- Running so hard
Looking for somewhere to vacation this Summer? Man, have I got the place for you! Mark your calendars and book a hotel in beautiful Harran. Harran features beautiful architecture, colorful skylines and is rich in culture. It’s the perfect place to grab a bite, head out on the town and enjoy the night life. Oh yeah, I may or may not have forgot to mention that the city has been overrun by a plethora of zombies which range from brainless duds to terrifying volatiles. That’s not too bad, though. You can just run, scavenge and beat the zombies to a pulp. It’s like a vacation with a twist.
Unfortunately I don’t think that’s the way Kyle Crane sees it as he takes to the streets and the skies and tries to decide whether he wants to help the greater good or the government agency that hired him.
Dying Light is Techlands latest take on the open-world zombie genre that has become so popular as of late. It takes place in Harran, a city that has been overcome by a virus that turns people into zombies. You play as Kyle Crane, a GRE agent who has been sent into the city in order to locate a rogue who has stolen a very important file and recover said file. However, after being bitten and meeting a group of survivors, priorities shift and it becomes more about survival and the greater good.
Unlike other open-world zombie games that have you crafting weapons and beating every zombie you see into a bloody pulp, Dying Light shifts the focus of the game to something other than combat. There’s a pretty expansive free running mechanic in Dying Light that opens up the world not only in the horizontal, but in the vertical. You gain the ability to run, jump and fly through cityscapes and explore a city ravaged by destruction. And hell, you also get to do a fair amount of brain smashing. And with that, lets look at a few ways that Dying Light really stood out.
What I liked
Free running is a mechanic that has been very hard to get right in any game so far. That’s why I was skeptical when I found out that Dying Light was going to put such a heavy emphasis on free running rather than combat. However, after playing the game I will say that Dying Light has one of the best free running systems I have experienced and it makes for a game where exploration sees no end. Whether you’re trying to transverse the tops of buildings across the slums or running for your life from volatiles at night, the free running remains smooth and allows for quick transitions and endless exploration. The efficiency of this mechanic becomes especially clear with the latter of the previously mentioned situations, being pursued by volatiles at night where one wrong jump can be the difference between you being alive or dead. While the free running mechanic is stellar, Dying Light’s gameplay also stands out in other ways.
With any open-world zombie game, crafting, scavenging and weapon modification become a major role to surviving. Dying Light has a fun crafting system with many options when it comes to weapon modification. The crafting system is simple: There’s a range of probably 10-15 types of items and when you open a box, a random type of these items appears. These can be used to craft various items, ranging from medpacks to DIY grenades. You gain the ability to craft different items by finding blueprints. Blueprints are the key to unlocking new, more powerful thrown weapons as well as upgrading your weapons to near epic proportions. While it is hyper-unrealistic with how abundant crafting materials are (hell, I swear almost every fridge I found had booze in it….), it made it so you constantly had enough supplies to survive and stay ahead of the difficulty curve.
Another place Dying Light really stood out was in terms of atmosphere. While other games in the genre focus on being able to smash brains and take names, Dying Light focussed a lot more, namely atmosphere. While the zombies were pretty brain-dead and not inherently scary, during various missions they were presented in a way that scared me without just using jump scares. They used eerie music and zombie sounds (when there wasn’t necessarily a zombie there) to create a feeling of “not-knowing”, which is plain scary. I vividly remember one mission that had me investigating a missing “thing” named Mike which had gone missing. The lights dimmed, a gradient came over the screen, my combat options were disbanded and I was forced to investigate this apartment building. The music was eerie, the situation was creepy and disturbing and near the end I was honestly fearing how the mission would end. To put it simply, it was great. This is without even mentioning the fact that running from volatiles at night might actually be the mot terrifying thing I have ever done in a game period.
A final place that Dying Light really got me was in terms of mission variety. Maybe this praise comes from the fact that I just recently had a stint in Destiny where every single mission was the same, but Dying Light does a pretty good job of giving you a wide range of tasks. In a lot of zombie games, missions range from “Go here and kill zombies” to “Go there, retrieve this item and also kill a bunch of zombies”. Dying Light tries to break away from that and provide some different missions that keep the player interested in playing. Don’t get me wrong, busting heads is fun, but I want a little more. One minute you will be setting car bombs for Spike, the next you might be climbing a bridge tower to retrieve UV bulbs and then to finish off the night you might be investigating a disappearance only to find that there was a psycho under your nose the entire time. All the while you’re busing brains, drop kicking zombies off buildings and painting the streets in blood. It’s a great balance.
While Dying Light has so many high points, it also has some lows which hold it back from being the best that it can be.
What I didn’t Like
I think the biggest flaw in Dying Light would lie in the story, which was mediocre at best. Kyle Crane is a government agent who was sent into Haraan to locate a rogue and procure a file that was stolen. When he landed, he was bitten and saved by the members of a group of survivors. He grew to care for these people, as well as the survivors in Haraan. Then the entire story turns into the inner battle of having to decide to continue working for the people who hired you who are obviously scheming or for the suffering people who you have grown to care for. There is also a terrible pseudo-king who makes Kyle’s life hell throughout the entire game, but that’s not anything new either. The middle parts are filled with Kyle yelling the F-Word a lot and showing how he is nothing more than a generic gritty male protagonist. While the game wasn’t trying to be story-driven, it wouldn’t have hurt to switch things up and do something more innovative instead of sticking to the same cookie cutter plot.
Another major gripe I had with Dying Light was kind of a double edged sword. As I mentioned previously, the free running was implemented really well. And it is really good…when it actually decided to work. There were times where I was climbing or running and the game would just blatantly not do the things it was supposed to do. I remember one specific time that I was climbing the bridge tower and I jumped from one ledge to another and I just blatantly didn’t grab the other ledge. I just fell past it and plummeted to my death. I then had to re-do the entire section, which took me like 7 minutes to do. There were also issues, especially during frantic night running, where I would just not grab edges while trying to run. During the day this wouldn’t be that much of an issue, but when I have a volatile on my butt this time delay is the difference between life and death.
One final issue that seemed to plague Dying Light was glitches. Well, maybe saying “plague” is being a little too harsh. There were quite a few glitches I ran into while playing, though. When I had put approximately 8 hours into the game, my save file reset my levels, items, blue prints and such while keeping my same progress. I was then forced to start a new save file and play everything again. This was a rather dramatic glitch. Other glitches ranged from getting stuck within platforms to not being able to finish a mission because there was a zombie stuck in a wall. It’s natural to see games having a few glitches, but some of these were pretty intense and would halt progression in the game. It would have been nice to see a more polished final product.
I went into Dying Light seeing nothing but Techland’s failures. I thought Dying Light was a really ambitious product and assumed that it would turn out like Dead Island, a game with a few good concepts but absolutely no execution. Boy was I wrong.
Dying Light takes a worn out genre and portrays it in a new light with more interesting choices and mechanics and a really enveloping atmosphere to boot. It breaks away, but still keeps the core aspects of gameplay crisp and fun. How can you possibly hate on a game that lets you punt zombies off of buildings to their imminent death?
While there were flaws, they were out-shined by great gameplay, engaging variety and an overwhelming sense of fun and exploration. Dying Light is the breath of fresh air that the zombie franchise needed and it takes the cake as my favorite zombie game. If you get a chance, I definitely suggest trying this one out. You won’t be able to put it down and even when you finish you’re going to keep coming back for more.
Goodnight and Good Luck.