Review: Dying Light

  • With Dying Light, developer Techland have refined their pedigree forged in the zombie apocalypse, and brought a crisper vision of the shambling hordes to gamers. It’s an open-world survival game about Harran, a city infested with zombies.Thrown into the city as Kyle Crane, you start completely out of your depth. Your best course in the early stages is to completely avoid whatever walkers roam the streets, be sparing with your weapons and do your best to stay amongst the living. It’s easier said than done, and true to being completely unprepared, it’s a struggle.A single zombie will take a major beating, but as soon as a second or even third shows up, it’s almost always best to bail. The spooky (and very dangerous) nights are going to be the biggest area of nope at this stage, meaning those gorgeous amber sunsets might as well be klaxon-accompanied emergency lights.
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As you do make your way around the city, occasionally taking out a zombie here and there, running errands for different NPCs, scraping by for both weapons, materials and money, you gain experience which will allow you to unlock additional skills, which are split into three main categories and holding three tiers in each.

Once you do reach the second tier of skills, that’s where the feel of the game shifts from pure survival to one of resilience – you can stand against a few zombies, you’ll start to use the environment or the zombies against each other, and not freak so much about another one wandering near. Night is still a tense situation at this stage, but it doesn’t seem the impossible task that it does when you’re fresh meat.

If it were just about the polish on the world (no pun intended), or even the dangerous tweaks that come from a nocturnal nature walk, it wouldn’t be enough to set it apart from its spiritual sibling. The new game feel it offers comes very much from the momentum that comes from the parkour which will be your prime way of moving around Harran.

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Even in your first steps, it’s easy to make your way around while above the ground level. As you get better and progress further, the move from ground to roof, to free-flowing air vaults will have you feeling like you’re somewhere between Faith from Mirror’s Edge or Altair from Assassin’s Creed.

It’s an entirely different rush to the heart-pounding peril of blindly running through dark streets, which is still just tense as fuck. Thankfully the game doesn’t force you into those moments too often. But it does sometimes, because Techland are jerks (but in the nicest way, since they very generously provided our copy of the game and are really lovely people too, but night-time… jerks).

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These rooftop escapades change again once you reach Old Town (aka Sector Zero). Old Town has a completely different feel, giving the impression of a Florentine skyline, and building the idea that this part of the city is an older place. The ground traffic is thicker here, and more lethal, yet it’s even easier to be above it all.

The different stories told within the city of Harran evoke a sense of place, many individuals with lives that exist alongside the end of civilisation, rather than all directly as a result of it. Some have tasks that they want you to do, or be getting by with the best of what they’re able to do. There’s tragedy sometimes, and even in the world explored, a sense that some just haven’t coped with what’s happened to their lives.

However they act, it’s not for the sake of getting them to zombify their lives, but to get on with their lives in a shitty situation. Scared people looking to protect their family that then go too far? People betraying others or reneging on deals made? These are facets of real world-end scenarios that would arise whether it was a plague of the undead or not.

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Some rise to the occasion and others plunge to new depths. In this the player’s role as Crane serves as a microcosm of the wider population: touched by the virulent, a little untrustworthy and a little bit saviour. Dying Light doesn’t quite get the characterisation for Crane to something relatable, and is instead much closer to the generic video game protagonist, yet it’s not Crane’s story, really.

He is in the thick of it, even a saviour of sorts, but the story told through lore, the environment and Dying Light as a whole surpasses what it offers as the main story.

Shhhhhh…

Be vewy vewy quiet.

We’re hunting zombies.

There are a few games that have no right being as enjoyable as they are. One of my favourite gaming memories was playing side-by-side co-op through the fairly average Dead Island, working together from okay start to okay finish, but working together and enjoying every bit.

With this game, it’s deserved. Dying Light is fun.

It’s exciting from the start, though becomes much more rewarding after adrenaline and dying less are your main weapons. Getting to the point of being able to toy with the zombies, pushing them around, slicing off a limb, it’s pretty sick (in both senses of the word). Even if you get overrun, safety is only a hop, skip and a jump away.

Unless it’s night time, because night is the absolute worst and you can’t make me play it.

But you should.

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