I was a pretty big fan of Dead Island. When it first dropped, I was under the impression it was going to be nothing more than a cool concept, and one of the best game trailers ever released. However, the prospect of surviving a zombie outbreak in the first-person, building and maintaining your own catalogue of weapons, and being able to bash zombie-brains with a friend or three ended up being one of the more enjoyable experiences I had in 2011.
So, when the original developer, Techland, announced they were going to do something new with the genre which they themselves had created, by adding a Mirror’s Edge-style parkour mechanic to the game I was fully on board.
I’ve been watching the progress of the game, leading up to its release last week (January 27th for Xbox One, PC, and Playstation 4), with extremely eager anticipation. Generally speaking, doing so lends to one of two outcomes: The game comes out, and it’s every bit as awesome as you hoped, or it’s a massive disappointment (the latter more often being the case).
With Dying Light, I’m happy to say that disappointment hasn’t really been found. Sure, there are some issues that I have with the gameplay, most notably the “original” layout that the development team opted for with the control layout (Right Bumper to jump, and A is your “survivor sense,” what the hell?).
Dying Light once again sets the background of a zombie apocalypse-type scenario on some isolated corner of the planet where the remaining survivors are cut off from the rest of the world. Unlike its spiritual predecessor, however, Dying Light’s inhabitants have been segregated by choice, and not by the (usual) natural occurrence of being surrounded by an ocean.
In terms of story and setting, the most interesting thing that Dying Light brings to the genre is the concept of a military/corporate controlled quarantine. The fictional city of Harran has been over-run by the plague of undead and subsequently sequestered from the rest of the world to stop the spread the infection. While military factions helm the defence perimeter and keep things in check, a global corporate entity maintains supply drops into the city to provide food and medicine to those in need.
Along with providing the genre an original story, setting, cast of characters, and a new twist on gameplay (with the aforementioned parkour movement system) Dying Light interjects a new mechanic to the genre with the day/night cycle as well. During the day-cycle it’s relatively easy to navigate the city. The undead are the slow shambling traditional zombie types that we’re used to, and almost none of them have the ability to climb, leaving you completely in the clear if you stand on top of any object over 5 feet.
At night however, the game shifts into overdrive with a slew of new features exclusive to this new franchise. Zombies now take on the role of ‘infected’ some sort of super-zombie that moves like the wind and can see in the dark. They are insanely aggressive and a lot harder to trick into heading off in the wrong direction and more challenging to evade through fancy rooftop footwork. So, there’s something to be said for just finding a ‘safe zone’ (many of which are found throughout the city and unlocked for future use by clearing them out and activating electricity).
However, there’s also a risk/reward system for being bold and venturing out into the FAR more dangerousnight-cycle. Instantly you receive a 2x modifier on all experience earned (combat andagility) which can help you level your character MUCH faster. You’ll also be able to make runs for supplies that are not generally accessible for other characters in the world. Supply drops tend to fall at dusk, and other raiders might not venture out for them until the following day… meaning if you have the guts to head out at night you might be able to get to the extremely valuable supply drops before anyone else.
Dying Light gets a lot right. The tone, the setting, the realistic presence of both corporations and the military, the locomotion of the character in its high-speed parkour system, and the fear that the zombie apocalypse SHOULD have (both in the scope of the outbreak of shambling zombies during the day, and doubled in the night-cycle’s intense soft-stealth/run like hell mode).
It’s also worth noting this is probably one of the best looking games I’ve seen on current-gen consoles. Everything is highly detailed to the point of realism, the character models are particularly impressive, though even those renders don’t hold a candle to some of the cityscapes offered with vistas of the dark destruction that an outbreak can bring to a metro-center like Harran.
The gripes I have against this game may seem minor, considering how many positives I have provided, but they are legitimate concerns.
I referenced, earlier, the control scheme being a little “wonky” and I’ll expand on that to say this: After 30 hours of gameplay I still found myself, on occasion, pressing the wrong button for the wrong thing. 20 years of gaming have conditioned me for a specific set of actions attached to a specific set of buttons… innovation in terms of control location isn’t necessarily a good idea and in this instance wound up hampering my experience severely.
Other than the controls, I will say the development of the core story is a little cliché. At the start of the game you’ll be able to call out the “plot twist” with the introduction of the game’s first in-city characters… and by the half-way point where it’s officially “revealed” I had lost all interest in the story completely.
Even if you skip dialogue completely, you’ll probably be able to guess how things are progressing if you’ve ever watched an action film before in your life. That doesn’t, however, hamper the raw fun you can have running over the heads of zombies during the day like some kind of post-apocalyptic god, or the nerve-racking terror of trying to survive a night in the “wild” of a city riddled with infected “super zombies.”