Updated: May 27
In the city of Harran, a mysterious viral outbreak has turned most of the population flesh craving zombies, forcing Harran's Defense Ministry to quarantine the entire city. The game sees you assume the role of Kyle Crane, an undercover operative sent in by the Global Relief Effort to infiltrate the quarantine zone and retrieve sensitive files that are in the possession of a local rogue politician.
Dying Light is an open-world first person survival horror video game.
The game represents Techland’s third foray into the open-world, zombie game (sub) genre. With the likes of Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide already under their collective belts the developer has decided to revisit similar territory. While there are obvious comparisons to its predecessors, this game has a more urban setting with a greater focus on free-running/parkour exploration and verticality.
The game begins with you entering Harrah. However, on arrival you are unexpectedly bitten by a zombie. This changes the focus of your mission as you attempt to obtain retroviral drugs that suppresses symptoms of infection and keeps bitten people from turning into the infected. Following your brush with death you slowly become sympathetic to the plight of the people as you switch your attention to finding a cure and assisting the survivors. The change in Kyle’s stance and allegiances is well handled and the voice acting and characters are believable. The occasional ‘relapse’ by Kane following his infection is very reminiscent of the player’s Malaria infection in Far Cry 2. However, fear not as it is nowhere near as annoying as it is generally a narrative issue and does not insist on the player cutting missions short to obtain medicine.
As you have probably come to expect from an open world game, there are a glut of ‘story’ missions, side missions and ‘mini-games’; from timed parkour runs to clearing an area of the infected, there is wealth of content for you to digest.
The aforementioned ‘parkour’ is a huge and important element of the gameplay and your ability to traverse buildings and structures quickly are integral if you wish to survive. The free-running mechanic is fluid and easy to instigate and once mastered results in a level of freedom hitherto found in an open world first person adventure. Only Mirrors Edge has witnessed anything similar but the free-running was very prescribed and linear in comparison. On many occasions you will find yourself frantically attempting to scramble over fences or climb buildings in an attempt to avoid the undead hordes.
The game implements a traditional ‘XP’ system, (whereby the player can earn XP by running, fighting, completing missions etc) and experience points earned are used to unlock additional abilities via one of three ‘skill trees’. The leveling up system is deep and varied and a multitude of abilities and powers can be unlocked – from a plethora of melee attacks to increased free-running abilities and ultimately a grappling hook.
One of the game’s greatest assets is the wonderful day/night cycle it employs. While this feature has been a main stay of many games since the 90’s, the way it is delivered in Dying Light is one of the most effective. While in many games, the transition to night is an obvious and unavoidable inevitability that normally simply equates to more neon lights and slightly reduced visibility, Techland have successfully created a game where there is a stark difference between the daytime world and its sunless counterpart.
The graphical transition between day and the night is incredible and arguably the greatest visualisation of the Day-Dusk-Night-Dawn-Day cycle yet seen virtually. The game world’s lack of any real level of lighting results in a near pitch black, urban setting where the noises of the usual ‘hustle and bustle’ are replaced with distant cries and moans of the undead. The result is a genuinely terrifying, urban nightscape populated by savage night dwelling super zombies (that go by the name of Volatiles) that hunt and stalk human players. The Volatiles are more akin to the monsters found in ‘I Am Legend’ rather than the stereotypical, ‘shuffling’ zombies that litter the streets during the day. This creates a genuine fear of the night, and most players will soon learn to avoid the outdoors after sun down.
The game has many things going for it and the proverbial ‘icing on the cake’ is the soundtrack. With the passing of the years a game’s soundtrack seems to have garnered more importance/significance amongst creators and developers. Whether this is due to the desire to create a more complete, artistic experience or simply to create another revenue stream (i.e. sell the OST separately), the player benefits.
The soundtrack was composed by Pawel Blaszczak, the audio director of Techland, who has previously composed the music for The Witcher and Dead Island. The game’s soundtrack sees Pawel move away from the more conventional orchestral score and more into retro tinged ‘Synth Wave’ territory. The heavy use of synths and electro feel really evoked memories of the works of John Carpenter and George A Romero and complimented the zombie slaying gameplay brilliantly.
The game world looks beautiful, the story and characters engaging, the action tense and exhilarating and the atmosphere second-to-none. The blend of open-world and first person, parkour gameplay is exciting and truly sets it apart from any of its contemporaries. Similar to Creative Assembly’s Alien: Isolation, Dying Light is an excellent, well-made, first entry in hopefully a successful ongoing franchise. It is an early contender for game of the year.
Story – 8.5
Graphics - 9.0
Gameplay – 9.2
Gameworld/Atmosphere – 9.1
Overall – 8.95