Techland is a studio that is quickly proving itself to be ‘The’ studio for producing zombie games that are both interesting and fun. Dying Light is their latest entry into the genre, and it’s an entry that mixes zombies, RPG elements and zombies into a compelling story about the city of Harran after an outbreak. The title is published by WB Games here in Australia and is available on the PC, PS4 and XBOne platforms.
In Dying Light, the players assume the role of the Player Character Kyle Crane. Crane is a kind of Secret Agent that works for a firm called the GRE, or Global Relief Effort. The GRE had him attempt to infiltrate Harran in order to track down a dangerous terrorist, one that assumed the title of ‘Rais’ and has become a powerful warlord in this new Harran. Before coming to Harran, Rais, or Suleiman as his real name is, had stolen GRE files on the virus and releasing them could be dangerous. However, on his arrival, Crane is attacked by Rais’ men, but is soon saved a rivaling faction called ‘The Tower’, named after their massive tower base.
One of the things that I noticed quickly was that the games storyline seems to have that same feeling that Spec Ops had with some of it’s dialogue. Namely that the main character is simply acting as a lapdog and not making his own decisions throughout his time in Harran. Rais himself is the one that plants this idea, and it’s likely just to confuse or annoy the protagonist, but it’s a valid point. One could interpret this as how the player themselves are always following the orders of games in general, and not really having a real choice in things. This is kind of ironic though, because Dying Light doesn’t really give you the option to turn down quests or to do your own thing. If you talk to an NPC and they have a quest for you, the game automatically accepts it. You can choose to ignore it, but, the choice is still made for you.
The sidequests in Dying Light are actually really well done though. While a lot of them boil down to fetch styled quests, they’re actually all mostly important and have lasting effects on the world. Or at the very least, give the impression that they do. For example, one sidequest has you climbing a bridge to remove lights for some kind of super-weapon. Once removed, the lights on the bridge no longer work. There’s another sidequest where you blow a hole in a barricade in a tunnel, and that always stays open after that. These are only some examples, but the game has a lot like them.
Parkour movement is something that we’ve seen popup in recent years in video games. The earliest example that I can think of is Mirrors Edge. That game had an insanely complicated way of doing things that the difficulty in the parkour was in the controls. Since then we’ve had simple and boring parkour in Assassin’s Creed, which has been becoming simpler and simpler in each game. Dying Lights movement is pretty simple itself, in that the majority of the parkour is done with the Right Bumper button by default. However, the difficulty comes from recognising walls that you can climb and ledges that you can grab on to. For the most part there is no real problems there, if a ledge is ledgy, then you can climb onto it, or grab it. If a wall has ledge-like surfaces, you can grab onto it. This also includes cars, roofs and all kinds of other things. The parkour is fast, fluid and incredibly fun. It’ll probably be most players preferred method of movement as it keeps them off of the ground where there are hundreds of zombies, as well as building experience points for the Agility tree in character upgrades.
The city of Harran itself feels like it was built entirely with this parkour mechanic in mind as it is tight enough to almost use parkour to move everywhere. Even more, the storyline levels, which are usually seperate from the main city, feel like they test the players skills in relation to the parkour content. Good level design should always be testing the players skills, and Dying Lights does that without seem unfair in most cases. I say this because sometimes the parkour mechanic is overzealous in its detection and can sometimes leave the player jumping to a ledge too far, or grabbing the wrong ledge. This happened in the quest where you had to climb the bridge to get the lights way too many times. I was climbing the interior of the bridge to head upwards, and while grabbing one ledge, I would aim at the walkway leading to the exit, only to overshoot and end up jumping to my death. But still, outside of instances like that, it’s pretty well done.
What I really enjoyed about the games Zombies, is that they come in a variety of different types. A lot of these feel like your standard types since the Resident Evil days, but combined in this kind of environment, make things pretty interesting. You have things like normal zombies, zombies that can run (and are stronger), big-ass zombies, strong-ass zombies, zombies that carry blocks of cement on a stick and zombies that feel like they do a lot of these mixed together. There are also rare zombies that are scared of the Player Character and serve as both a plot point at one point, and a method of accruing wads of cash at a later point.
Most of the time you can through, over, or on top of a crowd of zombies with relative ease. However, this false sense of security and confidence can often lead you to a rather serious predicament. For example, not taking out the spitting zombies can leave you in a fair bit of danger as they can fire accurately from a pretty far off distance. They also hit you with a slight DOT (damage over time). Getting hit will also mess up your visibility, meaning that zombies will more easily get to you. So while you can get around pretty quickly parkouring through the middle of a street, we’d still recommend killing the spitting zombies.
To kill the zombies, player will require weapons. These weapons start off as pretty basic affairs, things like pipes, wooden planks and the like are some of the first things you’ll encounter. However, after progressing, you’ll also find some cooler stuff like machetes, cricketbats, baseball bats and eventually guns. Using the games crafting system, which is available in the menu, players can also upgrade and modify weapons with all kinds of cool and bizarre effects. For example, adding electricity or fire damage. These effects also change the look of the weapon. Weapons also come in a variety of rarities, which also add effects and modify the damage they can do. These seem to be lifted from the MMORPG model of white(standard), green(uncommon), blue(whatever blue is), purple(epic), orange(legendary).
Various weapons also can inflict different physical ailments to enemy zombies as well. For example, using a cleaving weapon, the player can dismember zombies by hacking off their limbs. Even more, the ground doesn’t equal death, with a legless zombie still able to crawl around and gnaw at the players feet, even grabbing them sometimes. You can also use bats to decapitate zombies, or use guns to shoot their heads and make them explode. Some players have reported that the zombies don’t interact with downed zombies. In my experience, I’ve seen a running zombie trip over a crawling zombie, as well as a zombie corpse. For the most part, walking zombies do somehow avoid downed zombies however.
Some of the zombies feel like a bit of a crossover between vampires and zombies. These zombies are very masculine looking while also appearing to be all cut-up. The zombies only appear at night and are sensitive to UV lights. However, they’re also super agile and super strong, which means that you’re unlikely to survive the encounter. These zombies make the night time segments of the game into either a stealth game, or a ‘gotta-go-fast’ simulator. I played it as the latter. These zombies also have the gift of making other zombies of the same type chase you until you lose them in a safe zone or outrun them. This can get very intense, and a little scary as well.
Luckily, there is a day and night system in place that allows the player to plan their movements through the game should they wish. While the daytime is much safer for traveling, the player loses out on double the experience points that they would get while traveling at night. The day/night cycle is timed pretty well, with it being about 30-40mins per cycle. Or at least that’s how it felt, I wasn’t actually timing it. The player can skip a cycle by resting in a bed in a safe-zone. Resting also fully recovers the players health.
Unlocking safe-zones in the game is a task that is pretty simple in nature. Wander into a red-house icon zone on the map and then kill all of the zombies inside. After that, you’ll need to flick on the power to the zone, activating the UV and bright lights, keeping zombies out. Sometimes you’ll also need to close a gate. There are a few already unlocked safe-zones as well. Like the trading post and Dr. Zere’s research truck.
As previously mentioned, there is a leveling and experience based system in place in Dying Light. Throughout the game, players will be building three different types of experience to level up their character. These are Survivor, Agility and Power. Survivor experience and levels come mostly from surviving the night, unlocking safe-zones and doing side-content. Agility comes from running, jumping, parkouring, dodging and all the other fun stuff in the game. Power comes from the glory of combat, with experience being generated from hitting zombies with various weapons and killing zombies.
As the method of obtaining each form of exp suggests, the skills you can unlock in each tree are representative of the tree itself. So leveling Agility, the best tree, will give you more options in parkouring, like jumping off of zombies. Leveling this tree also gives passive abilities which make parkouring easier and more fluid in motion. The survivor tree gives the player more options in being a survivor. so opening more inventory space, crafting explosives, haggling for better deals and the like. The power tree makes the player stronger and more suited for combat. Power allows players to do more in combat and gain more out of their weapons.
A lot of fun can be gained from combining perks from different leveling trees. For example, when you reach a certain point, you can unlock the ability to do a Flying Kick. Doing a Flying Kick while jumping off the shoulders of another zombie and then using the head-stomping perk is a powerful and fun combo that’s pretty overpowered. You can also run off and then use the tackle perk to knock over zombies as you run to make your escape. The player is always able to do a standard kick, but another perk allows you to use it while jumping, which is also fun.
I really, really enjoyed some of the dialogue in Dying Light. Quite often you’ll meet characters with incredibly quirky personalities that are simply hilarious. Like, I remember this one lady trying to get the leader of the fishing village to kick your ass. “Kick his ass Girikin(I think was his name)!”. Another fun set of characters were the two engineer dudes, people that assumed that the player was completely stupid and took pot-shots at his intelligence at every turn. There was also another character that has some kind of mental issues and has made a replica of his mother out of buckets. Most of the cast have great personalities, but it’s even more special when most side-characters have them too. There’s a lot of humour in the writing, but also a lot of sadness that comes with the setting.
I also enjoyed that there was a lot to do outside of the main storyline and sidequests. Aside from unlocking safe zones, players could also do various challenges along their path. For example, racing other Runners in a time-trial across the city following waypoints, taking a shotgun to film a gory action sequence for a movie and more. This isn’t even mentioning the random encounters that pop up and offer all kinds of cool rewards. I remember escorting this one old guy to get to his fishing spot, listening to him taking glee in looting a pawn shop and one of his friends places for his old rod back.
When it comes to audio, Dying Light is a pretty good example of it done right. During the action sequences, the music is incredibly well done. I’ve seen it likened to Nine Inch Nails by some people, so it’s got that intense electronic industrial vibe to it. However, the music is also a lot more atmospheric when it needs to be, with it being a lot more subtle and in the background while dicking around in the city or in non-action-sequences. The voice work is also incredibly well done, in particular with the characters of The Scorpion and Rais. However, the best lines come from those background side-characters being hilarious, hands-down. Although, Rais does have some pretty amazing speeches.
On the console, it feels like Dying Lights Field of View settings are set a bit too close, giving the game a zoomed in look to it. Even more, there is this filter over everything that gives it a kind of classic zombie movie look, which kind of really suits the game well. Unfortunately the draw distance is pretty close too, where if you’re sitting on a height, the city looks a little lo-res. While you’re running around the streets, everything looks great, it’s until you’re looking off into the distance that things look a bit gamey. However, on saying that, if you climb the bridge as high as you can go and look down at the world, it does look pretty spectacular. I recommend everyone do the mission where you climb the bridge. All of the zombies are pretty grisly looking, with them having all kinds of gross disfigurement to them. The models are pretty detailed though, this extends to characters, as well as objects. In particular the weapons. I like how the weapons get chips and things through them as they get more damaged. Repairing them leaves different kind of visuals against them too, which is nice.
The ending of the games storyline is really satisfactory. I’ve never been so satisfied after playing an FPS zombie game before, and I’m not even someone that likes zombies all that much (they’re a bit overdone to be honest). It’s pretty cool that the game lets you know that you’ll be heading into the last level of the game and that you wont be able to go back without loading an earlier save or beating it, which is nice. And while the final battle is a QTE sequence, which was pretty annoying to be honest, the storyline resolved in a manner that was enjoyable, so it’s okay. The final level itself was a challenge in itself, testing all of the players abilities, so perhaps the level itself was the final boss? Or maybe that was the intention? I don’t know. I just didn’t like that QTE sequence.
Overall, Dying Light is an incredibly well done package that does a lot more right than it does wrong. I’d loved to have seen more choice, considering the story felt like it was pushing the narrative of choice. The parkour, the RPG elements, the city and the characters will probably keep players enjoying this fun experience. There’s enough challenge there to pick this game up again in the future.
Dying Light is developed by Techland and published by WB Games. It is available on PC, XBOne and PS4. This review is based on the XBOne release. The review code was provided by Techlands PR company for review purposes. We received this one day before release, but spent most of that day downloading the game. For some reason it’s 22gb on XBOne. This may be because of the ‘Be The Zombie’ DLC mode. The review is based on a solo run of the campaign mode. Images were supplied by PR. We’re not sure how to screenshot with the Xbox. Dying Light can be purchased from JB Hi-Fi for $79.