Even though the gameplay is fairly repetitive, switching from parkour, brawling, looting, and sneaking around is versatile enough to maintain the game’s core content. Because the story sure doesn’t carry it.
Type: Single-Player, Online Co-op
Genres: FPS, Survival, RPG
Publisher: Techland Publishing
Release Date: 26 January, 2015
Even though I’ve been a gamer for most of my life, I’m not the sort of person to pay that much attention to upcoming titles. Were it not for so many people reacting to Cyberpunk 2077, I wouldn’t have noticed it being released at all. So even if I had heard of Dying Light (DL) before, I wasn’t that aware of it until someone brought up that Dying Light 2 is coming out later this year. With the opportunity to review the Platinum Edition available, I dove right in to see the precursor of the upcoming sequel, knowing little about either.
In a basic sense, DL functions the way you’d expect from most survival horror games. You’ll scavenge the desolate landscape for meager supplies, craft items out of the raw materials you gather, but in this case try to avoid fighting the zombie horde more often than not. In part due to how the combat can feel a bit stiff. Having one button for your primary melee swing, yet needing to deal with blocking and dodging enemies, or those with brutal attacks with your own limited bob and weave movements is hamstringing. As the game’s title suggests though, daytime is the much safer period of the day, with the zombies being more docile and less powerful. Once evening comes around, amongst the regular zombies are mixed in far more vicious and persistent ones. Stealth becomes your ally, with the mini-map displaying the “volatile’s” scope of awareness.
There’s more to DL aside from a day/night cycle though. Another area of interest is how you move about the environment, as it’s parkour oriented. You’ll scale walls and make death-defying leaps to stay out of the reach of shuffling undead. Movement like this makes traveling from one quest marker to another more engaging, though when you’re hitting the same bits of pavement so often it can get a bit tiresome. The RPG factor comes in through a 3 tree system: Survivor, Power, and Agility. Each of these increase based on actions you take and function independently of each other. For instance, you get XP for Power by fighting and defeating enemies, while Agility comes from climbing and parkour.
I’m glad I was able to play DL with a controller, because they make use out of everything, which means trying to use a mouse and keyboard would have been Hell for me. It worked well for the most part, though it’s easy to get an input mixed-up. Additionally, I swear that sometimes the protagonist wouldn’t grab something even though I was hitting the button. Movement and looking around are controlled with the ‘L’ and ‘R joysticks’ accordingly. Each direction on the d-pad corresponds to a different action: ‘right’ scrolls through equipped weapons, ‘left’ scrolls through secondary items, ‘down’ uses a medkit, and ‘up’ turns your flashlight on and off. Holding down ‘Y’ repairs your equipped weapon, and ‘X’ interacts with the environment. ‘A’ and ‘B’ are used primarily for menu navigation, though holding down ‘A’ acts as an important item radar. The ‘R’ and ‘L shoulder buttons’ use your primary weapon and secondary item respectively. ‘L bumper’ kicks enemies, while ‘R bumper’ is your dodge, jump, and climb button.
I think many AAA titles follow similar storylines because it’s a safe script for them to rely on, but don’t be surprised when DL’s story hits all the cliches from a dramatic power struggle plot line. The protagonist is a plant, dropping into a hot zone of infected people that’s quarantined off. Seeking out a stolen file from a rogue politician, he winds up coming into the fold of the barely managing do-gooders. Meanwhile, the villain is a power-mad head honcho of armed bandits, who keep a squeeze on all the other survivors, as if they all don’t have enough to worry about with the shared threat of the undead.
With the organization he’s working for calling for him to follow shady acts, his faith starts to wane. Might it be that they don’t have the noble intentions they profess? How will all these conflicts and competing interests get resolved? If you said, with the good guys taking a few dramatic losses, the bad guys getting their comeuppance, and the protagonist favoring the helpless over the organization he’s working for, you’ve played a AAA game in the last decade.
Since DL replicates several blocks of a beaten-up city, the environments reflect this by looking gritty and dirty. The handfuls of background objects scattered around in the area make locations look believable, as if people once lived there. Also, piles of trash and debris are as plentiful as dead bodies, showing just how bad things have gotten in this infected zone. Since Harran is such a devastated place and most enemies are gory corpses, it can give an impression of an ugly game. However, considering the scope of the location and what it’s portraying, the graphics are done quite well. Except for some of the far corners or water-heavy places, no location in DL felt empty or ignored.
Much of the game’s music is made up of ambient noise and has a creepy, unsettling vibe to it. Many of the songs aren’t songs in a conventional sense, so they all blend together and lose distinction to me. Something I found annoying about the soundtrack was the inclusion of in-game sound effects, because it disrupts one of the ways I check for danger. I’ll be mindful of my environment and listening for sneaking-up zombies or passing aircraft, but these noises can lead me astray unnecessarily. When not boondoggled by the music, the splats and gore sound effects from slaying zombies are pretty satisfying. The pavement scrapes, footfalls, and winded noises help support all of the parkour you engage in.
- It takes a while to start feeling like a capable survivor in DL, but the steady sense of progression makes the hurdles you overcome feel more rewarding. I can square up against Rais’ men more capably, dangerous zombies aren’t so hard to kill anymore, surviving through the night outside of a shelter seems plausible, etc. Not being able to use firearms for a long time helps with this as well.
- The base game has a substantial amount of content to play through, with the challenges and side quests available. Whether or not to get the DLC is hard to recommend until you’ve played the game for a while, as it depends on whether a 30+ hour game would satisfy you, or you’d want to continue on.
- The item detecting system means that even a thorough person won’t have to pore over every corner with a fine-toothed comb. A quick check will point out all nearby items.
- I know there were times I died from my own mistakes, but there have been a few times where it seemed super cheap, including when a floor collapsed under me and I died instantly. Thanks quest marker! On that note, it sometimes wasn’t clear what I needed to do or where to go. Thankfully there’s plenty of YouTube videos if you ever get stuck.
- I’m not positive about the spawning system for the zombies, but it seems as if more zombies will eventually spawn in even as you clear the location. When it’s absolutely necessary in certain situations, it can be quite a drag and take a while just to clear enough space to pick a lock.
- Although most of the movement in the game is quick-paced and has a good flow, there’s quite a bit of swimming in DL. I don’t mind it in short bursts, but they could have removed all of it and nothing would have been lost.
- Until you get some level-ups and unlock helpful skills, respect the dangers of nighttime and bunker up overnight. It’s not worth being overwhelmed and killed when you can just wait until daytime. Additionally, some quests can have surprisingly difficult fights for your current payload. After dying, it’s sometimes pointless to try and force your way through, and you need to come back to it later.
- Weapons progressively get more powerful the further into the game you get. You’re provided with a healthy amount of throwing weapons and eventually get firearms with plenty of ammo (each type has a strict ceiling you can hold). Keeping some projectiles on hand is prudent, and at a certain point, you’ll want to carry a gun with you all the time for especially tough enemies or situations.
- Since stamina is limited, get into the habit of taking a moment to catch your breath while you’re in a safe spot. Running until you’re ragged and stuck in a mob of zombies is foolish.
Although the most fun of DL seems to come from playing it cooperatively, I still enjoyed myself when playing on my own, which I did for the majority of the game. Having someone available to watch your back or distract a tough enemy is incredibly helpful though, so it’s not a bad idea to join in with others. Either way, I was somewhat surprised by how easy DL was to jump into and get somewhat addicted by, wanting to take a side quest a bit further or finish one last quick one before turning the game off. Some of the early deaths were off-putting, but as I learned to tread more cautiously and follow an easier progression point, it made much more sense to me. By the time I finished the game I was ready for a break, yet I see myself coming back to delve more fully into the plethora of DLC available. However, I’d want to play with others if I went that route. With the sequel slated to release late 2021, it might prove prudent to wait until that game comes out before making a move on the first one.