Dying Light

Techland’s latest game, Dying Light, is a first-person zombie horror game that places an emphasis on traversal in an open world above all else.  You may be familiar with Techland from their previous zombie game Dead Island and you will see plenty of similarities between the two games.  We recently gave Dying Light our game of the month for January but does it deserve all the hype that has surrounded this game?  Looking at their previous track record, Techland has been known to get people excited about a concept and then miss the high goal they set with the final product.  Does Dying Light fall into this trap or have they released something truly special like the previews of the game seemed to hit on.  We answer those questions and more in The Dadcade’s review of Dying Light.

Above all else, Dying Light is a jaw-dropping, gorgeous game.  Walking out of your safe house to a morning sunrise in the destroyed and quarantined city of Harran is an almost surreal experience.  Walking around the world, you could be tricked into staring at the sights and sounds if it wasn’t for the bikers who want to have you for lunch.  The attention to detail doesn’t stop with the city though.  Interact with characters and you’ll see that attention to detail was the main proponent of Techland’s design approach to creating characters.  From the flashlights taped onto characters’ chests to the hairstyle choices of one of the supporting characters, no expense was spared in making sure the characters and world were memorable additions to a story being told.  

This level of detail unfortunately doesn’t extend to the zombies though.  The zombies you’ll come across, while not all the same, don’t have enough characteristics to set them apart.  Sure, you can tell what type of zombie is approaching you and be able to figure out how it will attack you, but within those subclasses, the differences fade.  All spitters look similar and only a slew of thug-like big zombies exist (and each has identical weapon attacks.)  This isn’t a huge knock against the game though since so many zombies need to be on screen at a time and judging the attacks of zombies and what type they need to be done fast, so this could have been a logical design choice on the part of the developers.  All in all, though, the world of Harran is beautifully realized and the attention to detail is a refreshing thing to behold in a post-apocalyptic zombie game.

Dying Light

Dying Light takes place in an imaginary city called Harran where a deadly virus has all but decimated the local populace.  You play as Crane, a mercenary working for the GDE (a government ops that seems just as shady as normal government) to infiltrate the area, find someone and the files they have on the virus, and then get out with both the files and your life.  Things get off to a pretty bad start as you are attacked by armed thugs as soon as your parachute hits the ground.  To top it off, you’re bitten by a zombie but saved by a woman named Jade who takes you back to her safe house, The Tower.  It is from the Tower that you will be accepting missions and buying and selling items for the next couple of hours.  Throughout the game, you will unlock smaller safehouses that allow you to catch your breath away from the infected, use your storage, and sleep until night/morning to regain health and advance time.  These safehouses must be unlocked by cleaning up the infected and turning the power back on, something you’ll be doing quite often in order to unlock all safehouses. The story is easily the most surprising part of Dying Light.  If you’re familiar with Techland’s last series, Dead Island, you’ll know that story took a backseat to gameplay and the characters were all a bit…uninspiring.  That’s not the case here with Dying Light.

You are sympathetic to characters and their plight and in one key scene where a character died, the emotion that Crane expressed felt real.  That’s pretty rare for a first-person zombie game and I was pleasantly surprised by the attachment I had to some of the characters in the game.  Throughout the duration of the story, you’ll travel across all of Harran and eventually gain access to a previously inaccessible portion of the map when you progress the story far enough.  The main story missions exist to keep you on your path, but if you really want to experience all that this game has to offer, you’re going to want to play some of the side missions.  

Finding a VHS tape of “Charly” for a special needs man and his “mama” as well as helping Jeff make his wall of flame are some of the most entertaining side quests in the game and absolutely shouldn’t be missed.  I had nights when I would decide that I was going to advance the story, only to find out that 4 hours later I had been doing only side quests and having a blast.  The story also plays into Dying Light’s other offering – an insane nighttime mode.  Basically, when the sun goes down, the horrifying zombies come out to play that will kill you in one hit if you’re caught.  Your skills are increased during the night and you will gain XP faster, so there is a tradeoff between safety and rewards.  Some missions require you to play at night, but overall the game is playable from either daytime or nighttime.  If you don’t feel like dealing with the nighttime baddies, go to the safehouse and sleep until morning when it’s much safer.

If you previously played Dead Island then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what combat is like.  Dead Island introduced us to a zombie game built around melee battles with weapons that decay over time.  Dying Light does the same exact thing, except it’s a little dumbed down compared to the previous game.  You can no longer target specific limbs in the same way you did in Dead Island but the combat is pretty much the same.  Unfortunately, the combat is probably the weakest part of Dying Light.  I’m not sure why they decided to scrap the limb attacks from Dead Island since that was one of the most fun and unique things the game introduced, but the end result is an offering weaker than it’s predecessor.  While the limb attacks may have been cut, the RPG mechanics is one of the most satisfying things I have ever seen implemented into a first-person game.  The way the RPG skill tree works is that you are given experience for 3 activities.  First, completing missions rewards you survivor XP which is basically your overall level.  This is the stat that will determine which weapons you can use and what blueprints become available throughout the story.  The other two levels you will increase are power and agility-focused.  

Power XP is gained from battling with enemies, while agility rewards you for your daring parkour movements.  As you gain XP, you’ll unlock skill tree paths that will reward you with abilities unique to each branch.  For example, leveling up power will unlock the ability to perform stronger attacks and ground stomps while agility will help you with skills that allow you to run longer, faster, and make world traversal just a bit easier.  When the game begins, it can be pretty overbearing with the number of enemies on screen and your overall “squishyness.”  

As you level up though, you’ll find that enemies aren’t as tough as they once were and you’re much more capable, due in large part to the skills you’re unlocking.  The video game power fantasy is strong as you become a lean, mean, zombie killing machine.  As you increase in power, you’ll also unlock new types of weapons that all handle differently from each other.  You can also unlock and craft add-ons that give weapons electricity attacks, bleeding attacks, or increase durability through skill trees.  These addon weapons come from blueprints that require salvage to create.  By scavenging around Harran, you’ll pick up items that allow you to craft everything from medkits to weapons.  The crafting system is pretty easy to grasp and you’ll bounce in and out of the menus pretty quickly.  Harran is literally littered with lockboxes, storage cabinets, and medical closets that all give items to help you craft items.  You can also buy items from shopkeeps if you’re having trouble finding them in the world.

Combat in Dying Light may not be as fun as it was in Dead Island but the co-op is just as fun.  You and a couple of friends can team up to play the game and complete missions alongside each other.  One person will host the game and the story will progress as normal in their world while other plays help and gain XP and items they can take back to their worlds.  Along with story missions, players can also compete in small challenges that pop up randomly (and reward nice chunks of XP) that will have you killing the most enemies, racing to places, or doing the most damage to one of the big bad guys in the game. 

As stated earlier, nighttime missions can be a drag but throw in a couple of friends and those crazy night zombies become a minor hindrance.  I actually found myself inviting friends into my game to beat the night missions because I just didn’t want to deal with the stress surrounding these guys.  Co-op definitely makes the frantic fight for survival in Dying Light a little less frantic and a lot more enjoyable.

Since this is The Decade, we’d be remiss to not talk about how “kid-friendly” or “parent-friendly” this game is.  For the record, how kid or dad-friendly a game is doesn’t affect our overall score of the game, we just like to set aside a small portion of the review to address it since we think it’s relevant to our reader base.  With that said, this game is absolutely 100% not kid-friendly.  You don’t want to play this with the kids in the room and there is foul language from time to time so this will most likely be an “after the kids go to bed” game.  Now, for being parent-friendly, it scores pretty well.  The ability to pause the game (when not in co-op) to soothe a crying child is a plus and if you only have a short gameplay session before bed, you can easily knock out one or two side quests or spend your time scavenging for materials or leveling up your skill trees.  The co-op is incredibly fun as well, so if you have other friends who own the game, a relaxing night of killing zombies is just what the doctor ordered to chill out before bed.

Dying Light surprised the hell out of us here at The Decade.  We thought we would get something along the lines of Dead Island but what we got was similar, but a lot better.  That’s not to say it is without criticism.  The combat is a slog for most of the game and when it finally gets better, it actually becomes a little too easy.  The limb combat of the previous series should have been implemented and that is a missed opportunity in our eyes.  Also, the game suffers from some strange bugs like zombies getting stuck in walls and players falling through the ground.  These are few though and not overly intrusive.  Even with its faults, the beautiful graphics, the gripping story, and the incredibly fun parkour gameplay you can enjoy alone or with a friend make this a game easy to recommend to others.  So, if you’re in the mood for a good zombie game with an above-average story you can play with friends, you should absolutely check out Dying Light.