STAFF REVIEW of Dying Light (Xbox One)

Sunday, February 1, 2015.
by Adam Dileva

Dying Light Box art It seems that the zombie genre is still alive and thriving as Techland, best known for Dead Island, now brings us another zombie apocalypse survival game, but with some drastic changes to the formula they previously created in their past game. While Dying Light may still have the generic checklist that a zombie survival game seems to cater to, they’ve made some changes to ensure that it doesn’t simply feel like the same game all over again; at least I believe that was their intention. If you were a Dead Island fan, you’ll most likely enjoy Dying Light, as it does have a lot of parallels, but the new mechanics implemented may be hit or miss depending on what you’re looking for in this specific genre.

The most drastic and notable change is no doubt the implantation of a parkour element similar of that to Mirror’s Edge. You’ll be running, jumping, and climbing all over the fictional city of Harran to escape hordes of zombies and to get from one point to another. Another drastic change is the serious tone of the game as opposed to the wacky and over the top vibe that Dead Island had. I don’t believe Dead Island was meant to be taken too seriously, whereas Dying Light tries to encase its story in a dramatic and serious manner. It’s a shame that the writing, acting, and other numerous issues prevent Dying Light from reaching that level of quality and seriousness that would have been a welcome change, but more on that shortly.

You play as Kyle Crane, (voiced by Roger Craig Smith, best known for the voices of Ezio and Sonic) a secret operative sent to the infected and quarantined city of Harran to find out what’s going on and more importantly, recover an incredibly important file that your bosses want back. Even only after a few missions in you’ll most likely determine the outcome and what’s coming next with the predictable conspiracies as I was foreseeing everything that was going to happen next well before it plays out. In cliché fashion, Crane will have to decide to either complete his missions or help the survivors within the infected city, though you have no actual choice and are taken for the ride instead of being given the choice to help either side.

The story feels as it’s there to guide you from one area to the next as opposed to a truly interesting narrative that you want to see the outcome of as soon as possible. The terrible lip syncing and reused character models may have played a part in my distain for the story, but there really was only a single or two unpredictable moment that occurred by the time the credits rolled. The voice work by Roger Craig Smith is done well, as there’s only so much you can do with mediocre writing, but the support cast either tended to be cliché or not really that engaging in comparison. Even after a dozen hours there really wasn’t a character I was very attached to or cared about all that much.

Dying Light is set in an open world urban environment that is littered and filled with infected, making it extremely dangerous for anyone to get around; This is where Crane’s parkour skills come into play and makes him the best man for the job to help the trapped citizens throughout the city while also trying to complete his mission. Being that you play in first person, it will feel very familiar to Mirror’s Edge at times when you’re constantly climbing ledges, jumping gaps, and scaling buildings. Let it be known, it will take some time to get used to the default controls, and even after a dozen hours into the game, I was still sometimes hitting the incorrect buttons. The reason for this is that the jump and climb button is actually the RB bumper, not the typical ‘A’ button, but for good reason. You need to keep your momentum going as you leap and climb, and doing so with the ‘A’ button would be impossible since you would have to take your thumb off the right stick while holding the controller, so I get it, but it does feel unnatural regardless of how many hours you play Dying Light for due to conditioning over many years of gaming.

In the beginning Crane has very limited stamina and will only be able to run in short bursts and swing weapons a few times before needing a quick breather, but as you progress and level up, you’ll eventually be able to scale buildings and cover distances very quickly, but with one caveat; when the game decides that it wants to work. At certain points I was running through hordes of zombies and chaining together my parkour movements like the game intended, but other times it simply will not work so smoothly, causing you to either fall and take damage or refusing to grab certain ledges and a swift death coming shortly after because of it. When you need to climb of the very tall towers, this is where the flakey controls will almost guarantee you an unfair death. Not only is it not always clear what you can grab onto for proper ledges, but it will sometimes overshoot your intended ledge or refuse to grab on and result in you plummeting for a swift death. That being said, when the controls work, it’s a fantastic feeling to vault over a zombie’s head onto a ledge and make quick work leaping gaps between building roofs. With all of the movement abilities you’re given I understand why they would want you to always run from point to point in missions, but having a fast travel, even if it was just to the main safe area of the game, would have been very welcomed.

To combat the zombies that will constantly be between you and your objective you’ll be using melee weapons for the majority of the game. You don’t receive guns and ammo until later in the game and when you do there’s usually not enough ammo given to make it viable versus having another high damage and durable melee weapon outside some of the harder sections and bosses. You’ll begin with only access to crude planks of wood, pipes, and the sorts, but eventually you’ll find much better weapons that will be worth your precious and limited upgrades. Yes, you can craft and upgrade weapons too! By completing missions, side quests, bosses, exploring, and more, you’ll find parts, blueprints, and upgrades, so it’s worth your time exploring so that you can make your favorite weapon into a massive damage dealing stick of death versus zombies. While it’s fun to add fire, electricity, and other mods to your weapons, it’s also completely unnecessary and you can easily reach and complete the game without ever doing so or purchasing the higher tier weapons from vendors.

Since you’ll constantly be looting zombies, trash cans, and more, you’ll come across many useful items, but even more not to helpful items that you’ll have to take the time to sift through as your backpack only has a limited amount of room before you need to clear room for newer and better items. As you progress in the game you’ll be able to upgrade your backpack slots, but even maxed out, I had to take some time to organize and go through it every so often. It would have been nice to have the inventory management a little more streamlined and user friendly so that it didn’t take up so much time on a constant basis.

As you play through Dying Light, traversing, looting, and fighting zombies, you’ll gain experience points for every action you do that is split into three separate categories: Survivor, Agility, and Power. The Survivor category is your generic experience for completing missions, clearing safe zones, finding supply drops, and more and relates to your basic character level. You gain Agility experience for all of your parkour abilities such as running, jumping, climbing, and more, so this will fill over time no matter what you’re doing. Lastly, Power experience is for fighting zombies and setting traps, another thing that will fill on its own as you progress through the game, so there’s not usually a need to solely trying to focus on getting experience in one category. That being said, make sure you get the grappling hook as soon as you’re able to as it’s a complete game changer and renders all traversal in the game almost void of any challenge once obtaining.

One of the biggest catches that Dying Light utilizes is the dynamic day and night cycle that actually makes a massive difference in how you’ll play. During the day there really isn’t all that much of a challenge but once nightfall hits, you better get ready for a completely difference experience. When it is night time, zombies become incredibly fast and dangerous and will easily be able to keep up with you as you spring and try and outrun them. A few hits with your best weapon probably isn’t going to do that much either, so you need to be prepared to run and find a safe house as soon as possible. You’re given a few tools to help combat them, but until much later in the game it’s best to try and escape, as these super zombies are absolutely terrifying.

Dying Light excels at creating a tension when you know you’re being chased by one of these volatile zombies and simply trying to get someone safe as soon as possible. You can even press the ‘Y’ button to look behind you as you’re sprinting, much like looking in your rear view mirror, if you want an even more terrifying experience seeing how close they are to attacking you. I was legitimately scared when night hit, especially in the specific missions that force you to play during nightfall. The risk versus reward payoff is quite good though, as you gain double experience points for participating at night, so since you’re confident in your abilities, I actually suggest to not always avoid night for some easy leveling up.

I felt very tense playing alone, but luckily up to four people can all play together which makes things much easier. You’ll need to play the hour long introduction before you’re allowed to play cooperatively with your friends, but once you do, you won’t want to play alone again. Playing coop with friends speeds up the pacing dramatically, even more so if one of your friends is a higher level. For example, if I join your game, and since all of my skills are in the mid-teens, I’ll have a lot more abilities such as the grapple hook to get around much quicker. Even better, once one player in the game reaches the objective, it prompts a ‘teleport now’ for the remaining players allowing for some pseudo quick travel. It can cheapen the experience of the game as a whole if you’re simply being teleported from point to point, but it’s not forced if you don’t want to use it and earn that experience on your own.

One thing worth noting is that the game’s multiplayer co-op is asymmetrical, meaning even though I’m joining your game when you just started, I’ll still get my own experience, but all of the quests are based on the host of the game. You’ll all get experience and credit for completing quests and loot is individual per person, so make sure the host in your group of friends is the one that wants to progress their story closest to the beginning. You’re also able to create challenges with your friends, such as who can kill the most zombies in a set time, get to a checkpoint the fastest, and more, but keep in mind the game doesn’t scale based on how many players are together, and me with my grappling hook will always win the race competitions versus you who doesn’t have it yet.

There is even a competitive multiplayer mode aptly named Be The Zombie mode. Here you get to play an incredibly powerful zombie and can invade other players’ games. You can use your tentacle to quickly zip around and reach the survivor players and are tasked with taking them out. This is usually quite easy as the zombie in its current state is grossly overpowered and only is a challenge if you’re in someone’s game that has 3 or 4 players. It’s worth noting that the game’s default setting is to allow anyone to invade your game, so you might want to turn this setting off or to only friends if you want to make progress without being killed quite often. If you like having that extra pressure and challenge, set it to frequent and good luck.

Dying Light does do a few things quite well, namely your acrobatic skills when you chain together moves and you keep unstoppable (again, when it works). Also, even being as powerful as I am in the game post credits, night still legitimately scares me with the volatile zombies that can easily make quick work of me if I’m not careful. Night time scares me in a game; that’s impressive.

I did have a lot of complaints that seemed to keep piling up by the time I was done playing though. When the parkour controls work proper it’s great, but more often than not I always had issues with Crane either not grabbing the ledge that he should have or misjudging my footing since it’s in first person and missing my jump completely. This is mostly true during the final sequence of the game, which I don’t want to spoil, but I’ll just say that I almost gave up on the game completely when I died for my hundredth time due to controls not always doing what I wanted them to. Combat is quite basic, and while there are some nifty upgrades you can get later on, it’s never really challenging outside of a massive crowd of zombies or at night. As mentioned above, the characters are generally lifeless and you won’t make any connection to them with the very predictable story. You’ll see the twists coming a mile away and the texture pop in that happens quite frequent will take you out of the immersion.

Dying Light is full of great ideas, and even though it’s in the tired zombie genre, it does enough to distinguish itself from other similar games. I highly suggest playing with friends if at all possible, as it made the experience much more tolerable and entertaining. Some of the best experiences I had was simply exploring and fighting packs of zombies as a group with friends, and while Dying Light isn’t doing anything terribly innovative, it will most likely keep you coming back for more with its RPG-like progression and tons of side quests that will surely take a good chunk of time to complete fully.

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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