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’s assigned to a mission in the city of Harran which is currently quarantined in the face of its own little zombie apocalypse.
Kyle’s mission starts 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 part is just me).
Dying Light is an open-world game that grants you access to most of the city 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. All while scavenging for weapons, items and hunting down airdrops.
The general mission structure is a pretty standard affair as open-world games go, but Dying Light sets itself apart with its movement and combat system. The free-running movement manages to take a fairly standard, go here, do this, set of missions, and transforms them into fun and fright-filled affairs. It’s rare for travel in open-world games to be fun, but in Dying Light, it is.
Hear No Evil, See No Evil
For an older game, 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. However, 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 within the game’s 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 it’s serviceable enough not to detract from the overall experience.
Likewise, the sound also stands the test of time quite well and contributes to the spooky atmosphere of the game or helps amp you up in more adrenaline-filled situations.
The crunch of bones 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 specific audio through it. Dialogue works well with the feature as it usually happens when an NPC is talking to you via radio, so it adds to the atmosphere. Anything else tends to be an unwanted distraction though.
The voice acting is pretty good all the way around, and the characters are varied and interesting, even if you spend a criminally short time with some of them. The overall story is no award winner, but it’s interesting enough that you will care about the characters and what happens to them. The protagonist is likable, and the villain is predictable. A couple of characters do incredibly stupid things for the sake of the story, but it’s all entertaining anyway.
The Running Dead
Where the game really shines 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. Yet, from a gameplay standpoint, they consist of fetching things, traveling to kill a thing, finding this thing, the usual. But what would be a boring slog in other open-world games is genuinely fun in Dying Light because of how you accomplish the objectives.
That 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. Sprinting across rooftops, leaping from building to building, and jumping from car to car to avoid the ravenous hungry horde below simply fun.
The movement is more interactive than in most related games. You look at the ledges you want to jump to, and you will find yourself planning your own paths to get around. It feels incredibly smooth. When you screw up and fall, it feels like the fault is with you and not the game.
The game’s other systems compliment it well. You have three types of experience points you gain, each with its own skill tree and you earn them just by playing. Survivor points are mostly earned from quests, surviving at night, and turning in airdrops.
Agility points are acquired by free running and escaping pursuits, and the power is gained from combat. Furthermore, you are constantly looting everything not nailed to the floor. You use whatever you nab to craft even more fun toys for you to play with.
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. Barring a few 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, for example.
You can break or chop off limbs, and it all feels engaging and visceral. Fire sets foes ablaze, while poison makes them stop and vomit. Explosions send them flying, and you can use the environment by kicking the undead off of buildings or 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 varieties, 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. They are a powerful and ultra-quick variety that come out at night. Volatiles are fast enough to chase you around despite your free-running skills and tough as nails to kill.
They are weak to UV light which causes them to temporarily flee from its burning touch. The city is littered with UV traps you can trigger but despite that, nights are terrifying. While you can skip them by sleeping in a bed, you get double the XP for playing out in the dark.
Fighting human 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 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 of enemies that take cover and shoot at you very well, however.
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 down the fun factor when you are forced into a shootout.
The game’s biggest flaw is by far its difficulty. At the time of this review, Techland has 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 issue of the game. 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. You respawn at a nearby safe house. You do not reload a save. That’s a problem 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 nearby 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 and careful planning, the sneaking at night, and tactical fighting is affected. It all loses a good chunk of its impact when you can brute force your objectives simply by throwing yourself at them until you succeed. If you take out one more thug, that’s only three left on your next try. The game’s 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.
The free-running is fantastic, the combat feels excellent, and the crafting and skill system are well designed. Dying Light Plays great, and the story is entertaining, even if it is fairly basic. The gunplay definitely sours the experience when it comes up, and the lack of any real consequence for failure tarnishes every mechanic of the game. If that doesn’t turn you off then there is a lot to love about this zombie romp
Like zombie games? Check out my review of State Of Decay 2!
- The 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
- Gunfights are clunky and uninteresting
- Little consequence of death sours the atmosphere and challenge
- Zombie models can get repetitive