I already know what most people will be thinking when they first hear about Dying Light — “Oh no, not another zombie title.” But, even though the market may be getting flooded by games looking to capitalize on the booming genre, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for a company to actually create a product that improves upon everything that came before it. This new free-running survival horror title by Techland is exactly one of those games, as it not only allows players to have free roam of a city, it gives players the ability to actually choose how and when to fight.
Instead of the standard fare that we get when a game throws the zombie horde at you, Dying Light looks to give you complete access to the world you’re in. Allowing the player to move around and survey the area from rooftops, balconies and even from alley to alley. This freedom is not only great in concept, but the way that Techland has executed the movement from area to area is what really pushes it forward. Having a protagonist that simply cannot climb a fence or a wall is a tired gaming crutch that we see simply being used over and over again in most games, which does nothing more than force players to head down a path that the developers have laid out before them. Instead, climbing and jumping become normal actions in Dying Light as the player is set loose on the world, which makes each decision or path chosen feel like a free fall. Decisions must be made, and the player has no one but himself to rely on.
This concept of choice is something that becomes all the more apparent as I dove into Dying Light’s day and night cycle, as the game turns from a free-running open world zombie infested survival game during the day, and into an adrenaline packed horror experience during the night. Time will pass constantly, so depending on how you invest your time away from the safety of your base is up to you, but as I was caught out during the night, I went from a parkouring zombie smashing mad man into a scared little kid who just wanted to find a corner to hide in till all the bad men went away. This drastic sensation you get from losing visibility is only the start of the change in dynamics, as new threats come out at night as well, ones that will unleash the full power of the city against you.
Even though there is a great deal of emphasis on running in Dying Light, it wouldn’t be a complete zombie game without a combat mechanic to back up each interaction and it does a fantastic job of pushing that envelope forward as well. The sensation given in actually having to destroy the brain of your enemies, otherwise they will simply stand back up is something that I found eerily enjoyable, as it made each zombie a living threat instead of just another reason to swing my baseball bat. On top of the standard array of weapons, I was able to see some of the more advanced armaments that will be available later in the game, such as the Zapper Axe which could split zombies down the middle, and the Flame Blade, that could cut off limbs with a single swipe.
On top of the ability to improve on your arsenal, the player will be able to hone their ability to jump and climb the more they perform those actions, as well as the ability to use less stamina to swing weapons. This was shown by the character being able to climb and jump to locations with a much quicker and smoother animation and also be able to swing weapons longer before needing to rest.
Of course one the things that has been beaten into fans of the zombie apocalypse is that the greatest threat of all, is mankind. Dying Light doesn’t seem to shy away from this concept either, as there will be raiders that will hold you up and try to kill you. But, as was shown during my time with the game, fighting is only an option, as there will be chances to use the world to your advantage, such as causing enough noise in a location to bring in a horde to sweep out any armed thugs causing you problems.
Having seen Dying Light on a few occasions, it becomes more and more difficult for me to wait for its release in early 2015. As you never know how a game will come together this far out from release, especially for a new IP, but I honestly think this is going to be a game that will force other developers to have to stop and look at how a first-person zombie survival game should be done.