“Zombies, zombies everywhere!” is something you might have muttered to yourself about the state of pop culture, or of the world in general. Even though we can pretty much agree that too many movies and games run to the zombie well for content, there’s still hope.
Because for every sub-par, generic zombie game or movie, there is a Dying Light. Something that brings a fresh twist, a new take on the genre. Something which keeps what makes zombies fun intact, and adds variations and mechanics that make zombies fun again. What we have in Dying Light is a rarity – a fresh zombie game which manages to be fun and spine-chilling at the same time. Because let’s face it, being able to do some seamless parkour across a couple of rooftops and dropkick a zombie clean in the face never gets old.
Dying Light has a lot of these moments. Moments where you feel the visceral thrill of blowing up the undead, mixed in with moments of sheer terror as you look back to see a horde of undead chomping at the teeth as they try to get your hands on you. When Dying Light lets the world it has created organically guide the action, it shines. But when it tries to shoehorn you into quicktime events like swimming while you try to fend off zombies, or fill the screen with lens flares that would make J.J. Abrams blush during a crucial boss fight, it falters slightly. These moments make up a minority of the game’s run time, but they’re leave you with the nagging feeling that the developers could have done better.
Techland is most famous for making Dead Island, another zombie game which is almost the polar opposite of this one. Dying Light forgoes the tongue-in-cheek tone of Dead Island for a more serious, morose and menacing one. There are a few winks and nods for those in the know, but by and large, the world of Dying Light is thoroughly unpleasant to live in. there are infected folks running around all over, and scared and angry folks who are trying to escape from the former.
You play a stealth agent, a la Sam Fisher, who has been sent to a city named Harran for retrieving some confidential information. Immediately, you find yourself dealing with a situation that is far beyond your control and are drawn deeper into the chaos that is ensuing within the city. You need to maintain alliances with both of the major warring factions within the city, all while inching closer towards your primary target. You are, in effect, a triple agent. Yes, Sam Fisher would be proud.
Now, you might wonder if a plot as familiar as this one might resort to a few clichés of the zombie genre. And you would be right. There is the familiar sense of doom and gloom, the maniacal bad guys, the doctor who’s an inch away from discovering the magic cure and even the antihero who secretly means well. But fear not, Dying Light manages these clichés well. The fantastic graphics and stellar voice acting ensure that you don’t focus too much on the fact that you’ve heard similar lines a dozen times before.
What really sets Dying Light apart is the parkour. If you’ve seen any trailers or gameplay footage, you would have noticed that the way your character moves through the environment was really interesting. And the finished product is equally awesome. Even if you’ve seen game protagonists use parkour before (Assassin’s Creed, Prince of Persia), the action here feels different because you see it from a first-person FOV. Once you’ve gotten used to the transition to first-person, you’ll be jumping off ledges into balconies and back onto ledges like it was second nature. The controls are crisp and hurtling through the world of the game feels uniformly exciting and satisfying. You’ll know the brilliance of the game’s movement system once you come across some really tall towers in the game.
What I liked:
Another interesting aspect of Dying Light is how different the world feels during the day than it does during the night. When it goes dark, all of the faster, more dangerous zombies start roaming the streets, making life extremely tough. In almost all situations, when you’re spotted by one of the zombies during the night, your best option is to run the other way as fast as you can. Every now and then, you can look behind to see how many undead are following you. Be prepared to hurl expletives loudly at the screen, often.
But this isn’t all. As the game progresses, the protagonist becomes progressively stronger and nimbler. It is precisely because of this reason that you wish the developers had left more open-world exploration in the game. Too often, Dying Light awkwardly forces you into shoddy quicktime events and dreary fetch quests. It’s frustrating, because with just a little refinement, this game could’ve been a true classic. Fetch quests have been the bane of many a game, and even with a movement system as fantastic as this game does, going from one end of the city to the other repeatedly gets old quickly.
When it leaves you to your devices, Dying Light becomes a better game. Don’t expect to do a lot of fighting – that isn’t what this game is about. As you explore the world, picking locks, stealing supplies and hearing the constant threat of undead in the background, it’s hard not to approach the edge of your seat. Despite its missteps, Dying Light is still an enjoyable experience. I would give the game a 9 If only the game had enough faith in its own mechanics to get out of its own way, it could’ve been an absolute classic.