Dying Light - Introduction
Dying Light is an open world survival horror game that features a day / night cycle that dramatically changes the playstyle based on the time of day. Developed by Techland, makers of the Dead Island series, Dying Light follows the story of a conflicted GRE contractor who is sent on an mission to recover important top secret data in Harran, a city that's been quarantined after being infected with the Harran Virus. With a mix of an open zombie infested world and parkour, Dying Light offers a somewhat fresh approach to the zombie game genre.
The game features a complete campaign, along with more side-quests than you could shake a zombie limb at. In addition to the available missions, a "Be the Zombie" mode allows players to invade co-op games and try to take their hand at killing the survivors. With online co-op, plenty of missions, and two large maps to play on, Dying Light has a lot to offer.
Dying Light - Positive Marks
Harran is a large beautiful landscape with so much depth to it that it's impressive that Techland was able to pull off such detail. Most of the buildings that you see have an interior, either in the open world or through a side-quest or story mission and each building has a path to reach its roof. There is too much to do within the world and at any given time you're pulled between having fun just in the sandbox itself, completing side-quests which are miniature campaigns in of themselves, or continuing the story in order to unlock additional side-quests.
The parkour, once sufficiently leveled, almost rivals Mirror's Edge's smoothness and goes miles above most standard Assassin's Creed gameplay. You'll have a horde of undead chasing you and seamlessly move rooftop to rooftop without any issue. As you explore Harran, you'll begin learning where and how to jump and the best paths to get from one location to the next.
Throughout the game, it delivers such compelling gameplay with a story that is bone chillingly creepy at times, and at others almost comical. It takes itself seriously and lightheartly at the same time, providing a range of emotion that when immersed in the game is ever so satisfying.
Beyond being visually stunning, the game makes great use of sound to provide a deep atmosphere. No matter where you're at, you're going to hear grunting horrific noises that grow louder the more danger you're in, and each jump and grip has enough satisfying sound feedback to keep you immersed within the game.
Night time play makes this game standout as something a bit different from other games. When night falls, the entire game experience drastically changes and a world that's hostile becomes downright deadly. There is little time to think between avoiding the volatiles and the hordes of virals that are hunting you down and every move you make has a consequence. If spotted the volatiles will continue to pursue you until they lose vision or you die, often the later early on.
Death being painful but not agonizing or painless is a nice touch. You lose survivor XP and end up in a safe house or mission checkpoint, but it doesn't make you want to quit the game and I never felt like I had to go through a long span of gameplay to get back to where I was, with the exception of the final mission in the tunnel, where you had to redo the entire tunnel if you died anywhere (which was quite easy considering the number of volatiles). The addition of co-op also gets a big thumbs up from me on allowing you and your friends (or strangers) to play in the sandbox together, complete missions, and make the game world feel a bit safer with some backup.
Dying Light - Average or Neutral Marks
The parkour on the console was not my cup of tea and I had to abandon my PS4 playthrough due to the difficulty presented in aiming the camera. This is a personal issue as many players have found the controller to work well, but for me, it just didn't cut it. I would assume the game would sort of "feel" where you intended to grab onto when you jump, instead of forcing you to maintain your vision on the target.
This is the only fast travel in Dying Light and at any given time you can pretty much be sure it's going to take awhile to get somewhere. A lot of the content of the game is moving from point A to point B successfully and it isn't until later in the game that movement becomes truly fluid when you have a grappling hook, a near infinite supply of firecrackers, and your agility skill leveled up.
The fact that guns and noise play such a huge role in the game leaves a somewhat bad taste in my mouth. I understand the need for realism and difficulty, but it becomes a drain to constantly deal with virals because the rooftop you landed on was made of metal or a bomber showed up and invited them to the party.
With such a large open world, I almost wonder why doing sidequests, escorts, challenges, and missions doesn't lessen the degree or number of undead wandering the area, sort of Saints Row style. There isn't much need halfway through the game for the slums to continue to be so full of zombies that, by that point, you can easily avoid. I think that having something in place where major roads would clear off, like the overpass, or virals would be less prevalent allowing you to make as much noise as you wanted during the day, would have improved the experience.
The leveling system is neat, but a lot of the fun abilities don't come into later in the game. It's good in the sense that you can unlock the grappling hook before even finishing the first after-prologue story mission, but bad in the sense that it's sort of boring and kind of a grind to level up.
"Be the Zombie" mode wasn't a lot of fun for me, mostly involving survivors who would hide in water or would easily dispatch me with a quick stun and some quick shots. The invasion aspect is actually beneficial to survivors who are hunting bolter tissue samples, as it despawns all volatiles. So it has value, but the queues were long, and I didn't enjoy the matches. It has little to do with the actual game, though. Co-op worked well enough for me.
Dying Light - Below Average or Negative Marks
The game starts off painfully slow and no matter how you handle it, the first part of the game is the worst part. Without the higher level agility traits and without the grappling hook, the game is slow and hard to play. The parkour is clunky, the combat is only possible against one or two biters at a time, and your weapons are limited to unmodified sticks.
The main story falls flat over and over again, with little to no realism out of Rais or many of the characters and the motivation falls bitterly short. The side-quest characters often come across as more personable and have better stories contained within their mission than most anything to do with the story itself. For the world, the situation, and everything that you can work with, there isn't much depth or value to following the main story beyond opening up more side-quests, challenges, locations, and equipment.
The ending is a quicktime event, which is just unpleasant and a primary driver for keeping the score higher. The "boss battle" is a marathon tunnel run pitting you against a horde of volatile zombies (the most difficult to deal with NPC zombie), a parkour run which is a gimmick at this point, and then a quicktime event, even though the game successfully had two boss battles which involved removing all of your weapons.
Again, another not nice thing the story has and it's so hard not to judge the game for the story because there is such wizardry during the side-quests, from creepy situations to fun races, yet the main story just falls short of the mark.
Bombers are not any fun and provide nothing but cheap instant kills, often behind doors and around corners where you wouldn't expect them. Very often, even outleveling the content, I would just die over and over again to surprise bombers. This is doubly frustrating when you dive into a room to gain cover, only to find a bomber waiting for you. The only saving grace is that they don't respawn on a reload from checkpoint, saving you from having to accidentally deal with them again.
Conclusion and Final Score
Dying Light is fun and a huge time sink. You'll get started and find yourself playing it for much longer than you assumed, even though the game has a lackluster story, a slow start, over uses a lot of tropes, and doesn't even give a satisfying conclusion or quasi-conclusion or a proper boss battle. Yet, the fun isn't in the story, it's in the open world zombie simulation and the huge list of side-quests and challenges to do.
If you enjoyed Dead Island, consider this to be a more serious Dead Island. Throwing your weapon, while a purchasable skill, is a last ditch effort and there is no rage mode. The day / night cycle also adds an additional element, requiring planning out missions and making sure that you're near a safe house. In addition, the game doesn't require a workbench like Dead Island to repair your weapons. The zombies are also a bit more tame than in Dead Island, although enemies like the Suicider return as the Bomber, Thug as the Goon, Screamers as themselves, and a few other similarities.
However, don't let the Dead Island affiliation sway you one way or the other, Dying Light is its own game and it's rightfully fun, but it's not something that is Game of the Year material to me. If you like zombie games and open world games then this is worth the pickup, but otherwise I'd skip it until it goes on sale, because it's still a really fun game no matter how you dice it.