Techland seem to be sticking with what they know in their latest release. In this case, what they happen to know is zombies. They are the same developers of the much-hyped but largely disappointing Dead Island, and the similarities between these two games are immediate apparent. However, they seem to have learned from the majority of their mistakes, and have delivered a far more complete next-gen product. The only real question left is: does anyone still care about zombies or zombie games?
Players step into the shoes of Kyle Crane, a special forces agent sent into the fictional zombie-fied Middle Eastern city of Harran. Crane works for the GRE, a UN type organisation monitoring the region, and his mission is to locate a terrorist by the name of Suleiman, who has stolen some sensitive and dangerous data about the virus outbreak. Your insertion goes badly, with Crane sustaining a zombie bite and rescue at the hands of a small group of survivors who give him some limited medicine to keep the infection at bay. Crane begins by using the debt he owes the group to work for them, while at the same time trying to fulfil his original mission.
The format this then takes is a combination of main quests and side quests for various figures and survivors around the city. The game is in an open world, first person perspective, and a great emphasis is placed on the parkour system in the game, which feels very Mirror’s Edge-like, except of course for all the zombies trying to get at you. Regular zombies at least cannot climb up walls, and safe houses exploit this effect. A safe house is secured when you kill all the zombies inside, and lock the various gates and doors, creating a ramshackle area where you can at least take a breather for a while or assess your gear situation. The open world itself is extremely expansive, and larger than you might imagine at first, with a surprising amount of variety in areas for a typical destroyed-city setting.
Combat with both zombies and human enemies takes the form of mostly melee weapons, swung with a stamina and strength system, as well as a degradation system, meaning that you cannot swing infinitely and that your weapons might well break at a crucial moment. Choosing your battles well is recommended. There is a basic level scaling system in place, meaning that at max level, your character will only run across enemies wielding the most powerful swords of all times, which I think is not a particularly effective system, as it discourages exploration and preservation of weapons. There are also firearms, but they are rare for a large portion of the game. Weapons can also be upgraded with various plans and materials, often in quite humorously ways, like a sword that can electrify and burn at the same time. It does look cool though, which I suppose is a point. There is also a crafting system for other items, and most healthpacks and repair kits will be made by the player themselves from scavenged materials.
One of the games main selling points is its day/night system, and this does work very effectively, especially at the start of the game. At night, all zombies get more aggressive, and powerful new zombies who are faster than you and can climb emerge. If you turn on your light, you startle them and they begin chasing you, but in the dark you may well walk into them by accident. It can be quite scary, and that final push to a safe house often left me full of adrenaline. The effectiveness of this, as well as a lot of tenseness in the game, is undone when you learn how to make a grappling hook in the second half of the game, which works so well you might as well be Spiderman. It is a lot of fun to traverse the world in such a way, but at the same time the zombies become even less of a threat.
Dying Light is amongst one of the better sandbox games out there, and is really a lot of good fun for a while. The game itself looks gorgeously detailed, and the world is hugely expansive. It is however let down by a few minor flaws that stop it achieving true greatness. These include a weak story, the levelling system of weapons, the grappling hook implementation, and the ability to exploit the game in a few ways almost by accident. For me, the first ten hours of this game were the best, but the last 20 were still fun. I would recommend it if the concept intrigues you, just don’t expect a game that changes your life. Just a fun one.