City environment – check, Zombies…or rather, Infected – check, Open world – check, co-op story – check, weapon crafting – check, developed by Techland – check; Must be time for another Dead Island game! No?! Techland has passed on making the next Dead Island, this is Dying Light. The question is – can Techland make two very similar games and differentiate them enough to make each stand on their own?
In Dying Light, the player is cast as an undercover operative, Kyle Crane, who is deployed on a mission in the fictional quarantined city of Harran. He gains the trust of the survivors that have sought refuge in a fortified high rise apartment complex while attempting to locate and recover a file that was stolen by a rogue political figure. The narrative aside, the basic game follows the same core concepts that are found in Dead Island. A focus on traversing an open environment, salvaging what valuables that can be found to build and augment make-shift weaponry while completing a variety of fetch, kill, deliver and defend style missions. Where this game pulls away from it’s Dead Island roots is with parkour styled free running mechanics for traversing the environment and a heavy focus on the day / night cycle.
When in doubt, climb!
Taking cues from the Assassin’s Creed series, the player can be aimed at a nearby building or vehicle roof, canopy, boulder, utility pole or other similar object to climb out of reach of the majority of enemies or easily move from building tot building. Awnings, window frames, fixtures allow continued free running and climbing. Smaller obstacles, and even the infected, can be vaulted over and holes can be slid through. Later one can unlock the use of a grappling hook to accelerate climbing. I have found a useful oddity of the grappling hook is to be able to grapple the ground or objects close to it from a building to allow quick access to the ground without risking a substantial fall. For the most part the free running elements are well executed, although it can occasionally be cumbersome to aim when launching between distant handholds. The game excels at providing a good sense of scale; from the sheer size of the map to the details of the character attempting to maintain balance in windy high-altitude locations.
Hack, slash, kick, shoot!
The majority of combat is melee using picks, cleavers, hammers, wrenches, knives, bats, swords and just about anything else that can be wielded. Don’t get too attached to any weapon you find though, they all have durability that deteriorates with use. Broken weapons can be repaired, but only a limited number of times. You will eventually have to discard or disassemble the weapon when it is exhausted. I like this characteristic as it adds to the overall feel of the game, that you are scavenging to maintain yourself. Firearms are available, but the typical player won’t find any until a significant way into the story. Guns don’t deteriorate over time any gun you find, could be used through the entire game without need to replace it, however you will need to locate ammunition. I have read of others noting a lack of ammunition in the game, while ammo is a commodity, I have not found it to be scarce. Many vendors sell ammo and anyone using a gun will have ammunition that can be scavenged from their corpse. I prioritize my firearms only for use against enemies also using guns. This avoids running out of ammo and attracting unnecessary attention from infected.
Initially you are tasked with being a runner for the survivors, the lifeline between settlements and collector of supplies. During the day, the player focuses on claiming air drops of supplies to return to the survivors enclave, collecting resources for crafting and rescuing or escorting the random survivor. During the night, the player has to exercise caution as the standard infected have heightened senses, are more aggressive and can run and climb in pursuit of the player. Traps around the city can be utilized to distract or harm infected pursuers and UV lights are used to slow them. Missions can be carried out day or night although some require a certain time of day to complete. The player can be further hampered by dynamic wind, rain and fog. I find that Dying Light, while something of a more matured story than Dead Island, suffers from being rather obvious and doesn’t do much to make me actually care about people I’m helping or the tasks I’m completing. The missions, while they attempt to be varied, tend to lean far too much on fetch quests and the story campaign is rigidly linear. I find myself often times more interested in general exploration and advancing my skills over actually working on missions. The night cycle does provide a great sense of urgency and stark contrast to the concerns of the day.
Keys to survival!
Free running, combat and general player abilities can be expanded or enhanced through levelling the survivor skills; Survival, Agility and Power. Skill points for Survival are earned through mission completion, Agility by climbing and Power by defeating enemies. There are 24/25 levels to earn for each of the 3 skill trees, each level earns one point to choose a new skill from the respective tree. Unfortunately, there is no need to be too picky on what skills to choose, since there will be just enough points to distribute to gain all the skills on each tree which leaves little variety between characters.
Zombie apocalypse? Bring a friend!
You and up to 3 friends can cooperate in completing your mission in the same drop-in/out co-op that was available in Dead Island. The competitive multiplayer mode “Be the Zombie” I have found to just be tedious. When I first heard about the mode, I envisioned invading other players campaign and relentlessly stalking them over distances to throw a wrench into their progress at the worst possible moment. The reality is a single Special Infected vs Survivors game, where the special infected has to defend feeding grounds (nests) from the survivors while attempting to defeat them. While the powers of the special infected are fun to wield, the mode suffers as just didn’t find it interesting – at all. The necessity to focus on defence of nests I find silly – what reason would I have as an infected to care about anything but perusing my prey?
Dying Light follows, so very closely, the model established in Techland’s other make-shift weapon crafting, co-op, open-world Zombie outbreak slaughter fest, Dead Island. The addition of free running and emphasis on the day / night cycle are what make Dying Light truly stand out from Dead Island, and it is a welcome distinction. Overall I have found Dying Light an enjoyable experience and would recommend it to others with interest in the genre. I believe those that enjoyed Dead Island will find comfortable familiarity here, but also an interesting expansion on the of the concepts.