- + Great parkour mechanics
- + Complete control over how to engage zombies
- + A large sandbox world, filled with activities and loot
- - Story linear in choices, could’ve benefited from multiple paths
- - Sometimes clunky combat against humans if fought head-on
Want to look beyond the score? Check out the full written review…
Despite an abundance of the undead in pretty much any major title at the moment, the need for me to crush a zombie’s skull has yet to wear off. In fact, I had such an awesome time with Techland’s Dying Light I actually had to pull myself away at times. With a sandbox area available from the get-go (after a short prologue), it’s easy to perform parkour in a seamless manner; journeying toward anything on the map that sparks your interest. In my case, I continued picking up side-quests, helping people in need, and securing safe zones. With the likes of Dead Island in the developers repertoire, Dying Light seems to have refined their penchant for brains and blood.
Taking place in Harran, a fictional city based on ancient Turkey, you assume the role of an undercover operative sent into the quarantine zone after a certain epidemic has struck. You’re then given the task of finding a corrupt political figure that has damning evidence against the agency you work for. Throughout the course of the story your mission is waylaid by your humanity, as you struggle to maintain cover and start to focus on helping survivors, opposite those trying to rule you by radio.
I’d best describe the game as Mirror’s Edge meets zombies, since free-running is a large part of the games’ infrastructure. More often than not you’ll need to take advantage of your surroundings to outwit faster, more intelligent zombies, or in some cases, just perch atop a building whilst you plan your next move. Be careful not to stay out too long after the sun sets, however, since enemies become stronger and an ‘elite’ set of zombie hybrids occupy the streets. If you fall into their cone of vision and they find you, expect your parkour abilities to truly be tested.
As you progress through missions you’ll gain the ability to upgrade your weaponry and skills. You can gain experience by completing tasks, or in the case of boosting your agility or fighting, the more you use them, the faster you’ll be able to upgrade. A simple yet effective way to keep you moving and engaging the odd horde of stumbling monsters. When it comes to dispatching of the undead don’t expecting to go guns blazing, as weapons are near-impossible to find. Your main weapons of choice will mainly consist of everyday tools, including: knives, poles, wrenches or wooden planks. Whether you like it or not the items you use in combat will degrade with each hit, meaning you’ll either have to fix them with supplies, or garner an entirely different weapon set.
If you want a bit more oomph to a certain item, make sure to look out for boosters hidden around the environment or given to you after completing quests. Once equipped, these add-ons will beef up a weapon’s durability and damage. Finding certain blueprints will also allow you to add an effect to items in your arsenal, such as electrifying them. However fun modifying your own weapons might be, taking part in challenges provided by a certain stranger allow you to test out some truly devastating weaponry. Being given an electrified, super-machete, is a great reward if you’re willingly to take on the tasks to obtain it.
Finding it lonely on your solo adventure? Head online and bring friends in to join you. I only played a little bit online but had fun fighting alongside other players and fending off flesh eaters. When night falls whilst online, then you’ll more than likely get invaded by a Night Hunter (a meta-zombie), which is a player-controlled monster that aims to hunt you down and, uh… kill you. Your only option is to either hide or head to designated hive spots, killing off each zone before ultimately becoming the Night Hunter’s dinner. These moments were particularly fun for me, since working with other players to repel the monster with our UV lights, and take out a hive, proved very rewarding. As always cooperation is your key to success.
What I love about Dying Light is that it’s entirely up to you how you get through its world. I recently found out online that someone managed to beat the game without killing anyone. Though I often relish the opportunity to be the pacifist, when I’m in a zombie game you better know heads are going to be rolling on my adventure. With as much choice as your given in the open world, though, I couldn’t say the same for the story. Whereas some games on the same path will allow you the choice of either doing the good or bad task, here you’re handheld through a pretty linear campaign. There were many times where I’d have to side with the bad people in order to get what I wanted, though my character didn’t like doing it, and I often wandered what it’d be like if he actually wanted to turn evil. It wouldn’t have been a simple thing to implement but I think it would have helped me feel as though I’m creating my own choices, story-wise. Another gripe I had was that when it came to combating humans, I often found it hard to engage up close, unless I started mashing my attack button and hoping for the best. Having said that, it did mean I had to use my head more than my fists. Instead of simply walking up to a gang of thugs, I’d throw some firecrackers at their feet and let the zombies do the work.
Everything looks beautiful in Dying Light and I was thoroughly impressed with the game on both Xbox One and PS4. I understand why the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions were cancelled, as I can’t imagine the result would’ve been very pretty, or even manageable on older hardware. The dynamic lighting and its affect on puddles of water was particularly impressive. On a final note, I found the music to be a great mix of techno, really coming into its own while I was in combat. It almost reminded me of Hotline Miami’s soundtrack at points.
Even with its niggles I found Dying Light to be one of my favourite zombie games in recent memory. I still wish I had more of a personal impact on the story, though I had enough fun with side-quests and occasional cries for help. The free-running mechanics are solid and the combat against the undead is satisfying. Add to that the online coop and ability to play as the monster, and there’s plenty of variety to be had with hours of content. Whether you’re looking to fill your need for blood or simply want a tasty slice of open world exploration, Techland’s survival horror will satisfy both.
*Dying Light was provided to Start Replay on PS4 by Techland, whereas our Xbox One copy was given to us by Xbox