Zombie massacre simulator is the description that comes to mind when I think of Techland's Dying Light. With so many implements of undead doom at your disposal, you can easily lose yourself in trying every weapon and item you come across. The real question, though, is does this game stand out from Techland's previous title Dead Island?
State of Emergency - As you enter the city of Harran, you see what the city has turned into after the zombie outbreak. This is the point where you wonder how you will survive in this dangerous place where everything is trying to kill everything else. Dying Light does a great job of setting the tone for the world you have just entered with zombies, brutal raiders and the survivors who do everything they can to stay alive in this city wrought with danger.
Right off the bat you start to see how the game controls and instantly think of Dead Island. This isn't a bad thing considering one of the only working aspects of Dead Island was, for the most part, the character movements. After you finish the introductory story missions, you are introduced to a likeable cast of runners. Trained in free running and basic combat, these survivors are anything but helpless. The introductory missions in Dying Light are a smart way to get you warmed up to the control scheme and show you how many ways you can dismember your foes.
You Are Free To Run - Dying Light has a lot of weapons and ways to distract enemies, but sometimes you need to be able to escape. Enter the free-running mechanic of the game. I have played Mirror's Edge several times and I was sad when I sold it long ago to the local game shop, but this brings back all of my previous feelings when I played it. While the climbing doesn't necessarily feel as polished as Mirror's Edge, it does have one thing that helps it: hordes of zombies. Yes, the zombies help motivate the feeling of needing to climb. Sounds funny, but it just adds more emotion to why you are climbing. If the streets were empty and it was just a free running simulator, I don't think it would have the same impact. Never forget, zombies wanting to eat you is some pretty awesome motivation to not miss that jump.
Next Level - All of your actions give you experience in its respective tree-like power, agility, or survivor. Survivor points are pretty much general experience that can be earned from quests and other helping survivors. Power points are earned from using weapons and dispatching enemies. Agility is earned by free running. Each tree offers its own unique abilities and focuses, but each one also has necessary talents that seem to make the game impossible to beat without it. Perks like extra bag space or the grappling hook make leveling much easier as well as making it that much more fun.
Are You Afraid of the Dark? - So the game has a night and day cycle and believe me when I say you better be prepared for what the dark has in store. During the day, you fight zombies, random thugs who work for a local warlord, and the environment. It's when the sun goes down that all those things that go bump in the night start to do a little more than bump. The only words that come to mind when thinking of the terrifying Volatiles are nightmare fuel. Volatiles are the final evolution during the outbreak which made the enemies sensitive to UV light, whether it's the sun or a UV flashlight. Yes, there is plenty of nightmare fuel in Dying Light's less than well-lit areas.
The best part (or worst part, depending on heart conditions) of running from these Volatiles is holding the “look Back” button while running away, allowing you to see these denizens of the night chase you. It's horrifying and it's one of my favorite things in the game. You may think to yourself “There is no reason to go at night.”, but you would be missing out on extra experience and some of the most fun Harran has to offer.
I'm A Survivor - When the end of your world comes, what would be the most important thing? Money or power? Or how about a drug that can help prevent you from turning into a grotesque flesh eating abomination and help you fight a little longer? Well, every other survivor wants this drug called Antizin. They are generally as fast as you, they always have melee or firearms, and they are just as much fun to hunt as zombies. You will mostly run into others while trying to get to supply drops: air drops from the outside made to help you survive until something can be done about this whole situation. Drops happen all of the time and if you are first, to the victor go the spoils. If you show up late, however, you will have to fight off the early birds to get whatever is left. There is no penalty for getting the leftovers, you just let go of some extra survivor points. I really don't know what my favorite enemy to fight is because it's fun to fight everything I can with whatever I can.
Wait, We Are Survivors - I have to make mention of the amazing multiplayer in this game. If you can imagine everything I have mentioned so far, you can imagine how much fun it would be with three other people. Running at night is an amazing experience in survival; it becomes a big game of tag with the Volatiles. Using teamwork to take down the bigger enemies is a joy and all of the personal challenges make the free running and zombie killing that much more fun. Then there's the opposite of teamwork when you start up the “Be The Zombie” mode that was packaged with the game. Previously only a DLC for pre-orders, Be the Zombie allows you to take the role of a Night Stalker and take on a team of survivors who are trying to destroy your nests. The teamwork needed by the humans is astounding because once the night stalker gets you, it's over. I played my first round against two humans and it wasn't until I separated them that they dropped quickly. Whether you play competitively or cooperatively, the multiplayer needs to be played.
DEAD AND NOT LOVING IT
Story Time - My major gripe with Dying Light is with this game is the lackluster story. The story was a major upgrade from Dead Island's “lifeless” main characters that show no emotion and rarely have dialogue, but even with this enhanced character the story somehow still seems predictable. It unfolds in a manner and an order that you would expect which is its biggest downfall. I have already done most of the side quests and I feel like if I didn't have multiplayer, I wouldn't have anything else to do. I'm sure this is because the whole zombie genre is filled with similar games, it's not surprising. It's not like other game themes don't have the same problem. (Call of Duty, I'm looking at you.)
You Want Me To Do What? - There are a bunch of quests and side quests to look into, but sadly most of them consist of Fetch quests. Fetch quests are always seen as the worst kind of quests in any game where you run back in forth in a perpetual loop of “Hand me that”. They always come off as filler content, and no matter how fun the parkour is, they have this knack to make you resent movement. How do they forget some of these important things or why do they need that doll? It sucks being someone's courier of a facade into a normal life, especially when they repay you with some less-than-stellar loot. Other quests include defending survivors from zombies and crazies to challenges like Zombie Killer or a parkour race. There is always something to do, but how long you want to keep doing the same thing is up to you.
Dying Light is so far a great way to start this year in gaming. With a solid control scheme, fun weapons, terrifying enemies and a lot to do makes this such a fun outing. The story is below what it could have been, but that could also be due to the fact that the zombie genre is over-saturating this medium and you only have so many stories to tell. Either way, running around and cutting up the competition will keep you entertained well beyond 30 plus hours of gameplay.
*This review was based on the Xbox One version of the game with a review code provided by the publisher.