Dying Light: Reasons to be afraid of the dark…

There are a number of ideas within the overall horror genre that will remain popular forever, it seems, and currently the arguably most popular of these is the idea that people can die, and then come back in the form of shambling, famished undead that prey on the living in a mindless pursuit to satisfy their unnatural hunger. Or, more simply put, zombies are cool.

Developer Techland has spent some time riding the zombie bandwagon, which has been spurred on by movies, TV series and books including the likes of World War Z and The Walking Dead. Everyone seems to be keen on zombies these days, and Techland has taken full advantage. Although their first attempts at first person zombie smashing, in the form of the Dead Island games, came with numerous warts, the titles did well enough to spur Techland on to further, more ambitious development, and to jump ship to publishers Warner Bros. The result of their latest efforts is Dying Light, a sprawling free-roaming adventure in which the zombies are plentiful, the weapons are crazy and daylight is the player’s best friend.

The premise and plot are relatively simple. The fictional city of Harran (which has no bearing on the small village of Harran in Norway) has been quarantined after a brutal virus left most of the population as mindless zombies. Although no proper geographical location is given, Harran has a distinctly Middle Eastern feel to it, complete with the accents of NPCs (as well as their names) and the fact that the snacks the player will find lying around (which, like in Dead Island, provide health boosts) are things like halva and baklava.

The player’s character, Kyle Crane, a freelance operative for an organisation known as the GRE, is sent into Harran to recover stolen files that contain a spurious cure for the virus before they are released to the world. But pretty much from the word go, nothing goes as planned, and Crane finds himself fighting for his own survival through a long story quest, peppered with numerous side quests and lots of exploration not to mention copious zombie slaying.

Traversing the cityscape is part of the fun that Dying Light has to offer. It makes use of a parkour system that will see the player scaling building and making death defying leaps all over the place. The first person perspective and slightly odd control assignments necessitate an early, steep learning curve as far as this goes. Combined with the fact that, for the first while at least, Crane is something of a wimp when it comes to fighting, the first while that the player spends in Harran may prove a little frustrating. But perseverance is rewarded, and soon Crane will be leaping about and lacerating undead with the best of them.

Harran really is a massive playground, and there is a lot to do, even just from an exploration point of view. Scavenging parts and goods is vital in this game, and so the player will likely want to spend quite a bit of time exploring, digging through rubbish bins, picking locks and finding stuff needed to help construct modified weapons. Like Dead Island, Dying Light relies on blueprints for modified weapons to help the player set about the business of zombie-bashing more effectively, but this game allows construction and modification of those weapons on the fly, rather than at a workstation. Weapons can also be repaired a number of times, which adds a little longevity to the player’s favourite implements of undead destruction, and further modifications (which are rare, but valuable) can be tacked on to improve things like damage, durability and ease of use.

The game places an extremely strong emphasis on melee combat. In fact, firearms (unless used against human opponents, which also exist in Harran) are almost pointless. Worst of all, their noise attracts the undead, including the more vicious, smarter, more recently-infected Virals.

That can be an advantage, though… players are provided with potential for interesting ways to get rid of zombies. Fire-crackers, for example, are a great way to attract attention to a given spot, allowing the player to clear areas and slip through. But they also work well when a large group of zombies moves towards the noise, if the player has a Molotov cocktail at the ready. Mass zombie barbeques provide a fair amount of experience.

Player progression takes place on three levels, which are basically combat skills, movement skills and overall survivor skills. Each set earns experience independent of the others, so doing a lot of fighting but not a lot of parkour will mean that the player might have monstrous fighting abilities, but will suck at scaling walls. It’s a system that smartly rewards individual play styles. And then there’s the concept that the game draws its name from; when the sun goes down, the zombies get tougher, and other, more powerful zombies show up. The focus of the game shifts palpably at night, moving from an action adventure to a tense stealth affair. This adds a whole new element to the game which brings a lot of tension into the mix, making Dying Light even more enjoyable.

And, of course, there is co-operative multiplayer, which changes the feel of the game rather significantly, and adds even more depth to the experience. Close cooperation between players can truly enhance the feel of the title, although going solo being the lone wolf and taking this very dangerous world on by yourself still hold a lot of appeal, too.

In the end, Dying Light is in many ways a spiritual successor to Dead Island (a full sequel of which, under different developers, is due later this year). The game feels very similar to Techland’s previous efforts, but smarter ideas (like on the fly crafting and the split experience system) make Dying Light its own beast. And while it has a few warts (it’s difficult to find a game that doesn’t these days) the overall effect of Dying Light is one of great satisfaction. This is a game that will keep you going for many, many hours, even if the plot is a little thin.

The real stars here are the weapons, the environment, the experience system and the sheer freedom that it offers the player… adding all these things together, and combining them with challenging zombies that don’t feel like the same enemy over and over again, as well as providing the player with all the tools for inventive play, make Dying Light a game that is well worth experiencing. You’ll need to look past a few small problems here and there, and possible a cheap death or two, but the game is generally forgiving and extremely enticing, making the few problems that it does have pale in comparison to the fun that can be squeezed out of doing battle with the undead in the streets of Harran.

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