Publisher: Warner Bros.
Platform: Xbox One
I maybe in the minority, but I quite enjoyed Dead Island and whiled away many an hour battering the undead to a pulp, so when Techland announced they were going to release Dying Light I was very excited. Whilst not being a sequel in the true sense of the word, the cocktail of one part Mirrors Edge and one part Dead Island is a drink I would happily drown myself in. So, have they pulled it off ? Is Dying Light a glorious mix of parkour and gratuitous brain bashing or is it a flat, tasteless substance than somehow makes water seem interesting ?
Well, the story certainly isn’t the high point. Set in the fictional city of Harran, you play Kyle Crane who has been sent into the quarantine zone by the GRE (Global Relief Effort) to find Kadir Sulaiman, a rogue agent who has ownership of a file which could ruin the reputation of the agency. After parachuting into the isolated city things quickly take a turn for the worst. Beaten and bitten Kyle is thankfully saved by a group of survivors, known locally as ‘runners’. Keeping his intentions a secret, Kyle begins to help this resolute group by performing whatever tasks they require of him, hoping this will bring him closer to finding Kadir.
It’s all quite generic stuff, not improved by the wooden, stereotypical NPC’s. The characters lack any real depth and seem to spend most of the time just standing around asking you to collect items for them. Thankfully I didn’t come to Harran to be entertained with a multi-layered complex story, no, I came to eviscerate, to obliterate and destroy. I am here to lay waist to the zombie infestation with whatever comes to hand and it’s here that Dying Light delivers.
It seems that even the most rudimentary of items can be used as a weapon. Table legs, a wooden plank and, of course, metal pipes. All can be swung with enough force to slow the march of the undead, but these items won’t last long and you’ll soon find yourself outnumbered and running for your life. It’s a good thing that Kyle is as nimble as he is vicious, which allows for some very sprightly escapes. It will take a little time to become familiar with the parkour system, but with a little practice you’ll be traversing the environment with ease and if you are anything like me, you’ll want to find the quickest and smoothest route to your destination, never wanting to stop for a second (unless of course you spot a few isolated undead who are ripe for the picking). Go on, enjoy yourself, it’s why you’re here after all.
This leads nicely into the skill trees, of which there are three. Accumulate enough points and you will be able to upgrade your skills, quite why a spy is so underdeveloped is beyond me, but hey ho. The first being ‘survivor’ general points you’ll achieve by yes- surviving and helping out your comrades. Then there is ‘agility’ which increases with each feat of dexterity, from climbing, leaping and avoiding attacks. Finally there is ‘power’ which increases which each use of your offensive abilities. These are a great way of rewarding the player and as you approach the final chapters of the game you will be quite adept to face most of the challenges set before you.
Even when you have become proficient in these skills you will still need to be careful. You can be overrun quite quickly and even the most slow witted of the undead will be feasting on your flesh. Harran isn’t just home to your ‘normal’ zombie. Here you will find some of the infected have unique skills. You have the standard biter, who clumsily shuffles about the place, but make too much noise and you will find yourself being hunted by a group of Virals, who are much quicker and also possess the ability to climb. It would be wise not to take these lightly as they can be devastating in groups. Then there are Gas Tanks zombies, they’re dressed in full hazmat suits, whilst they can’t bite you it’s the large oxygen tanks they have on their backs which can be a problem. This can explode which can be useful for clearing a cluster, but will also draw the attention of the Virals. Whilst it is these three you will come into contact with quite often, there are others that you will be happy to know you don’t see nearly as much. There are huge hulking great monstrosities which are very powerful, others which will explode and some that will spit a toxic substance all over you. By far the most dangerous though are the Volatiles, who are a formidable foe and best left alone, if you’re spotted the only option is to run to a safe zone as fast as possible. Thankfully, these only come out at night.
It’s the day and night cycle which is the most interesting thing about Dying Light. Harran is a horrifying place to find yourself during the day, but when it becomes night-time and the darkness closes in, it becomes quite terrifying. Ability and Power points are doubled during these hours, it’s as if Techland are daring you, willing you to take on the challenge. In the early stages of the game, when Kyle is quite weak and without any decent weapons, this would be unthinkable, but as your time with the game grows so does your confidence and you have the abilities to match. It’s still not easy, but it’s achievable.
So back to my earlier question, would I drown myself in Dying Light? No, but, I would wade into it until it was around my chest. The so called plot is a disappointment, there are far too many side quests which are simply tasking you to play fetch. It also has surprising difficulty spikes which can prove quite frustrating. That being said, when you get the hang of the parkour system and you have upgraded your character with enough abilities, the game becomes much more fun. You will often find there is more than one way to complete any given task and when you get access to the more powerful weapons and upgrades this possibilities increase further. It’s a welcome change, not feeling superhuman, and when you’re scampering down a dark alleyway with a horde of screaming Volatiles bearing down on you whilst you frantically search for a path to safety, your heartbeat pulsing in your ears, your breath quickened you may find yourself saying, yes! I’ll have another, thank you.