The short of it:
Dying Light is an impressive Co-Op game that allows you and 3 other friends to take down Zombies in a spectacular fashion, while clambering up and over obstacles. Working together, it’s a lot of fun. You may find the game’s mechanics are a little too familiar, played a million times before in different renditions. If you can get by that, it’s a great experience. Even better, if you love those mechanics, it’s like Oreo’s and Ice Cream. The lighting effects – particularly the day and night cycles – may have you pausing your game to take in the sights, while of course keeping one eye on your watch or the horizon. Those expecting something entirely new may be a little disappointed, because the final product isn’t quite the same as what was first advertised. It’s very close, though.
The long of it:
“Okay, where to next?”, my Xbox Live friend, “Souless” asks me. We’re standing on the top of a large radio tower. With every passing second, the world around is growing darker. This is the city of Harran, devastated by a zombie infection. It’s also Techland and Warner Bros. new game, Dying Light.
“Well, we have that last area to check out to the North…”, I say, glancing over at the horizon. The sun is gone, the only lights around us coming from the city. A message appears, alerting us that Night is Coming, and strange screeching sounds can be heard in the distance.
“Or we can just go home.” I say. “Drop this stuff off.”
Suddenly, there’s a rumble sound, causing our controllers to shake.
“Airdrop!” Souless calls out. “Where?”
I catch sight of the plane as it banks and a box falls from it’s rear. The plane goes along its merry way and the box lands not too far from a zipline connected to our tower. A light blue flare shoots up into the sky from it’s location, and I mark a waypoint on our map that we both can see.
“Not too far from us, on my side. Waypoint set, let’s go!” I say, and ride the zipline down. Souless arrives near me a few seconds later, and we start running towards the package. On our radar, two blips appear near the drop site, complete with vision cones, pointed in the opposite direction of where we’re coming from.
“I’ve got two Night Hunters. One to our left, and another at our 2’o clock.” I say, our characters climbing up and over sheds, houses and finally arriving at the site. Before us are two large orange crates, illuminated in a blue light.
“Sweet! We got here first.” I say, opening one chest. Souless opens the other. If you take too much time getting to these drops, chances are you’ll have to fight others for their contents or come up empty-handed when you reach the packages. We’ve got medical supplies to fight the infection. The folks at our home base will pay us well to bring this back.
“Got a survival kit and some meds. I’m heading out.” Souless says, coming over to me and checking my crate. In Co-Op, Dying Light lets up to 4 players jump into the game. Whenever any chest is opened, it’s contents are available to everyone – meaning that I snatch some Coffee, I’m not taking it from any one player. They’ll all have their Coffee or item available in the box as well. I move to Souless’ crate and pick up some more goodies. I do notice his blip on the map move away from mine, and one of the vision cones turn toward me. A sharp scream cuts through the night.
“They’re on me, go, go, go!!” I say and I’m off. While running at full speed, I tap the “Y” button to look behind me, and there’s this weird muscle-bound creature sprinting on my tail, its appearance similar to Guillermo Del Toro’s vampires in Blade II and The Strain. A quick flash from my UV light disturbs the creature, giving me a few seconds to duck down an alley and break the line the sight. Thankfully, we’ve set up this online session so that we don’t have Zombie Invasions. With that feature enabled, other players can actually jump into Co-Op games as Night Hunters, chasing the rest of the crew with better mobility. We’re hustling up and over walls and eventually make it back home to the safety of our home base and it’s UV spotlights.
We decide to call it a night.
If you merged together the movement style of EA’s Mirror’s Edge, the Zombie Onslaught of Techland’s Dead Island, added the Outpost game mechanic of Ubisoft’s Farcry 3 & 4 and the randomization of weapons from Gearbox’s Borderlands series, you’d probably end up with Dying Light. All of it feels very familiar once you start playing it (though this isn’t entirely a bad thing). I’ll admit that at the first gameplay session, I was worried by the control system, especially having come from years of Mirror Edge. Additionally, the game picked up some controversy by not lifting the embargo for reviews until the last-minute, even though both companies stated that they’d avoid doing so. I’ve adjusted to it, and I’m really enjoying the game so far.
In the game, you play Kyle Crane, voiced by Roger Craig Smith (Resident Evil’s Chris Redfield and Assassin’s Creed’s Ezio Auditore), an agent dropped into the city of Harran to locate a missing official, requiring him to go undercover. The moment he parachutes into the city, he’s attacked both by an enemy raiders and is bit by a Zombie. Though infected, he and others have been able to keep the change at bay by the use of a medicine called Antizen. The Antizen is delivered to the town daily via airdrops. During the day, it’s a safe as an episode of the Walking Dead. You travel from place to place, scavenging parts from places and money from Zombies. When the sun sets, the Night Hunters rise. You’re given fair warning of the sunset by way of a Purge-like announcement. The game’s menu also comes with a clock to let you keep track (though this is only revealed after the tutorial missions). suppose they’ve studied Parkour as well, because when they chase you, it takes every skill you know to evade them and break the line of sight. It’s not as terrifying as I thought it would be, but you’ll die a lot if you’re not careful. The fear in Dying Light’s Nighttime sequences isn’t whether a Night Hunter will find you, but getting swarmed by them. Once one pursues you, they all pursue you. If you’re not ready for the night, you can sleep it off at any safe zone and handle your tasks in the daytime. The game does reward you for nighttime runs by automatically doubling the amount of experience you gain for your Agility and Power, letting you easily level up if you’ve the courage to do so.
The default controls in Dying Light are surprisingly simple. The right bumper is your best friend, allowing you to jump and vault. Where Mirror’s Edge had you flipping between your left and right fingers like a pinball machine, the single jump button of Dying Light lets you move with ease. As long as you hold the jump button and are looking at where you want to go, you’re guaranteed to grab a ledge. This is particularly important when descending ledges. What should be a drop and grab becomes a free fall if you don’t hold that button. More advanced moves, like sliding, tackling, drop kicking need to be unlocked as you gain experience. This was the element that bothered me in my first levels of the game. Part of me was under the impression that I’d be fully mobile, wall running doing all those crazy parkour moves right from the start.
The attack button is right below that, allowing you to swing such as pipes, sticks and knives with ease. The weapons you pick up do get damaged over time, so you’ll need to repair them (usually while running). Swinging on Zombies takes its toll on your player, and you only have so much stamina to work with before rushing back into the fray. Weapons can also be upgraded with electrical or fire damage, which the game seems to borrow from Borderlands. Eventually, you move up to guns, but I can’t say how well that factors into a game like where some of your enemies are rushing at you as the same speed you move.
Once the sun sets, the Night Hunters come out, and they’re hungry.
The skill tree system is wonderful. You’re given 3 types of skill trees – Survival (points awarded for crafting items and helping others), Agility (points awarded for climbing, vaulting and using other abilities), and Power ( points awarded through creatively kicking some zombie butt). These are really fun, and I can’t wait to unlock some of these features. For example, the Survival tree has the camouflage ability that allows one to rub dead guts all over themselves and walk among the infected without drawing attention, though attacking will kill the cloak. Other abilities include being able to slide and break an un-expecting zombie’s leg, or rig a car to explode a bunch of Zeds in one shot while you stand on a rooftop and laugh.
From a graphics standpoint, Dying Light is sweet. Harran (or what I’ve seen of it anyway), is more or less a favela (think of that first chase in The Incredible Hulk or Fast Five). I get the notion that the map may expand. I hope it does, because it’s rather small right now. Still, the city’s transition from Night to Day, along with the weather effects just add to the atmosphere of a place gone sour. Blood sprays are the norm, rendered at near 1080p on the Xbox One and at 1080p on the PS4. I’ve yet to run into any slowdown issues with all of the running that’s being done. Another standout is the loading time. Coming off Mirror’s Edge, which gave you these incredible load times while you stood in an elevator, Dying Light’s transitions between stages are a jaw dropping delight. Then again, I’ve only moved up to Next Gen recently, and that sense of power’s new to me. Others may disagree.
Dying Light will have you facing against hordes of zombies, but so far, I haven’t seen any that are this big.
Another feature I like is the “New Game” system. If you’ve played through part the game with a friend, but don’t wan’t to break that connection where you both left off, you can choose to make a brand new game that starts you at the end of the tutorial and lets you keep your skills progression. So, if your player is a level 9 in everything (the top is 25 in everything) in your original game, you can keep that. Your weapons, however, don’t come with you.
In terms of problems, the only thing I can tell with Dying Light is the connection for playing a Co-op game, and how it doesn’t exactly feel extremely innovative. In trying to join games, I’ve had a number of connection issues, even when both Xbox Live and Techland’s servers are running. Invites sent to me, or mine sent to others fail when the invited party try to join. The only way we’ve been able to successfully connect is by using the join feature within Live itself, and once it holds, it ties together very fast. Each player is given their own color mark so that they can be tracked on the map. Players can also separate and check whatever part of the map they choose. If they stumble upon a story marker, they won’t be able to play it until everyone joins them – easily done with the Quick Travel feature. Additionally, the tutorial for the game is long. You’re shown how to move, and are given some missions to how you the move from day to night. It’s like having to deal with that first mission in GTA Online when the game’s servers were first glitched.
If you’ve watched the early Alpha Footage, you kind of get the feeling that a bit of it was left out of the main game. This is normal though. Games change drastically between the Alpha and final versions. I’ve fought tons of zombies, but the game has yet to reach Dead Rising levels. Maybe this is because of the processing power, or because I’m still early on. I can’t say it’s bad, but I would like a moment where I look down off a roof and go…”Nope. Not landing in the middle of that.” There always seems to be good exit around.
So there you have it. Dying Light. If you like Freerunning, it’s worth a try. If you love zombies, take a look. If you love both, it might be just what you’re looking for. Just be sure to keep your eye on the clock.