Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Format: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Genre: Survival horror
Release Date: January 27, 2015
Modes: Single-player, multiplayer
Rating: M (mature)
I’d like to start this review by pointing out that the studio who developed this title originally made Dead Island with the Publisher Deep Silver, who apparently made a lot of choices in Dead Islands’ development that Techland disagreed with. Because of this, I feel that Dying Light might just be the game Techland wanted to make from the beginning, and they are rightly proud of it. These guys deserve some recognition for setting out to perfect the creative vision they had for their game, and I can’t help but be glad they did.
Right out of the gate the first thing you’ll notice is how gorgeous this game is, and two, it feels like a typical military first person shooter, but it’s lying. After a quick briefing from the GRE over a radio, you are then thrown into the quarantined city of Haran, Turkey. Playing as the hired agent of the GRE, Kyle Crane, your mission is to infiltrate the factions that have surfaced within the ruined city and recover stolen documents before they are published to the world, subsequently jeopardizing the research on the virus conducted by your employers.
Near the beginning of the game you get a very empty impression of how much Crane really cares about the mission, the people, or the other survivors he meets throughout the city, and this feeling never really left me until near the end. Among the survivors you meet there is a kickboxing legend named Jade, her younger reckless brother Rahim and the leader of the Tower, Brecken. As a parkour instructor, Brecken seems to have gotten stuck as the leading survivalist in this urban landscape because of his undeniable skill at movement against the mostly sluggish and hungry hordes. Crane himself is portrayed as a simple man struggling with choices between his mission and doing the right thing. This is laid on so heavily so early it was hard to even gauge him on a personal level, especially since I found a lot of his choices very contradicting and confusing at times.
The story is one of the few major things that shy away from what you can’t ignore; This game has glaring similarities to Dead Island. From the melee weapon modifications to the “safe area filled with quests”, this game beckons to it’s older brother constantly. Keeping this in mind, every similarity is improved significantly. The combat is smoother and more effective, the quests have more story, purpose, and direction, giving you more information about what has really happened to the city of Harran. There is still the occasional “Go collect this random thing” side quests, but the quest giver is appropriately amazed that you would spend your time doing something so mundane. As a stranger to the Tower, Crane feels obligated to prove himself and gain peoples trust, so these kinds of quests are justified to me.
A lot of these quests offer up blueprints for new weapon modifications that are all too valuable to you in your mission to improve the effectiveness of your tools of zombie slaughter. These mods are varied quite well, with everything from adding extra blades for bleeding effects, blow torches to the edge of your axes, and even elemental additions to throwing weapons to freeze or engulf an enemy in flames. Craft Molotov’s, throwing stars out of metal and saw blades, and special UV flares that are effective against the strongest of the infected during the night. There are tools for every circumstance available.
With all of these weapons and tools to create and choose from, I still found myself gravitating towards the same tactics I used in Dead Island; Find the sharpest thing, make it sharper, swing for the neck and head only, and stomp on stuff a lot to save it’s durability points. Even with knowing this, cutting zombies in half (vertical and horizontal) and lobbing off several heads with a single swing is even more satisfying with the critical hit slow motion and X-ray effect the game features when landing a critical hit on a body part.
The game focuses its energy almost solely on melee combat, with gunplay coming in feeling like something extra. Shooting a gun feels a bit sluggish when aiming down the sight, and at some point ammo is plentiful as you fight through waves of human bandits armed to the teeth. Even so, the game promotes the instincts to reserve firing off your guns, as it makes noise and attracts runners to your area.
I was content saving my rifle ammo for dealing with human enemies from a distance, especially towards the beginning of the game when all you had was table legs and gas pipes to fight with against the formidable human melee fighters. It reminded me of fighting in Criminal Origins, dodging left and right, avoiding kicks and swings trying to find an opening in your opponent. Once you got your Power Skill tree high enough though, it only takes a few good swings to dispatch them and you barely even notice a struggle.
In fact this game’s progression felt very smooth and rewarding, only hindered by a frustrating and unnecessary experience point loss if you die. There is a tree for your overall Survivor rank, which includes abilities like a bigger backpack, creating drugs from the local herbs and improving your bartering skills for better prices. The Agility Tree focuses on ease of movement and evasion, dodging, sliding, vaulting off and over zombies are a few of the most useful examples. Movement is important for survival, to avoid zombies of course, but also to maneuver through the intricate and hazardous landscape. This game loves to place destructive zombies near explosives, or have water near an electrical source, turning one zombies simple movement into a possible deadly mess.
The third is the Power tree, which involves your combat abilities. Stealthy executions, kicks that stun your opponent, and more powerful slams and swings with your weapons make up the majority of this tree. Both your Power and Agility trees are leveled by simply being involved in the appropriate activity. All of your progress is saved no matter who or what activity your playing, making co-op a simple and easy thing to snap in and out of with friends.
The types of things to kill are pretty typical for a zombie survival game at this point. The Biters, a slow and shambling aging zombie. The Runners, who are freshly turned and able bodied survivors who still show a disturbing level of humanity as they flinch and beg for mercy as they struggle for control over their minds. The miners, who are huge, lumbering and powerful locals who swing large and devastating pieces of buildings like a hammer. The Frogs, who regurgitate toxin from their heavily infectious insides to hurl at you with disturbing precision. The Hunters, who are player controlled zombies that can actively invade your world at night (Or at any time if you choose), starting a mad dash to kill their nests before you are devoured.
And finally there are the Volatile, who only show up during the night and will pursue you with the speed and ferocity of a starving lion. The only defense against these insane infected is their weakness to UV lighting, something invaluable to you if you dare venture into the city during the dark hours.
With the extended wait for it’s release, this game lives up to it’s initial hype. While I played this game I kept in mind what people knew it would be; A better Dead Island. And even though it has it’s few drawbacks, like a morally confusing protagonist, a map that could have been bigger and an unforgiving experience loss death penalty, it did far more for me then just improve on an old game. This is the fast paced co-op zombie survival horror game I’ve been waiting for.