Not in a very long time have I felt the level of anxiety, fear and pure paranoia as I have since starting to play Dying Light. Techland’s new open-world zombie-parkour-survival mash-up may look like an idea cashing in on a few popular cultural phenomenons, but it’s actually one of the most interesting, well-designed and unique experiences seen on the current generation of consoles.
Techland is also no newcomer to the zombie genre – the developer’s other franchise, Dead Island, shares many similarities, but Dying Light irons out all the weird bugs and repetitive grinding that comes with 2011’s tropical island adventure.
Regarding the story, Dying Light delivers on hyping up the drama and tension by literally dropping you in a world full of characters who all seem to have their own agenda and who are as trustworthy as a paper parachute. There are a lot of twists and turns in the story, and the underlying “undercover” reason of why you are infiltrating the city keeps the story plodding along. It’s very B-grade action movie, to an extent, but it’s captivating and interesting, full of chasing supplies, taking on inevitably-doomed chores, and playing one side against another. The smallest actions feel like they’re pivotal to the world and it all comes together quite nicely.
That said, it’s everything that happens in between accepting and completing missions that makes Dying Lights such a joy to play.
So what are the real hooks of Dying Light? Well, for one it truly is an open-world experience. Thanks to the unique free-running abilities of the character Crane, you do have the free-rein to scale, vault and navigate your way over, under and around just about anything in the game world. Clambering up walls while the undead snap at your heels is a fantastic rush. You’ll have to use melee weapons to get you through the tough situations, and while you can get firearms, your real weapon is your agility and speed – and you’ll need to remember this.
You see, the game has a real-time day-and-night cycle, so in the day, things are pretty standard zombie-fare. The undead clammer towards you and are alright in ones or twos, but if they surround you, your life expectancy meets that of an ice-cube in the Karoo.
But at night is when the real danger emerges. You’ve got to keep an eye on the sun, as when it sets, a whole bunch of other creepy things that like killing things come out of the shadows. The hunter is a mutated zombie… thing, that can chase you up buildings, over walls and just about everywhere. There’s no use in fighting them, so it basically becomes a terrifying cat-and-mouse game where you have to run for your life until you get to a safe zone or home base.
Speaking of the safe zones, they’re essentially like the radio towers in Far Cry 4. They’re spread across the map and require you to “liberate” them, so to speak – basically kill everything and turn the power on, and boom – you’ve now got a new hiding spot when the hunters come after you, or if you want to store some of your inventory, which is another core part of the game.
Picking up derelict objects is no collection-game, but rather a tactical strategy. Items can be crafted to make weapons, bombs or usable tools, such as lock-picks or throwing stars. There’s a great sense of scavenging and risk-reward, as you’ll have to decide whether to use your alcohol to make a Molotov cocktail or medkit.
With all that’s said, the real star of the show is the city of Harran – it’s dense, broken yet beautiful, and full of interesting areas to explore – and it acts as the concrete playground of death that rolls out in Dying Light. It’s hard not to commend Techland on the innovation and ideas brought to the setting of the game.
So, should you’re asking yourself: ‘should I buy Dying Light?’. The answer is another question: do you enjoy Rambo movies? George Romero-esque zombie flicks? The idea of drop kicking zombies into spikes? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, you’re probably already on your way to the store.