I first heard about Dying Light not through the video game community, but through my friend, a parkour enthusiast, which got me intrigued. After doing some research, I found a few gameplay videos of the demo and was curious to find a zombie survival game with the elements of free running mixed in. It was enough to attract my attention, and therefore I pre-ordered it for PC. Now, after receiving my physical copy in the mail yesterday, I played into the early morning hours.
First of all, Dying Light plays as what many people wanted Dead Island to be; a good, open-world zombie game. The zombies, while occasionally glitchy, move and act much like those of Left 4 Dead. The weapons and repair systems are what you’d expect in a real life apocalyptic scenario. The zombie models, however, are incredibly limited, so you may end up fighting 2 or 3 of the same zombie lookalike. Zombies are the slow type during the day just standing the most of the time, unlike Left 4 Dead. However, when they hear a noise, they’ll come towards it slowly. However, it gets more Left 4 Dead-esque at night time. You’ll pretty much get swarmed and attacked almost immediately by dozens of zombies unless you find a safe house. Lockpicking is reminiscent of Fallout or even Dishonored, and can lead to an abundance of loot. However, from an apocalyptic scavenging point of view, there is almost too much loot, as I constantly had a full inventory.
The reason this game is so different is the parkour in-game. It’s smooth, it flows, and it lets you access new places and doesn’t feel scripted. The free running makes the game feel so fresh, so new, so unlike any other zombie game produced. The motions are performed smoothly, and the game’s engine has no problem rendering a series of consecutive parkour moves for a smooth, free-flowing feel to the game. The parkour system really makes up for the lack of interactions with objects in the environment. The system allows you to interact with the terrain more, giving a lot of flexibility on how you can travel to give it more of an open road feel. Similar to a recent AAA release, the parkour reminds me of Titanfall, or those of you who prefer older, more cult-style games, the parkour will definitely resemble that of Mirror’s Edge.
Dying’ Light’s combat system is fluid, and will remind many gamers of Chivalry: Medieval Warfare. The game adds a stamina element, so repeatedly attacking or running drains your stamina. It makes you pick which battles to fight, and which to run from. Unlike the recently released Dead Rising 3, the stamina system makes it physically impossible to clear an entire wave of zombies without getting fatigued. Weaponry is often found lying around in unrealistic quantities, but sometimes its a good thing, since it doesn’t take long to break your weapon. My wrench or pipe would only kill about 3 zombies before it would shatter. Thanks to Dying Light’s weapon repair system, you have the option to fix it or find a new weapon, which isn’t difficult.
The game’s unique feature for finding loot, survivor sense, is a necessity for survival. It will highlight all collectible and lootable items. I used survival sense multiple times, and after learning about it, one of the first thing I just had to do after putting a couple hours into the game was to experience the Destiny-style loot cave. After navigating through the series of underwater tunnels, I came across a cave with 3 chests that had to be lockpicked. After lockpicking the main chest, a message popped up on screen saying “Your destiny is to build your legend (and get loot).” I appreciate a good Easter egg, until numerous zombies spawned behind me, thus prematurely abrupting my time spent in the cave. Was it as epically scaled as Destiny’s loot caves? No way. Not even close. Polish developer Techland just wanted to throw in a good, relevant Easter egg.
The graphics for Dying Light are definitely those of a next-gen game. The game is beautiful, but in particular the particle effects, the shadows, and the lighting are phenomenal and crystal clear. Playing this on a PC, though, the PC port is decent. Considering it’s PC requirements include an Intel Core i5-4670K or AMD FX-8350 for a processor, 8 GB of DDR3 RAM, and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 or AMD Radeon R9 290, my PC had no problem running the game at 60 FPS at High settings. The 60 FPS is beautiful and smooth, and definitely contributes to the fluidity of the parkour movements. There is some occasional, noticeable stuttering, but not anywhere near enough to stop me from playing the game.
For the PC, I felt the keyboard layout was fine. But plugging in a game controller for the console player’s point of view, I felt that the controls were awkward at first. The controls take a little bit to get used to and I feel like some of the buttons are a little counter-intuitive in their placement, like jump being bound to RB/R1. After playing the game for a while, the controls eventually work in the user’s favor once you get used to it.
The game adds a dash of RPG into the zombie survival with stat trees and leveling up. There are 3 categories to which you can level up individually; survival , agility, and power. Survival experience is increased by doing missions or by helping out at randomly-spawning events throughout the map. Agility is leveled by parkouring between buildings, cars, ledges, rocks, etc. The more extreme you make it, falling from great heights into dumpsters or trash piles, the more agility points gained. Power is increased by killing zombies. The more damage that you inflict, the more experience is gained. All of these categories have separate skill trees that can unlocked by hitting higher levels. Dying Light constantly motivates you towards a goal of being a tied-and-true survivalist. Almost all of the skills are useful for any type of situation you might find yourself in. The only negative side is that your Survival experience points go down every time you die. While this makes it more realistic in a sense, it can be a little frustrating if you get stuck on a mission.
The story is lackluster because there isn’t anything new or innovative about it, and I almost didn’t add a story section to this review because it’s an open world game. But since they did add a story to Dying Light, I have to include it. The game would’ve been better off without a story, and the constant battle between fulfilling your original mission and helping the people trapped in Harran gets tiring, but lets you decide how the game will play out. The side missions are tricky and sometimes multiple tries are required, but the rewards usually are survival, experience, cash, weapon upgrades, or weapons. I also didn’t feel any inclination to get to know my character on a personal level, and he never evolves throughout the “story”. However, the story can be saved by the pure enjoyment of playing with friends, since Dying Light features 4 player online co-op, and a bonus mode called “Be the Zombie”, where you can join a friend’s current game as a zombie and play around. This mode was originally planned as DLC, but will now be made available for free in the future.
Now, since I believe in the purest form of OCD, there are those nitpicky things that I have to point out. Small things can make or break a game, in my opinion. On the positive side, I like how when you decapitate a zombie’s head, the blood will actually pool pretty realistically around the severed neck. Also, when you look down, you actually see your legs. It bothers me to play a first person shooter, and not be able to look down and see my legs. Dying Light also has a Field of View slider, something that more AAA games need to add. On the negative side, the mouth movements are out of sync with the voice acting, and the speaking motions look like something from a PS2 game. Also on the nitpicky negative side, when using a zip line, much like in Dying Light, there’s no way a person can slide down a zip line bare-handed without severely injuring their hand to a serious extent.
A heads up for PC gamers looking to buy this game; currently avoid it on Steam. Steam is charging $59.99 when it can be purchased for $49.99 on Amazon in its physical copy, or an Online Game Code. However, for those on PS4 or Xbox One, it will run you $59.99 no matter where you search for it.
Overall, the game is thoroughly enjoyable and I feel it will provide many hours of replay-ability, even without the story. The replay-ability comes through the accessibility of the open-world map with the smooth free running and the realistic and flowing combat. If using a gamepad, the controls will take a little getting used to, but on the PC, the game itself runs beautifully on my medium-high end gaming PC, and with a couple performance optimizations, a medium end computer can do just fine. Of course the game will improve and expand content wise through the release of future DLCs, but for now, Dying Light is currently one hell of an adrenaline rush.