By William Chandler
Dying Light – Developed by Techland and Published by Warner Bros.
Purchased on Steam and reviewed on PC
Dying Light feels like a much more complete version of the ideas that Techland posited back in 2011 with the extremely flawed Dead Island. The latter felt like a budget title the instant that you booted it up which, while giving it a decent amount of charm, wound up being the killing blow for Dead Island in my eyes. The myriad of technical issues, cringe inducing story moments and questionable gameplay decisions sapped the enjoyment from the title regardless of its decently creative and fun gameplay systems. Dying Light, on the other hand, at least gives off the initial impression that it is trying to appear to be a AAA title, complete with snazzy little intro cutscene and a tonal shift towards the more serious end of the spectrum. However, it quickly shows its true hand when the plot absurdities and horrible voice acting reveal the camp beneath it all.
This is decidedly for the best. My patience for overly dramatic and self serious zombie related media have run dry long ago and a sillier approach is always welcomed. This is not to say that Dying Light doesn’t have its somber moments, but there is definitely more of a b-grade horror movie tone present throughout that lends well to the main character’s constant “Oh, fuck this” attitude. The protagonist is far from silent, often chiming in with thoughts that mirror the player’s own, and shit very rarely goes his way. And, in the end, this means Dying Light’s tale is considerably more human than many experienced in modern games. Don’t get me wrong, the plot is still pretty much terrible, complete with supposed twists and major character deaths that pack no meaningful punch, but by the end I had really come to sympathize with the plight of whatever the main character’s name is.
Dying Light takes the already enjoyable basic gameplay concepts from Dead Island and tweaks them to fit with the new parkour elements which are now a primary focus. Gone is the analogue melee combat which made accurate weapon swinging possible by giving the player full directional control but, honestly, I didn’t miss it as much as I thought I would. In its place exists a system to make melee combat feel much quicker which falls in line with the idea that the player should constantly be on the move. Dying Light feels more like you’re taking potshots at zombies as you sprint by whereas Dead Island felt more like an actual straight up fight. The parkour takes a lot from Mirror’s Edge (including the smart notion of making a shoulder button the jump button), feels great and is surprisingly satisfying thanks to a smartly crafted world to traverse. I just wish there had been a little more variety, as roughly 75% of your total play time is spent in one of two environments. That said, the parkour is easily the most successful part of the game as it ensures getting from point A to point B is always an immensely enjoyable experience, which is great because you’ll be doing a lot of that. Not to mention that Dying Light pretty much lacks any form of fast travel for a majority of the game.
The RPG elements present in Dead Island are also still around but in a highly condensed and ultimately much smarter form. There is still XP and you still level up, but all stats are hidden behind the scenes. There are now three different XP bars, each with their own skill tree and related set of perks. For instance, the mobility bar increases in XP as you perform more parkour style moves like jumping from roof to roof or climbing up the side of a building, and this might unlock a perk that improves upon your movement, like reduced falling damage. The combat bar works similarly in that engaging in combat is the only way to increase it. Your survivor level is the only one that requires outside influence to increase and can only be leveled up by completing missions, side quests or random events such as rescuing survivors that are in danger.
Sadly, the satisfying core gameplay does very little to stave off the frustration that comes from the often poorly structured missions which frequently feature elements that only get in the way of the enjoyable gameplay. A majority of the missions fail to capitalize on the game’s unique parkour features in any meaningful way and many even take place in cramped indoor environments that make parkour impossible. In fact, much of the latter half of the game has missions that make me feel like even Techland themselves don’t understand what makes their game enjoyable. Multiple extended sequences that take place in the sewers, drawn out gunfights and a questionable focus on consistently utilizing instadeath exploding zombies all made me wonder why I was still playing Dying Light at all.
Fighting against humans also becomes more common as the game goes on and their ability to deflect nearly all of your standard melee attacks is just absurdly annoying. The level of technique and capability necessary to consistently block a weapon strike with another always seemed like something that would prove extremely difficult but perhaps Rais’ disheveled survivors are all actually fencing masters. Hell, one guy was even able to deflect a fucking bullet that I shot at him, which no doubt must have taken him upwards of ten years of practice at the Ryu Hayabusa School of Ninja Training.
I really like Dying Light but there are numerous small things like this that hold me back from loving it. An entirely pointless weapon rarity system that rarely actually has anything to do with a weapon’s effectiveness, an unlockable grappling hook that becomes unusable in story missions because your character is “too tired” even though you can still scale things by hand, several sequences that use story excuses to take all of your gear away, etc. Just like the poorly designed missions, all of these things only serve to obstruct precisely what is enjoyable about Dying Light. I’d love to see where Techland can take the many well built concepts in the future but, frankly, I was tired of Dying Light’s shit long before the end.
Images courtesy of the Dying Light page of the Giant Bomb Wiki