Over ten hours in and the night doesn’t scare me the way it used to. Confident in my own abilities, I know that should any virals decide to give chase I can outrun them with ease, scaling even the tallest of buildings, activating traps and distractions along the way, or I can simply turn and fight, swinging and slicing my way through the zombie hoard leaving limbs and bloodied corpses in my wake. An air drop suddenly appears on my HUD, and I turn and head in that direction, looking forward to the boost in Survivor Points I’ll be awarded when I deliver what I find inside to the quartermaster. Bounding across the high rooftops in Old Town, turning corners and hurdling railings, I jump across a narrow lane, a jump I should make easily. In the darkness, Crane, the hero of our adventure, leaps but fails to grab the ledge I was aiming for. Thinking fast I aim what I think is the grappling hook to the roof edge, pressing L2 quickly only to remember I had the firecrackers selected to serve as a distraction tool from a previous Zombie encounter. I hit the ground hard, the screen fades to black to inform me in large white lettering You Are Dead, and I find myself in the nearest Safehouse, having lost the Survivor Points I’d racked up leaping and fighting in the dark.
And so continues my journey through Dying Light, an entertaining Zombie-slaying RPG from Techland, the developer of Dead Island fame. Dying Light continues in a similar vein – searching buildings for items to craft into weapons and supplies, helping fellow survivors and levelling up along the way. The formula works well, and the few control gripes that Dead Island had seem to be ironed out here. Combat and movement feel fluid, and when you start to understand the crafting and modding systems weapons feel powerful and weighty when swung at certain areas of the endless Zombies that plague Harran, the fictional town at the centre of this current Zombie outbreak.
Said outbreak isn’t the focus of the games story, as is usually typical of games in this ilk. Instead, the story resolves around the main character Crane, who parachutes into Harran at during the opening of the game and is immediately bitten upon landing. Rescued and ferried to safety, the storyline develops to reveal he is on the hunt for a file that is hidden somewhere in the town, but exactly who and what the file contains remain a mystery during the first opening beats of the story. You can quickly progress the story should you wish, but the beauty of Dying Light lay within exploring the town itself, and Harran is littered with Easter eggs and little nods should you take the time to hunt them out.
The first few missions helps get to grips with the controls, explaining the basics of running and jumping and climbing, or Parkour if you prefer. At first the controls and first-person view seem to bash heads more than they compliment each other, but this is very quickly overcome and soon you are zipping up buildings and across rooftops with ease. Jumping and climbing is mapped to the R1 button, and the more you jump and climb, the better you get at it, with the game having three main areas that you level up over the course of the game – Survivor, Power and Agility. Agility is levelled up by jumping and climbing, Power by combat, and Survivor by helping fellow survivors and completing side quests. Each one has their related Skill Tree with abilities that focus on the relevant area, meaning the more you fight or climb, the better you become at each. This simple system helps the game remain fresh and stops frustration kicking in, especially around the halfway point in the story when you unlock the second area of Harran, Old Town, where the buildings are taller and the Zombies themselves tougher.
The game slowly drip feeds different Zombie types as the story jogs along, the usual biters making up the basic fodder, but later on some bigger, tougher Zombies start turning up. One of the key mechanics of the game is the day and night cycle, where even more Zombie types are introduced. During the day the map is populated mainly with biters, especially during the games early stages. This all changes at night, when the stronger, faster Virals appear. Exploring at night early on is a constant trade off between as the experience gained is doubled but the enemies are stronger, and any extra Survivor points you gain are lost should you die. During the early stages of the game night time is a constant series of short journeys between the Safehouses spread out across the map that are unlocked by clearing them out of the undead and flicking on a few fuse boxes to maintain their defences. At night these Safehouses are invaluable as you can plot your journey using them as checkpoints of safety should you be pursued. Equally as useful, should you die while out and about, you will spawn at the nearest Safehouse, day and night. If you haven’t any unlocked in the immediate vicinity, trekking back to your last location can be a chore, with Dying Light lacking a fast travel system – this is understandable as levelling up depends on you climbing and fighting as much as possible, but tracking multiple quests can feel like a chore when the icons are spread out all over the map.
The story itself ticks off the usual Zombie trope plot points with twists and turns along the way offering few real surprises, but the better part of Dying Light is helping the survivors holed up at various points along the map, some offering quests, some presenting challenges, or others as simply escort quests. During the early stages of the game these quests are a great way to level up quickly, unlocking useful skills and attributes to make surviving in Harran that little bit easier. The majority of these quests are the basic fetch quest, go here and get this and bring it back to me, but all offer extra insight and backstory into what was happening and what has gone on in Harran before your arrival. Quarantine zones are another side quest that can be found hidden around the map, areas that were locked down during the initial few days of the outbreak. These zones offer a change of pace from the main story, as you raid different buildings on the hunt for supplies or to simply clear the area of the infected that pollute it. Techland have done a good job with the various distractions found around Harran, and during the initial stages they all work well to help absorb you more into the world that they have created, however I did find myself ignoring sidequests around the midway point of the story, the lack of fast travel a major downside when I was sufficiently levelled up and simply couldn’t be bothered running from one side of the map to the other.
Crafting is a critical part of Dying Light, and Techland have done an astounding job of making the town seem alive. Exploring buildings, fridges, cupboards and bags can be searched, with everything from alcohol to string being plundered to be then sold or used to create weapons and equipment. Upon entering a new room or area, Crane has a survivor sense that can be activated by holding the X button that when activated, highlights all the objects in the immediate vicinity that can be picked up or searched. The sheer amount of items that can be picked up is a bit overwhelming at first, but the attention to detail here has to be applauded. Exploring further you can find Blueprints that unlock further items to be crafted, and the more you get to grips with this system, the better weapons and equipment you can craft. This in itself can become quite the distraction from the story – early on in the game I found a powerful Blueprint, and I spent the next few hours hunting high and low for the various ingredients I required to craft it.
The main frustration for me playing Dying Light was the way sometimes simple activities could become overly complicated throw-controller-at-the-wall annoying chores down to the sometimes clunky way the game plays. A particularly sore point is scaling high buildings, whether on the hunt for supplies or as part of a quest. One such example is a quest that requires you to make your way out to a large bridge, either swimming or running avoiding the Zombies that clog the highway, then scale the innards of a support structure to an open door above the road itself. This journey took a good 5 minutes from the nearest unlocked Safehouse, and once there you then had to run and jump, falling the 50 feet or so to the ground and aim to land in the trashpile at the bottom, cushioning your fall and ultimately preventing your demise – a simple, videogame trope used time and time again. Such a simple task, getting to this point soon became the frustrating part, the time it took to get there being the chore. Lining up the jump and landing safely in the cushion of rubbish was such an annoying, overly frustrating thing to do that when I finally did succeed and complete the quest I had to leave the game alone for a few hours as it simply wasn’t fun for a while. If the difficulty stemmed from a tricky jump or difficult boss, I could handle that and would probably have not had to walk away – what was frustrating is that something so simple was made difficult by the game simply not registering the numerous times I made the jump, killed me anyway, to simply spawn me the 5 minutes away to start the journey all over again. After a few deaths and respawns I had it in my head that I could do it (having made it the first time and not realising it would become such an onerous task) the journey from Safehouse to Bridge became such a monotonous journey that all the fun was sapped from the game – insult to injury was added as every death meant the loss of Survivor Points, meaning my journey to a level up was made that bit longer.
For what is a relatively minor gripe, I do feel it played a part in me simply sticking to the main storyline once I felt strong enough to plough through the missions with ease. This on my part feels like I’m not doing the game justice, as I have found it fun and enjoyable and some of the side quests are genuinely interesting and fun, but the few frustrations I have encountered have been when completing a side quest or challenge.
Overall Dying Light is an exciting, enjoyable and at times frustrating take on the Zombie apocalypse. The Parkour system is a fresh take on moving around a town overrun by the infected, and once you get to grips with the First Person view and the controls, moving across Harran feels exciting and fluid, and swinging weapons as the infected swarm down upon you makes you feel both intimidated and powerful, both in a good way. If surviving a Zombie apocalypse sounds like your idea of a good time, then Dying Light should be right up your street.
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