Zombies. You know the drill: A mysterious virus has turned everyone into zombies, and the world is essentially a post-apocalyptic hellscape, forcing a small band of survivors to live amongst the ruins of the old civilisation.
The remaining humans are driven apart by factionalism, and human nature takes over where any semblance of government, law and order left off. So better grab a lead pipe or a hammer, and prepare for battle.
We’ve basically seen it all before, so when you parachute into the city at the start of the game, things may feel somewhat familiar.
You play as Kyle Crane, an initially mysterious undercover operator who has to infiltrate one group of surviving humans – whilst secretly reporting back to base. But as time goes on, loyalties are perhaps inevitably challenged.
The setting works quite nicely. Perhaps the problem with its pseudo-predecessor Dead Island was that because it was an island, it was relatively sparsely populated – whereas a city is both grittier and denser, so the very setting ramps up the tension. When you have to move between safe houses through the zombie masses, you’ll find your heart racing as you dodge between zombies.
Game mechanics-wise, Dying Light is perhaps most similar to the Dead Island franchise – perhaps unsurprising given the two share a developer. Though apparently the two games are in no way related – and despite rumours, the developers insist that Dying Light didn’t start life as a Dead Island-branded game. It just happens that both games a first person games featuring zombies, that use melee combat and weapons crafting. Cough.
There’s a few interesting innovations to this tried-and-tested formula, though.
First off, the big addition is free running. The game encourages you to climb on buildings and jump between them a la Assassin’s Creed – literally adding a new dimension to game play. Despite being a first person game, this is surprisingly intuitive – with the R1 button being used to jump and grab and so on. With just a little bit of practice, you can be swinging around, high above the zombies below. One of the challenges with a first person perspective is making the player feel weighty enough so that they can judge jumps and so on – but here developer Techland seems to have managed it, with it quickly becoming intuitive how far you can dare leap.
The other new thing in the game is the day/night cycle. If you thought zombies were bad during the day… you ain’t seen nothing yet. Unlike day time zombies, the night zombies are much tougher and terrifyingly, can also climb up buildings so nowhere is safe. Mercifully, there isn’t an time split – with days lasting something like 50 minutes, to nights lasting only 7.
What’s great about the game is that it essentially forces you to keep moving, especially at night. Whilst a lot of games are happy to let you hang back for as long as you need (think all of those cover based shooters), the only way to survive a zombie attack is to keep on moving.
The skill tree upgrades are triggered by levelling up, similar to an RPG – so the more zombie encounters you have, to more skills you’ll gain. This is again good as it forces you into the action, and it’ll make you feel like you’re getting better as your skills improve too.
On paper, the game should be a hit. It does a lot of things right, after all. Perhaps its biggest problem though is being relatively unremarkable. There’s nothing particularly new here. The component parts are solidly put together, but frankly, there’s not much of a wow factor.