Polish developer Techland burst onto the scene with their shooters in the mid-2000’s, Chrome and Call of Juarez. After releasing Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide alongside publisher Deep Silver, they split from the franchise and began working on Dying Light. Being another open-world, zombie game set in an exotic locale, is Dying Light original enough to stand out from Techland’s previous franchise?
Step into the shoes of Kyle Crane, a Global Relief Effort (GRE) operative. Crane parachutes into the quarantined city of Harran to retrieve sensitive data being used to black mail the GRE. He quickly discovers that there is a struggle in the city that spans larger than the zombie outbreak; Kadir “Rais” Suleiman and his vicious gang are preying on survivors and are at war with the community living in “The Tower”. While Crane’s initial objectives align with helping the peaceful survivors in The Tower, it soon leads to conflict between his mission and helping the people of Harran.
The story of Dying Light is certainly a huge improvement over that of Dead Island. Sadly, it still doesn’t live up to the potential that it could have reached. Dying Light‘s story missions are almost exclusively fetch quests that force the player to spend half an hour walking across the city to reach. The character of Crane is about as nondescript as protagonists can get. The internal struggle he experiences between helping people and completing his mission would have been what made Crane a memorable character, but after the first third of the game, Crane takes the predictable route of, “Fuck the Man” and settles comfortably into his insipid role. The supporting characters and enemies are all underdeveloped and one-dimensional, but that’s par for the course of AAA games these days. The real joy comes from the multitude of side-quests which feature more colorful characters and interesting (and sometimes hilarious) events. There is never a shortage of things to do in the city of Harran, with constant random events and airdrops.
Parkour is a major focus throughout the game. Particularly since the game is incredibly difficult at the beginning, your best option to survive is to run for your life. There are two experience bars to fill: Agility and Power. Agility is filled by jumping building-to-building, climbing, and vaulting obstacles. Power is filled by combat with zombies and killing enemies. Having these two separated actually makes for a fun choice in gameplay, deciding if you want to fight or run. Where the Agility skill gets interesting is after the sun sets. During the night, all Agility experience is doubled and there is a bonus of Survival experience at the end of the night. The catch is that the Volatiles come out at night. Volatiles are faster than you, more agile than you, and stronger than you. When travelling Harran at night, you have the option to attempt sneaking past the Volatiles, but once you’re seen all Volatiles in the area will begin hunting you. The double experience for Agility makes venturing out at night a tempting offer, but the danger that you face can cost you your life.
Excluding the parkour, the game handles strikingly similar to Dead Island. You mainly use melee weapons to hack your way through the zombie hordes. There is still the same crafting mechanic of gathering blueprints and parts to add crazy modifications to your weapons, but the repair system has been dramatically changed. Instead of constantly searching for repair tables to get your whompin’ stick back to normal, each item has a limited amount of repairs that can be done on the fly. So, your badass, flaming turbo-katana will eventually run out of repairs and become useless. While, I enjoy the challenge that it creates by not letting players rely too heavily on one or two strong weapons, it can become pretty tiresome when your last weapon breaks and you have to go back to the weakest common items.
Visually speaking, this game lives up to the standard of current-gen AAA titles. Character models are a little stiff, but the textures and details make the game come alive. The city of Harran is an interesting setting for the game and the developers take full advantage of the cultural styles of Turkey and Iran. The sound design is equally well-executed. The days in Harran can be eerily quiet, with the player only hearing the occasional groaning of zombies and the wind flapping carpets. The nights are dead silent, until you are spotted by a Volatile. Then it becomes a nightmare filled by pounding footsteps and the screams of the Volatiles chasing you. The soundtrack to Dying Light was a pleasant surprise, mostly using 80’s Revival/Electronic Outrun music.
I understand that the current fad in gaming is to release a completely broken, buggy game and rake in all of that pre-order money, but Dying Light tries (and somewhat fails) to avoid that. Granted, Dying Light’s bugs and glitches aren’t gamebreaking or something you’ll have to deal with constantly. But, it can be a little frustrating when I’m climbing some rubble and become trapped outside the map. Maybe they’ve created such a powerful parkour mechanic that it can let players jump right out of the game? Another issue is the bump mapping and texture load times. When entering new areas, it can take a good fifteen or twenty seconds for any of the textures to load, leaving the player to wander the world of colored blobs and blurry walls.
Despite borrowing heavily from Techland’s previous series, Dead Island, Dying Light creates a unique atmosphere and exciting gameplay. Dying Light has fast-paced action, pulse-pounding chases at night, and close-quarter scares, but suffers from repetitive gameplay and tedious story missions. I feel like Dying Light had a lot of potential and it actually seemed to fulfill most of that, but the boredom inspired by the fetch quests and long, unavoidable walks across the city drain a lot of the fun out of the game. I’m still hopeful for the series and this is certainly a step in the right direction for Techland, leaving the jungles of Banoi for the city of Harran.