parkour abilities. There are also several radio towers to climb and restore power. These lofty heights made me feel a bit nauseous as the camera sways to give the effect of the windy conditions atop the precarious towers.
Running during chase sequences hits all the right tones of suspense – should you miss a jump and fall, your foe will be right on top of you – not all daytime zombies shuffle around, there’s a few ‘runner’ zombies that will purposely hunt you down should you ‘upset’ them. The suspense of the game is highest when night sets in. Your vision is severely limited in the pitch black and you will need to rely on your trusty torch to light the way to your bed, thing is the torch attracts the most dangerous zombie type in the game – the Volatiles.
Volatiles are the creatures you most want to avoid; although you can kill them they are tough and can kill you quickly. You can see their cones of vision on the mini map and once you are in their sights your only hope for survival is to dash for a safe house, blasting them with your UV torch or flares as you run to slow them down. Once in pursuit, you can look over your shoulder to see how close they are to you – the game slows down and allows you to witness their outstretched claws reaching for your back – it’s chilling stuff!
Night-time is tense, creepy and if you strap on a pair of headphones, the hairs on the back of your neck will almost certainly be standing on end as every ambient noise is heightened. It’s exhilarating stuff and as if this wasn’t enough of a thrill ride, night-time is also the setting for the Watch_Dogs style invasion mode where a player enters your game to control a powerful zombie, The Night Hunter. During these ‘invasions’ you must destroy 5 Volatile nests while the Night Hunter must rack up ten kills to win. On your own you’re dead meat but in a team it makes for some extremely tense matches. The Night Hunter has it’s own skill tree and on the higher levels can be quiet powerful so your team will need all their wits about them in order to survive – having a mic is key!
Night-time can be skipped and the invasion mode can be switched off to avoid any interruptions to your mission progress, the rewards however for playing at night are doubled, so if you want to level up quickly don’t simply sleep the night away, besides there are several traps lying about that are only useful during the night and help to even the odds against the Volatiles.
Once you’ve played an invasion match you will be able to craft a helpful booster that can fend off the Night Hunter more effectively – there are also several different boosters available in the main game that buff your attributes, with some pretty powerful combinations only accessible by completing certain side quests. Now I know what you’re thinking, ‘boosters’, radio towers and an open world – doesn’t this sound a little too familiar? Well yes it does, but why reinvent something that works well – besides, is any game 100% original these days? Dying Light does more than enough to stand on it’s own gory stumps.
Graphically the game looks incredible. I only witnessed minor glitches with tearing and the odd zombie getting stuck in the environment or appearing out of nowhere. The lighting effects in particular are truly stunning, I’ve shared many a romantic evening with my co-op partner watching the sun set and rise from the rooftops of Harran.
In first person your actions look great, but watching your co-op partner perform the same moves looks terrible – bodies hang in the water, half suspended above and half swimming underneath. Kicking and dashing also has some highly amusing effects – during one session I was even able to recreate the moonwalk!
What is lacking in Dying Light is the ability to fast travel between the various safe houses you’ve unlocked, going back and forth with the various fetch quests will make you crave for this option. Selecting weapons and equipment isn’t very fluid either, you can tap the dpad in order to fast select through one of the four mapped weapons or equipment items that you have selected via the inventory menu or select one with a combination of holding the dpad and selecting with the right stick. It’s clumsy and not ideal when you’re in the thick of a zombie attack!
Dying Light is huge, it’s loaded with challenges and collectibles with enough missions to see you easily rack up in excess of 50 hours game time. It’s certainly the most fun I’ve had in co-op since Borderlands 2. For me the dynamic day/night cycle is the stand out feature with the night cycle offering a completely different change of pace. While it won’t win any awards for groundbreaking zombie storytelling, Dying Light’s open world is just begging to be explored – I’ve already lost myself in Harran for hours on end and I can see myself losing dozens more.
Thanks to Dead Good Media for supplying TiX with a download code
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