Dying light is a zombie survival horror action game developed by Techland back in 2015. With its sequel Dying Light 2 on the horizon. I thought it would be a good time to rewind and give the zombie apocalypse a throwback look. This game was reviewed using a standard PS4 by Joseph Pugh.
Dying Light puts the player into the shoes of Kyle Crane. An agent of the fictional organization known as the Global Relief Effort, or GRE. Kyle is assigned to a mission in the city of Harran. Which is currently quarantined in the face of its own little zombie apocalypse.
Kyle Cranes mission starts out somewhat unrelated to the actual outbreak. That changes pretty quickly and in no time you will be running for your life, scavenging massive amounts of coffee to sell, and crying under a blanket praying for the sun to rise. (Or maybe that last parts just me).
Dying light is an open world game that allows you the freedom to roam pretty early in the game. Once the metaphorical training wheels come off, you are free to run the streets of Harran at your own leisure, taking on main quests and side quests. While scavenging for weapons and items and hunting down air drops.
It’s a pretty standard affair as open world games go, but Dying Light sets itself apart with its movement and a combat system. The free running movement changes a fairly standard, go here, do this, set of missions, and transforms them into fun and fright-filled affairs.
For a game that released three years ago the visuals hold up incredibly well despite a few nitpicks. The human character models are detailed, as are the zombies, the gruesomely depicted features make them look both disgusting and intimidating. Though the models do repeat more often than I would like. It’s not uncommon to find yourself fighting two clones of the same zombie model at a time.
The lighting is excellent, particularly during dawn and dusk during the games full 24 hour day and night cycle. The flashlight effects are lackluster however which is a shame as you will be using it quite a lot during your time in Harran. The buildings, cars, and terrain all look excellent, the vegetation isn’t amazing but its serviceable enough not to detract from the overall experience.
Likewise, the sound also stands the test of time quite well and contributes greatly to the spooky atmosphere of the game or helps amp you up in more adrenaline-filled situations.
The crunch of bone when impacting a zombie with a blunt weapon is satisfying as well as the ZING of blades cutting through undead flesh. The zombies themselves sound creepy and hearing the scream of a feral runner in the distance will make your hair stand on end.
On the PS4, the game takes advantage of the controller’s built-in speaker function by playing certain audio through it. Dialogue works well with the feature as it usually happens when an NPC is talking to you via radio, it adds to the atmosphere. Anything else tends to be an unwanted distraction.
The voice acting is pretty good all the way around and the characters are varied and interesting, though you get to spend a criminally short time with some of them. The overall story is no award winner but is interesting enough that you will care about the characters and what happens to them. The protagonist is likable, the villain is predictable. A couple of characters do incredibly stupid things for the sake of the story but it’s all entertaining anyway.
But where the game really shines, and equally trips up is in its gameplay. I mentioned earlier that the game has fairly ho-hum side quests. Don’t get me wrong. They are fully voiced and full of unique and interesting character’s to interact with. But from a gameplay standpoint they consist of fetching things, go here kill that thing, find this thing, the usual. But what would be a boring slog in some other open world game is genuinely fun in Dying Light because of how you accomplish the objectives.
This is partially due to the excellent free-running movement system. Kyle Crane is fast and agile. He can run, climb and slide around in a very fluid manner that’s easy for the player to control. It’s simply a joy to get around the map. Sprint across rooftops, leap from building to building, and jump from car to car to avoid the ravenous hungry horde below.
The movement is more interactive than in other related games. You look at the ledges you want to jump to and you will find yourself planning your own paths to get around. All while feeling smooth, even when you screw up and fall it feels like the fault is with you and not the game.
The games other systems compliment it well. You have three types of experience you gain, each with its own skill tree and you earn them just by playing. Survivor points you get mostly from quests, surviving at night and turning in airdrops.
Agility points you get by free running and escaping pursuits, and power you get from combat. Furthermore, you are constantly looting everything not nailed to the floor. Using what you nab to craft even more fun toys for you to use.
This means no matter what you are doing you’re always making a bit of progress toward the next carrot on the stick and it works very well. The skill trees themselves are deep and fun. Except for a couple of filler skills, most of them give you a new ability, crafting recipe or combat move to play with.
Speaking of which, the combat is intense and impactful. Melee strikes feel like they have real weight behind them. When you strike a zombie, it reacts realistically.. A blow to the head knocks them aside from example.
You can break or lop off limbs, take out a leg and it all feels real and visceral. Fire sets foes ablaze, while poison makes them stop and vomit. Explosions send them flying. You can use the environment, kicking the undead off of buildings and into spikes. It’s fast paced, satisfying and tactical.
There are a nice variety of enemy types, though by far the most common is the slow shambling type of brain eater. There are also fast running and aggressive types. Ranged spitting zombies, mutated strong zombies and of course the rage-inducing suicide exploding type. They always seem to catch you around a corner or creep up on you when you are picking a lock…
Then, of course, the volatiles, the powerful and quick variety that come out at night. They are fast enough to chase you around despite your free-running skills and tough as nails to kill.
They are weak to UV light that causes them to temporarily flee from its burning touch. The city is littered with UV traps you can trigger but despite it that, nights are terrifying. While you can skip them by sleeping at a bed, you get double the XP for playing out in the dark.
Fighting humans enemies is satisfying at times, frustrating at others. In melee, it feels great. The enemies bob and weave, parry your attacks and react physically with weight when hit.
However, once the humans start toting guns it can get clunky. Fighting zombies with firearms feels good enough and works well. It’s a balancing act because ammo is scarce and the noise can attract even more undead, eager to nibble on your fleshy bits. This adds to the survival atmosphere. Dying lights combat doesn’t accommodate the concept for enemies that take cover and shoot at you very well.
Fighting gun to gun feels awkward and clunky. In a gunfight, the game loses all of its fluidity. It’s not something that happens much. But when it’s there you will notice. It brings the fun factor down when you are forced into a shootout.
The games biggest flaw is its difficulty. At the time of this review Techland added two additional difficulty settings. This is admirable and they are to be applauded for it. However, none of them affect the core of the games issue. You do not get penalized for death in Dying Light.
Now, you will die a lot, especially at night and at higher difficulty settings. When you die you lose a chunk of survivor points, basically making it take longer to level up again. And you respawn at a nearby safehouse. You do not reload a save. The issue of this arises when it comes to the continuity of an obstacle in your way.
For example, early on you have a quest to take out a group of thugs, let’s say we have six thugs to take out. You have a jolly good run over to their hideout and a good tally-ho of a scuffle. After taking down two of them you get iced by the other four.
You lose a bit of XP, respawn at a safe house and you run back over for round two. When you arrive the two thugs you killed previously are still dead. You essentially didn’t lose any progress toward the objective. This poses a problem to the entire structure of the game.
All of the tension, careful planning. The sneaking at night and tactical fighting. It all loses a good chunk of its power when you can brute force your objectives simply by throwing yourself at it until you succeed. If you take out one more thug, that’s only three left on your next try. The games tension-filled atmosphere is fantastic, but the lack of consequence for failure eats away at it. It won’t be an issue for everyone admittedly, but it does impact my enjoyment of an otherwise pretty great game.
Like zombie games? Check out my review of State Of Decay 2!
- Fluid movement and weighty combat
- Stellar and immersive sound design
- The games leveling, crafting and movement system make quests fun
- A detailed open world with lots to do
- Frame rate stays consistent
- Gunfights are clunky and uninteresting
- Little consequence of death sours the atmosphere and challenge
- Zombie models can get repetitive