‘Dying Light’ a thrilling blend of fluid movement and zombie action
“Dying Light” throws you into the deep end from the start. Surrounded by flesh-eating zombies? Check. Lacking in useable weapons? Check. Unclear of what you’re really to supposed to be doing here, in this infected hellscape, much less how to survive the night? Check.
But don’t let that admittedly tough start scare you off from the fantastic game that is “Dying Light,” because it only gets better the longer you play. And the ability to parkour your way through a crumbling and zombie-infested city, armed to the teeth with weapons that can attack with the force of nature, is only one of the incredibly fun things to do here. (Though that’s plenty of fun — once you learn how to survive the dangers around every corner.)
“Dying Light,” developed by Techland and published by Warner Bros., emphasizes movement throughout its entire 30-plus-hour campaign. As in, you never stop moving. There’s no rest for protagonist Kyle Crane, the special operative sent into the city of Harran to try to stop the spread of both infection and information from leaking out of the city. But while the story offers up some decent if uninspired plot lines about struggle, corruption, power and survival, that’s all completely secondary to the pure chaos that is exploration.
It may take a little while to get comfortable with the controls, particularly with how the jump button isn’t a face button, but they become second-nature so enough. And it’s a good thing, too, because not knowing how to deal with the environment in “Dying Light” will get you killed faster than you can scream “How do I jump?!” at your screen. But, then again, it doesn’t take much to get overwhelmed: Making too much noise, or simply being spotted by the wrong enemy at the worst possible time, can leave you with a death screen and a loss of experience points. (Yes, the game punishes you for dying, but only if you die during daylight hours. Be aware.)
It’s even worst at night, or more thrilling, depending on how you view things. As day dynamically changes to night (something you’ll need to pay attention to with extreme care), the already deadly world of Harran takes an even more frightening turn. You see, the monsters become far more powerful, and the types of zombie-esque creatures change, given you even more problems to deal with. Your choices to survive the night while out of the protection of a safe house are slim. You can run, hide or fight; alternatively, you can just sleep the night away once you reach a certain point of the game. But if you do brave the night, you receive a multiplier on the experience you earn, allowing you to level up quite a bit faster and gain points that you can use to upgrade Crane’s abilities.
Speaking of abilities, “Dying Light” has a somewhat in-depth skill tree that requires separate points for separate abilities. For instance, attacking a zombie with a bat to the face grants you Power experience, which eventually translates into points you can use within that particularly branch. Parkour and general movement give you Agility experience, while main missions and other quests provide Survival experience. Since there are layers to the skill selection, you have the ability to choose how you want to process through most of the game, such as being stronger or craftier or faster, though by game’s end you’ll probably most everything filled out.
Which is great, because half the fun of running around amidst hordes of zombies is the ability to literally jump all around them and use your increasingly creative weaponry to do some damage along the way. But you’ll need to get those weapons first, which is a bit of a slog at the game’s beginning. At first you just start out with your fists and the most basic of weapons, like sticks and pipes. To compound matters, most physical weapons have durability, meaning they will eventually break if you keep using them. When you do swing those weapons, you’ll notice that they take some time to get going, feeling a bit sluggish no matter how far you are in the game. It’s jarring when you consider the speed at which the rest of the game moves.
Eventually, though, you’ll access to powerful crafted weapons and firearms, which come with both strengths and weaknesses. Yes, you can pop a bandit from a distance, but then you risk attracting zombies with the loud pop or running out of limited ammo. Those types of weapons are best saved for dire situations, especially when you’re up against multiple human enemies, who seem to be able to psychically predict your next move and respond in kind.
But if you need to run away because your weapons are garbage, at least it will be in a massive, beautiful world. Harran is beautifully realized, which is fantastic since you’ll be traversing it a lot because it lacks any real fast-travel system. There are multiple regions, each brimming with side quests, material and collectibles to search for. The abundance of surprisingly interesting side missions, which can evolve into multi-part quests, helps make up for the fairly straight-forward and unsurprising main story line.
It should be noted that you can play “Dying Light” with friends, which you should if you can. Aside from games just being better with friends, up to three of them can help you out if you’re feeling overwhelmed, or if your game is invaded through the asymmetrical “Be the Zombie” mode. That particular game play element allows another player to enter your world as a powerful creature with the singular goal of trying to kill you; of course, you can do the same. (You can turn off the feature if you don’t want that to happen.)
In the end, “Dying Light” is a thrill of a zombie-fighting, parkour-heavy action/horror adventure. It may take awhile to get comfortable with, but it’s worth the effort. Being able to zip around a city littered with side quests and killer zombies is a blast. Just remember: Save your ammo.
Four “Can’t catch me now!” stars out of five, and a critic’s pick
Editor’s note: While this review of “Dying Light” was done on the PlayStation 4, I’d like to thank Evolve PR for sending a PC review code for the game.