Dying Light Review – Frighteningly Beautiful (PS4)
Standing on a rooftop watching the sun set over the fictional city of Harran, as the faint sounds of zombies circling below you become increasingly agitated with the fading light, only to give way to a fury of bloodcurdling screams as night touches ground. Your senses heighten, your fears amplify, the zombies that once concerned you vanish from your mind, you are now alone, blind and being hunted. Good night, and good luck.
This, this is Dying Light. Developed by the studio that brought you Dead Island, Dying Light is what fans of the zombie survival series have been waiting for. Focusing more on the player’s ability to traverse the world around them, it removes the limits and the status quo of forced tight spaces that have become expected from the genre, and gives players a sense of freedom that we have never before been seen in a zombie title. While this could easily mean the dilution of its tension, the diversity and design behind the gameplay keeps players having to balance their own safety with completing tasks and staying out of reach.
Running for Your Life
Anyone who has played a first-person zombie survival title in the past may have a fundamental understanding as to what to expect from Dying Light, but it would be unwise to write it off as a simple hack-and-slash title with no depth. Instead of relying on a number of well choreographed instances to ramp up the tension, Dying Light hangs its hat on its ability to let players decide how to proceed in a world where danger happens on a more natural level. Each decision made can either benefit you greatly, or simply put everyone around you in danger.
With the day and night cycles constantly ticking away throughout your experience, the ability to be caught out at night while in the middle of a mission or when just looking around is an ever looming tension is a truly unique experience. With just about no public lighting, players must decide whether using a flashlight to light your way home is worth the risk of drawing attention, as you may unknowingly be walking into a mob and get the attention of the dreaded Night Hunters tracking you down.
Maneuvering around in the dark, looking for a path back home only to be caught off guard by a Night Hunter and being forced to run has created some of the most tense moments I have ever experienced in a video game. Not simply because the creatures are so frightening, but because of the Parkour (Free Running) system that is utilized in Dying Light. By pressing the R1 button, you are able to jump and grab onto ledges that you are looking at; but as your visibility fades, your ability to judge depth changes and each leap becomes a leap of faith. Forcing you to just react, as your ability to plan becomes limited to what you can vaguely see and the knowledge that if you stop, you are done for.
Thankfully, given how crucial the controls are for being able to traverse the landscape is, the game’s Parkour system is phenomenal. Besides being very simple and forgiving, it allows players to truly immerse themselves in the landscape as they plot paths, and make that harrowing leap from one building to another. The only major issue with it, is that there really is a lacking ability to easily descend from areas, at least until you unlock the incredibly fun grappling hook — which basically makes you into Batman.
While running is probably my favorite aspect of Dying Light, a great level of attention has also gone into its combat system as well. Picking up various items, or by using its crafting system to strap a blow torch to your butcher’s knife, allows players to always find a use for everything they pick up around them. Collision detection works wonderfully well, as does its ability to determine when a blow will decapitate, maim or even cleave a zombie in half.
The Parkour system and the crafting system are both directly tied into the game’s progression system, which not only lets players play as they want, but rewards them by always stepping the experience up as they go. Being able to cover yourself in zombie guts, so that you can try to pick a lock surrounded by the undead before it wears off, is just another example of how the tension in the game is decided by the player’s ability to intertwine the multiple features it offers.
You’re Not Alone
If surviving on your own isn’t your type of thing, it must be said that Dying Light has done a fantastic job designing its co-op multiplayer. Once you join a friend or random person online, you import your character file into their game world. If you’re ahead of them, you will get the experience again for redoing missions. But once they catch up to your story marker, it will automatically start progressing your save as well. Items and locations unlocked will also carry over, and each character will have an instance of their own, this means that no one has to worry about the other person stealing all of the good loot.
As you’re running amok with someone else, you’re also able to dynamically set up competitions by simply holding down the touch-pad. Depending on whether you are looting, killing or just running you can set up races to help pass the time or just to earn some points. If those mini-games aren’t enough for you, you can also take a group through one of the game’s Quarantine Zones, which pits the group against each other as they try to recover a number of items, while fending off a number of Night Terrors and zombies.
The only real downside to the co-op aspect of Dying Light is that each person still shows up as the same character, protagonist Kyle Crane. Even with the ability to change outfits, it does feel a bit nonsensical when you see quadruplets running around rummaging through the same garbage bin.
What Am I Doing Here?
As can be expected with just about every zombie title, the story is very much a service vehicle to explain Crane’s abilities and need to be at the forefront of all of this chaos. As Crane is a secret agent who is dropped off in the middle of the zombie apocalypse to retrieve certain documents and return them to some dark and callous agency. Past that, it really isn’t the game’s main plot that drives the experience home, as much as it is the subtle plots that pepper the game that add a real sense of weight to the world.
Moving from building to building only to come across a young child pinned inside a closet by his own undead father, you start to realize that more and more of the zombies you are mashing your way through were at one point or another someone’s friend or parent.
Getting a Closer Look
Once you step foot in Harran you can see just how good everything in the city looks. Whether it’s the lighting, the models or just the grotesque design of the zombies, it’s easy to notice that Dying Light is frighteningly beautiful. On top of all of that, the animations for character’s movements and its usage of subtle camera tilts to help sell the interaction between your first-person view and those interacting with you work very well in selling some of the interactions.
Sadly, this cannot be said for every animation and interaction within Dying Light, as many of the characters in the game have a incredibly noticeable lip syncing issue that almost makes it feel like the game was originally dubbed from another language. Even worse, there are a number of issues with some of the models in the game, at times your character’s hand can twist backwards due to a collision problem, or a weapon model showing up as a gigantic variation of itself in your hands.
There have also been noticeable bouts of frame-rate drops that only occurred when playing in an online group, and all of us were getting mobbed by more than a dozen zombies all getting decapitated or dismembered. While rare, and not very debilitating to the experience, it can be noticeable.
Overall, my time with Dying Light has been incredibly exhilarating and entertaining. The ability to play with friends, but still improve my character without having to worry about losing out on any progress I have earned keeps me coming back for more and more. Tying this into a wonderfully designed climbing system, combat system and crafting system, Dying Light is easily going to be one of my favorite games of 2015.
Review code for Dying Light provided by publisher. For more information on scoring, please our Review Policy here.