A NEAR PERFECT ZOMBIE EXPERIENCE
Have you ever wanted to play in a zombie infested wonderland? No? I have. Techland gave me exactly what I’ve always wanted in an open-world zombie game: streets filled to the brim with zombies, loot everywhere you turn, terrifying zombies that only come out at night, a fun upgrade system, and an enjoyable story that explains why the zombies are where they are.
Dying Light’s story is a fairly simple one. You play as Global Relief Effort (GRE) undercover operative Kyle Crane, who’s on a mission to recover some important data somewhere in the fictional city of Harran, which happens to be overrun by zombies. This of course doesn’t give you a whole lot of reason to care about what’s going on, as you don’t know what the “important data” actually is. However, throughout the first few missions of the story, due to the GRE acting like assholes over the radio and Crane figuring out that there are still humans in Harran that need help, he decides to take matters into his own hands and help the people instead. Players will see the gradual change in Crane’s heart as the story progresses, making them actually care what happens to many of the characters surrounding him.
It also doesn’t hurt that Techland’s writing has vastly improved since their previous games in the Dead Island franchise. While I did enjoy those games for their zombie-killing fun, the writing always felt bland and just there to move things along. Kyle Crane’s personality was shown beautifully through the writing (and Roger Craig Smith’s excellent voice acting). Players get to see him struggle with the reality of what’s going on in Harran, mourn the loss of new friends, grow to hate one of the local faction leaders, all while still keeping his sense of humor in tense situations.
What really surprised me about the storytelling in Dying Light was not its main story though, it was the level of detail in some of the side quests. Of course, just like many other games, Dying Light has its fair share of vague fetch quests that are only there for the sake of keeping players busy. But if you can look past those, there are some truly amazing and sometimes even hilarious side quests available. One quest called “Mother’s Day” has players running an errand for a man that requires you to pick up a movie and some chocolates for his mom. Turns out, his mom has been dead for a long time and he has a bunch of pillows tied together on the couch, pretending it is his mother. Like WHAT? I laughed hysterically during that quest! There are many more instances throughout the game that are just as fun.
Dying Light also showed a huge leap forward in Techland’s graphics. Gone are the days of blurry, poorly textured environments. It looked beautiful throughout the entire game. Their experience shows even more if you have played Dead Island when you realize that there is literally no slowdown when “shit hits the fan.” Dying Light constantly throws hordes of 20+ zombies at you, requiring you to either swing your weapon like Billy Butler swings his bat (at every pitch, it doesn’t matter if it’s a strike or not), or run like a mad man to get away. If this was Dead Island, players would experience huge framerate drops as soon as things got crazy. Thankfully, that’s not the case as I never once experienced any framerate issues.
My one complaint is that the farther I got into the game, I experienced more texture popping. It was weird because the first 30 hours I played Dying Light, I never had an issue. But as I got into hours 50-60, each time a level would load there would be some pretty bad texture popping for about five seconds.
But who cares about a good story, funny side quests, and pretty graphics!? How was the gameplay? AMIRIGHT!? Good news! Dying Light’s gameplay is incredibly fun! I really mean that too. All joking aside, Techland’s decision to add parkour into the game was a fantastic idea. Dying Light sets itself apart from every other zombie game by giving players the ability to sprint, vault, jump, swing, roll, etc. to their heart’s desire. This made traversing the huge city of Harran extremely fun, and made me not even care that there wasn’t a fast travel option.
One issue I started having later on was using the grappling hook. It was extremely touchy about where you could and couldn’t grapple to — meaning that if you made the slightest mistake, rather than grabbing the ledge and continuing your romp through Harran, you would fall miserably (and hilariously) to your death.
Aside from the parkour element being fun, Dying Light’s combat was also very satisfying. While its a simple system (collect melee weapons + swing melee weapons = kill zombies), I never got bored. The slow motion kill cam and the deep upgrade system made every bout with my undead enemies very enjoyable. Dying Light was also one of the few zombie games that come to mind where staying as quiet as possible is extremely key to staying alive. So what if you have a kickass police rifle? The second you fire it into a crowd of zombies, you will have alerted the strongest and fastest zombies in the area to swarm to your position. This made the “zombie experience” feel as real as I’ve always imagined it would be.
The farther you get into the game, Dying Light starts throwing new types of zombies at you. Each has its own different strengths and weaknesses, meaning that you have to learn to adapt on the go in order to survive. While it can be frustrating to run through a house, only to have a “bomber” zombie step out from a closet, killing you instantly when it explodes, it quickly teaches you to be a little more careful and pay closer attention to your surroundings (a valuable lesson).
The day and night cycle is another cool feature in Dying Light. Traversing Harran during the day is a cakewalk compared to doing it at night. Zombies become much more aggressive and special “super zombies” called Volatiles only come out at night. Volatiles can take an extraordinary amount of damage, even from the highest level of weapons, and they are able to deal out damage really fast, so it’s better to just never be seen by them or never let them catch you. My first time playing at night (the mandatory story mission) left me never wanting to play at night again for fear that I would have a heart attack. It took me nearly 15-20 hours to finally attempt a night mission again. Of course, the more you play at night, the more you learn and the easier it gets. But that never stopped it from being a heart-pounding experience.
The Verdict: 8.9 out of 10
Dying Light is the zombie game I’ve been waiting for. The variety of zombie types, enormous difference in difficulty between day and night, deep upgrade system, enjoyable story, and funny side quests made it an unforgettable and addicting game. I am 100% on board with what Techland has started with Dying Light, and have high hopes that it continues as a franchise.
For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.