Dead Island with fewer rappers and more polish
As you may have heard, we got our Dying Light review code pretty late. As in, the day before launch. A late show doesn’t necessarily instill confidence in a project, especially since a lot of fans had no idea what to expect from Techland’s latest.
It’s strange that this situation even happened considering Dying Light is one of Techland’s best games outside of Call of Juarez: Gunslinger.
Dying Light (PC [reviewed], PS4, Xbox One)
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Released: January 27, 2015
Yes, Dying Light is basically a polished Dead Island. Instead of wacky rappers who can axe-kick zombies 50 feet into the air, you’re in a more grounded role as someone who is really, really good at parkour — he doesn’t kick so well. It’s still rooted deeply in videogame physics, but the plot is decidedly more “serious” in tone, for better or worse.
After completing an obligatory hour-long intro, the campaign is fully playable by way of co-op with up to four players both online and via LAN play, further mirroring the Dead Island comparison. This time around you’ll go at it in Harran, Turkey, which is full of tin roofs to traverse alongside of a more violent and aggressive zombie audience. It all starts to blend together after a while, but man is it pretty.
Visually, Techland put that Dead Island money to good use, because hot damn Dying Light is smooth, especially on PC where it breaks the 30 frames per second limitation of the console versions. I never once felt like the game was chugging, and didn’t notice any real instances of pop-in or graphical issues. I definitely understand why the developer canceled the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions.
The story is fairly uninspired, and serves as a vessel for the gameplay. Every character is contrived and boring, including the title role of Kyle Crane, played by Roger Craig Smith — a voice actor who completes the “I play everyone now” trifecta with Troy Baker and Nolan North. There wasn’t a mission where I couldn’t predict the outcome, and there wasn’t one character I truly cared about.
There are intense scenes abound, usually featuring a gruesome death, and the shaky cam desperately tries to evoke 28 Days Later. There’s also plenty of cursing and lots of dark brown hues. It never really crosses into the realm of camp, it’s just…boring most of the time. Thank goodness more attention was paid to Dying Light‘s gameplay.
Before you get the ability to slide, dive, and dip like an Olympian, you’ll start off with basically no powers, awful weapons that break, and a low stamina meter. Even just a few whacks of your pathetic pipe will leave you winded and running for the nearest roof, where you’ll probably want to throw a few firecrackers down the street as a distraction.
It’s a good way to ramp up the skill tree, which is now broken down into three sections that are filled by questing (Survivor), running around (Agility), and killing stuff (Power). Agility is by far my favorite of three, because it’s so damn fun to sprint around and climb to your heart’s content. Seeing those little numbers tick up on the experience meter at the top of the screen is a joy, and the perks you unlock feel significant, like you’re not wasting your time.
Combat has a more deliberate feel to it, something that Dead Island really lacked for me. Hitting things with blunt objects actually feels right, and sometimes you’ll nail a critical hit that will send body parts flying, often with an “X-Ray” effect. It’s satisfying to get off one of those hits in a particularly frantic situation, and it looks and sounds satisfying, too. They’re still sticking to that “survival”-style inventory system however, which mostly just exists to ensure that you aren’t having too much fun.
There’s tons of useless stuff to bog down your limited backpack, lots of pointless weapons with varying statlines to sift through, and plenty of stopping the action to repair or otherwise craft something that you’ll probably just wear out in 30 seconds. As time goes on and your skills increase, a lot of this micro-management becomes less taxing, but you’d think Techland would have streamlined much of this considering how swift the traversal system is.
To give you a picture, you can sprint pretty far without getting tired, grab onto ledges with ease, turn and jump with the press of a button, climb on poles, and basically go anywhere you can find a foothold for. Piles of trash and other such objects are cleverly littered about the map, which allow you to break your fall and keep trucking. I wouldn’t say the parkour is nearly as fun as, say, Mirror’s Edge, but it’s a good middle-ground and I dig Techland’s signature take, because along with combat, it’s easily the best part of the game.
Another major gimmick is the “night and day cycle,” which basically super-charges zombies for short periods of time when nightfall hits. Most of the time this feels scripted in nature, and you can simply go to a “safe zone” to sleep and skip some of these transitions if you want. If you do decide to brave the night though you’ll net big bonuses, and it’s a good way to challenge your limits just to see if you’ll survive.
Night doesn’t last long though, and neither do most of the original ideas. Over time, you’ll slowly start to realize that Dying Light is an amalgamation of other AAA games. Heck, even the lockpick minigame is ripped wholesale from Skyrim. I started to become less impressed with a lot of the core elements of the game — but then I ran around some more rooftops and I was good to go for another hour or so, same-looking environments and all. When everything is said and done you could easily spend over 50 hours if not more trying to do every challenge and mission, not including some good old-fashioned screwing around time.
Thank goodness, due to a production snafu, the “Be the Zombie Mode,” which was originally a pre-order bonus, is now included in the base game. It absolutely belongs there. In essence, it unlocks the asymmetric multiplayer mode, which lets you or other players fill in for zombies on the fly. It’s a bit jarring since it starts a new scene and impedes your current story progress, but it does mix things up when you find yourself bogged down by a string of average quests. Plus you can turn it off if you want.
Dying Light often boils down to “Zombies: The Videogame,” but it’s fun to flip around like a ninja and cause havoc while you shuffle from one mission to the next. For many of you out there, that’s basically all you’ll need.
[This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the developer.]