I must admit, I was a little hesitant about Dying Light at first. I was concerned by the number of times that the game was delayed and, after playing it a couple of times at various expos, it hadn’t quite grabbed me. Still, over the last few months, after watching various gameplay videos and reading more about the title, I had built up enough confidence in the game to pre-order it. However, that confidence once again slipped when Techland and Warner Bros further delayed the release of the disc version of Dying Light. So, it’s safe to say that I was a little on the fence about Dying Light – even before I had installed it onto my hard drive and booted up the game. However, my concerns washed away almost instantly, once I’d started playing the game. Even within the first few minutes, Dying Light has set the bar for future zombie games, and set itself apart from its last-gen rivals.
This isn’t a review of the game. I’ve played a fair bit, but I’ve not yet completed it – once I’ve finished the game, I’ll work out a review. Rather, this is an article in which I’m trying to convince you to give Dying Light a shot, because it’s definitely not a game you’d want to miss.
The main reason to play this game, in my opinion, is found in the way that it plays. Dying Light is quite unlike most games out there at the moment, mainly down to the fact that traversing the world is heavily reliant on ‘free-running’. Free-running in games has been attempted on occasion, with titles like Mirror’s Edge and Brink accomplishing it with style. But, on most occasions, free-running IS the game, rather than just an aspect of it. In Dying Light, however, free-running is a well-crafted, effective and efficient way of traversing the map – but it isn’t the whole point of the game. In the most part, you could play Dying Light without the need for sliding, vaulting, or leaping. But the fact is that the free-running aspects of the game are so good, so well crafted and so seamless, that it’s actually one of the highlights of playing it. Running, jumping and climbing in Dying Light is incredibly fun, and it’s also incredibly impressive considering that it’s all done quite seamlessly in a first person view.
The way that you move around the game is incredibly impressive, but the way that you deal with the un-dead is fantastic too. The combat is just as smooth as the free-running, and battling the zombies, both hand-to-hand with mêlée weapons and from range with guns, is incredibly easy. In the builds that I had played at EGX, the combat was clunky and confusing – in the final game, however, it’s responsive, smooth and effective. Not only that, but you can incorporate some of the free-running aspects of the game into the combat too. You can leap over zombies and stun them, run up and dropkick them or push, hit, throw or kick them into the environment. You can utilise the world to kill zombies on spike traps, pushing them off of buildings or cliffs, or throwing them into player controlled traps – from electrified cars to oil-slicks. What’s more, the game is visually impressive too, and this really shines through in the combat, as you get face to face with the rotting corpses. You can bash chunks out of the zombies, slice holes through them and chop off their limbs, whilst their clothes flutter in the wind.
All of this is wonderfully rounded off by the upgradeable skill-tree. Your character’s skills are split up into three categories – Survivor, Agility and Power. The novel thing about the skills, and the XP overall, is that you gain XP in each category. So, fighting zombies gives XP towards the Power category, free-running gains XP towards the Agility category and crafting weapons will give XP for the Survivor category. Each category then has its own set of skills, ranging from becoming more adept at free running, through Agility, or being able to do a ‘heavy-hit’ with mêlée weapons through Power. You really start to notice the difference as your character gets better – particularly when playing online with other players… which brings me on to my next and final point.
The online play is a feature of Dying Light that I really enjoy. I’ve managed to play a few games with my brother, and a buddy, so far, and I love they way that Techland has done the online co-op. Both XP and loot are transferable, and the co-op works just as well as the single-payer; if anything, the game is even better when you play it with friends. This is mostly down to the challenges that pop up on regular occasions during the gameplay. These challenges range from finding the most loot in an area, or dealing the most damage to an enemy or group of enemies – and these generate randomly within the world as you explore. Other challenges are story based, such as being the first to reach the top of an objective, or killing the most enemies. The challenges add a bit of friendly competition to the game, and they keep some of the tedious activities (like climbing a building) exciting.
Overall, Dying Light is a real testament to the first-person zombie bashing genre. It’s refined, smooth, exciting and incredibly enjoyable. Take heed, Dead Island 2, you’ve got some tough competition this generation!