Zombie games. Every where you turn… zombie games. The zombie genre has become so bankable and popular that it seems like I can’t even pick my nose without hearing about another one. Hell, even this game right here, known as Dying Light, is made by a developer who made one of the biggest and most disappointing zombie games of recent memory, Dead Island. Now, I have nothing against the genre itself, but when I have to deal with crap like Escape Dead Island it makes me a little anxious for what I’m about to experience. Can Dying Light bring something new to the table to breathe some undead life back into the genre. Well… sorta!
Lets get this clear right now: Dying Light has the look and setting of zombie games and open-world games that someone like Ubisoft would develop, with a huge world with lots of pointless things to do. However, Dying Light throws parkour into the mix to shake up the otherwise standard formula. You can now climb and leap across just about any obstacle with ease, eventually unlocking moves that allow you to vault over the zombies themselves. This is a much more fast-paced and frantic kind of zombie game, one that is a mixture of Mirror’s Edge and Far Cry that gets just enough right to make up for its ho-hum moments.
As the game begins we’re introduced to our main character named Kyle Crane, who is the man of the hour who is tasked with parachuting into the zombie-infested city of Harran to save its inhabitants. In a comparatively Far Cry-esque fashion, you will have your main characters that you interact with to progress the storyline, while also having dozens upon dozens of side characters that you interact with to get some sidequests going. As you take a look at the world map you’ll see safe houses that need to be unlocked, radio towers to be climbed, survivors that need help, chests that need to be lockpicked and so on. A lot of it is cookie-cutter and more or less is just filler to make it feel like there’s more value in the package, but if you’re one who is into the Ubisoft formula then you’ll find a lot to like here. If you’re getting sick of it, though, then you’ll be getting bored quickly with this one.
Now, the main appeal of the city of Harran is how you traverse it. As mentioned previously, parkour is the method of travel in this game, and it is executed perfectly with a single button allowing you to hop and climb over whatever is accessible. As you progress through the game you will earn experience points that can be used to increase stats and learn sweet new moves. This is when the game gets really interesting, as you suddenly find yourself able to leap off of zombies or run up and drop kick them. However, as is the case with many parkour-based games, it can occasionally get wonky and result in you performing actions you didn’t mean to. For the most part, though, it works fine and is a lot of fun to pull off.
What’s most surprising here is that the game counteracts its fast-paced parkour with slow-paced melee-combat. Similar to Techland’s own Dead Island, you’ll utilize weapons like pipes, crowbars and wrenches to take on the zombies, flailing violently while keeping an eye on your stamina meter from getting too low and leaving you vulnerable. The zombies themselves take *a lot* to go down, so even a one-on-one battle can be intense, but if you find yourself amongst a hoard of zombies then it is time to get the hell out of there. There’s also the occasional runner zombies that will hunt you down endlessly, making for some fun parkour chases in your bid for them to lose your trail. The AI isn’t always too bright, though, so losing them can be really easy if you know what you’re doing.
The real bummer here is weapon durability, as all of the melee weapons you come across weaken and break much quicker than they really should. This simply isn’t a design choice that works well, as you have to constantly deal with repairing or outright replacing the weapons you have in your inventory. You do come across guns in the game that can take down the zombies much easier, but the catch is that the sound will alert and lure in even more zombies and thus makes using guns a very stupid idea. You can improve weapon durability through leveling up, but it still results in the game becoming a revolving door for weapons that definitely gets irritating if you had grown accustomed to a particular axe or pipe.
Night time is when the crap hits the fan, as that is when the volatiles come out and are on high-alert for you. These dudes are much bigger and stronger than the typical zombie, and if they see you they will hunt you down incessantly and alert all of their buddies. There is literally nothing you can do against these guys, so if you are caught your only option is to run as fast as you can to a safe house. These sequences can be very intense and require you to be on your A-game at all times, as one bad move will result in your quick demise. The game slyly doubles experience points accumulated at night, egging you on to risk your life to speed up your character progression. Without fail, these night sequences are amongst the most thrilling aspects of the game, and they can be entirely avoided if you play your cards right!
If co-op is your thing, then you’ll be pleased to know that Dying Light features drop-in co-op for up to 4 players. While it’s nothing to write home about exactly, it certainly gets the job done with the ability to set up quick competitions throughout the map, allowing you to race for a supply drop or kill a certain amount of zombies with your partners. Zombie Invasion is less fun, however, as other players can pop up in your game as an overpowered zombie and quickly make your life a living hell. One person is the survivor and has to destroy zombie nests while the other person is the hunter and has to kill the survivor a certain amount of times, which is always way more fun when you’re the hunter. The game always goes on far longer than it needs to, as well, making the mode one you’ll want to toggle off in the menu after you’ve done it a couple of times.
As far as bang for your buck goes, Dying Light offers dozens of hours of gameplay to get lost in, though much of it is the same few actions repeated over and over again. The story itself is serviceable, though the characters and “twists” that happen are very predictable and cliche. What you witness and take part in is certainly entertaining, but its not anything that’s going to make you remember it all that well when all is said and done. The game features a stereotypical villain who thinks he is the king of the world and will kill anyone who gets in his way, yet for whatever reason will refrain from killing you time and time again. You witness this guy kill his own men at certain points, yet your character will not get off his back and he just keeps inviting you back for more? Alright then…
Regardless of its overall framework being middle-of-the-road, Dying Light‘s gameplay does just enough to keep the game fun over its running time. Sprinting through the city of Harran while hopping and climbing over buildings and zombies is a blast, and things get suitably tense if you’re brave enough to do the same thing at night. It drops the ball in a few spots with its story and gameplay design that only hurts the experience, but somehow its able to come out on the other side on a positive note. If Techland can just tweak a few things here then there’s no reason that a Dying Light 2 couldn’t be a knock out.