- Format: Xbox One (version reviewed), PS4, PC
- Unleashed: Out now (US), Out now (Digital rest of world), 27th February (Physical rest of world)
- Publisher: Warner Bros Interactive
- Developer: Techland
- Players: 1 (offline), 1-4 (online)
- Site: http://dyinglightgame.com/?lang=en_UK
- Game code provided by Xbox
The signs weren’t good for this game. The physical release outside of America was pushed back a month even though the digital version arrived on time. Even more ominous, the biggest sites on the interweb had review code withheld until the game’s release was mere hours away; this was always a cast-iron guarantee that the game in question is broken, no fun, or both.
Until – much to our pleasant surprise – now.
Dying Light grips firmly to a long list of games for its ideas, including (but not limited to) Mirror’s Edge, The Last Of Us, Dead Rising, Condemned, and Far Cry. To be blunt, there’s not a single idea here that hasn’t been seen elsewhere; often a dozen times or more. These many ideas have never been brought together in such a way before however and, importantly, it’s been done well. Even the dialogue and acting are (generally) better than you’d expect and, while the overarching plot is clichéd and predictable, it’s presented well enough to hold your interest.
For reasons we shan’t go into, your chap parachutes into a zombie-infested city cut off from the outside world. By himself. On purpose. His stupidity certainly gives you plenty to do however, as this means an endless supply of undead heads to cave in, and a handful of desperate survivors happy to give you quests of both the main and side varieties. You’ll have the opportunity to make bullets fly out of a gun – eventually – but the vast majority of combat in the game will involve a melee weapon. Makeshift weapons such as hammers, crowbars and axes can be found, bought, and upgraded. They all have varying damage and ‘handling’ values, as well as one for durability; you can only slap around so much rotten flesh with a weapon before it starts to break. Throw in combat stamina that rapidly depletes with each swing, and you’ll soon learn to make every swipe count.
Of course, the mechanic that’s got everybody’s attention is the parkour element. It’s surprising that this hasn’t been used in a zombie game before; after all, if the streets were full of zombies and all you had to defend yourself was a bit of pipe, wouldn’t you at least try to hop over things and climb things that weren’t meant to be climbed? And so it is that you can pull yourself on top of vehicles, clamber up walls, leap across rooftops, whizz down the occasional zipline, and perform death defying stunts at great heights that no sane person would even consider. It’s not as liberatingly exhilarating as Mirror’s Edge, but it’s much smoother than Assassin’s Creed, and works extremely well.
Getting yourself six feet off the ground is enough to ensure safety from most enemies, but ‘most’ isn’t ‘all’. Aside from the depressingly inevitable (but thankfully never overused) spitting zombie type that’s introduced several hours in, there’s the occasional zombie still aware enough to try a clumsy climb of its own if you’re not very high. Then there’s the depressingly inevitable (but thankfully never overused) exploding zombie that’s flung at you during the course of the story. Even on the rooftops, though, you can’t always breathe easy.
‘Virals’ are the recently infected that you’ll come across in ones or twos now and again. In contrast to the slow and dopey standard infected, Virals are extremely fast and agile. While they don’t take any more damage than standard they can run, climb, and even dodge your attacks. In isolation they’re not really a problem; but they’re attracted by loud noises (gunfire, explosions, a bodged jump from up high) which can make life difficult when you’re fighting the undead en masse. This is all good for earning XP, though. The Survivor XP tree is essentially ‘general’ XP, which sits alongside Power (combat) and Agility. Your play style dictates which abilities and upgrades you get access to first, and this actually seems to work quite well.
Dying Light is a polished, very good looking game. This includes great lighting which enhances the day/night cycle. Y’see, during the darkest corner of the night, you really can’t see more than a few inches in front of you most of the time without switching on your torch. During the night, XP earned is doubled – because this is when the ‘Volatiles’, essentially extra-deadly versions of Virals (quick to see your torch light by the way), come out to play. You’ll get a warning when night is approaching, enough time to reach your nearest safehouse (especially if you take the time to secure ones you come across on your travels). Death in this game means losing a big chunk of XP, and anything you used before death stays used; but enemies you killed stay killed. Are you confident enough to make night excursions worth the risk?
Medkits are extremely rare, while many other items such as molotovs (great for crowd control) can never be found. You therefore lean heavily on crafting. In truth however, if you’re as methodical/obsessive in scavenging as we are, you’ll rarely – if ever – find yourself unable to craft what you need; and crafting is done while the game is paused. Largely because of this, Dying Light never comes close to the tension and knife-edge atmosphere of Zombi U.
Similarly, although messing around in an undead-flooded city with others is fun, we strongly recommend going through the main story alone. With nobody to watch your back (or mumble through a headset), the odds are constantly stacked against you, and the atmosphere enjoys maximum polish. Besides, the start and end of the story are singleplayer only – partly because the final boss is (disappointingly) a mercifully brief and painless QTE sequence.
We recommend waiting for the cheaper physical release, but this is a zombie outing worth taking. The activities outside of the 16-20 hour story may boil down to fetch quests and escort missions, but come on; those undead heads won’t explode by themselves.