E3 2013: Dying Light First Look Preview – The Dead of Night
Written Saturday, June 29, 2013 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Zombies. We've seen rather a lot of them in games lately, haven't we? And with next-gen but a few months away, the undead brain gobblers have no intentions of slowing down either. Dead Island developer Techland is no stranger to the zombie subgenre either, although Riptide left a lot to be desired. Perhaps the developer was sinking all of its time and resources into Dying Light rather than focusing on Dead Island: Riptide, because based upon this first demo, it's looking to be a far cry from the relative shoddiness of Techland's Dead Island games.
If you want a pithy summation of Dying Light in a few words, you could say that it's Dead Island meets Mirror's Edge, but that's really only scratching the surface. There are more than a few smart ideas at work in Techland's next-gen zombie slasher, not least in its free-running mechanics that lend the game an immersive, visceral feel. Or at least that's the idea. It's hard to tell how well it all handles without actually playing the thing.
We pick up our first look at Dying Light with our English free-running hero and his English female buddy offering advice and information via a radio, as an airdrop of precious supplies can be seen far away, marked by a plume of red smoke from a distant flare billowing among the densely packed buildings in the messy slum. “Trapped in a concrete rat cage,” Dying Light's nimble protagonist can clamber up buildings, climb telegraph poles, leap between rooftops and dodge zombies with swift evasive manoeuvres. It looks like you have a lot more options for traversal and combat (or for avoiding combat altogether) than Dead Island, although it's almost impossible not to draw comparisons.
Melee combat is front and centre again for one, and fights are brutal, close-quarters and visceral. Wielding a baseball bat, you can stove in zombie heads or grab them with their temples between your hands and snap their necks. Nonetheless, tackling zombies head-on is actually an ill-advised tactic, especially as night falls and the undead hordes grow stronger and more vicious, joined by aggressive nocturnal breeds who'll gladly gnaw your face off in three seconds flat.
As we get ever closer to the supply drop, running across the corrugated steel shanty rooftops, the terrified screams of a small girl can be heard from the inside of one of the small huts. You can be callous and ignore the shrieks pleading for help, or you can explore what's going on. Inside the house, there's a TV set on in the corner with cartoons blaring, as the girl keeps on screaming. At your feet a zombie on the floor grabs for your legs, prompting a quick head stomp to stop it from nibbling at your ankles. Was it the girl's parent? Probably.
Turning off the TV, you can then check on the girl hiding in a cupboard to make sure she's okay. Offering to take her with him, the girl refuses to follow the protagonist, instead choosing to stay in her cupboard, telling you to go away. That's the end of that side mission apparently, so we guess you just leave the girl alone to rot in her little cupboard. Erm, alright then. Still, you get to find a nice axe to embed in to zombie skulls, so it's not all in vain.
Pressing on and chopping up some zombies with the newly-acquired axe, the blood flows thick and fast, sticking to the weapons which appear to deteriorate in the same way they do in Dead Island. Stumbling upon the airdrop as the onset of dusk approaches, we're faced with armed soldiers who've beaten us to the drop zone. There's no way of taking them on, so you're forced to leave the area with your tail between your legs, moving on to the next drop and hopefully getting their before more government soldiers can.
Trading the axe for a mean-looking machete, you can still upgrade and customise your weapons using a crafting system in Dying Light, which in this demo can be found behind a shonky old garage shutter. A battery and a few wires duct-taped to the machete, and we have an electrified blade, perfect for taking on the huge charger infected lurking around the corner, flipping over cars. Or so you would think. Again, it's better to run and live to fight another day, and so that's exactly what happens as the nimble hero slides through a hole between the ground and a wall, and back up to the rooftops.
The view is spectacular, as the city stretches as far as the eye can see, smouldering and smoking in the distance, destroyed, bombed out, and utterly doomed. The sun is sinking below the horizon now, and darkness is falling fast, indicating that grabbing the supplies and getting to a safehouse is a pressing concern, lest we become relentlessly hunted zombie prey. Scarpering slipshod across the rooftops, you can barge zombies off the edge and through the lower levels or plunge the machete into the infected, prompting an X-ray cutaway to the damage being inflicted internally.
Looking at your watch, you can see the display reads 21:01, meaning time is running out fast. Back on the ground, the machete gets swapped for a huge lump hammer that's immediately put to use at the precious supply drop, smashing the heads of zombies filling their faces at the next drop zone. Thankfully, it's free of soldiers, so we're able to help ourselves to a crate filled with medical supplies and other indispensable resources. Darkness has fallen now, and the volatiles are coming out to play. Beating a path back to the safe zone is essential, as getting caught out in the night can be deadly.
Using a pulse ability, you can draw a bead on the locations of the dangerous volatiles – the strongest, deadliest zombies that only come out at night – in an effort to avoid them, and if you're stealthy enough, you can get the jump on a volatile and execute them. This is a risky strategy though, as we soon see. Spotted by a volatile, it's time to make a hasty retreat, barging through boarded up doorways, vaulting off the shoulders of standard infected and over a wall. Waiting on the other side, a volatile grabs Dying Light's protagonist and lunges in for the kill, it's huge mandibles opening as the demo cuts to a black screen.
Boasting four playable characters to choose from, an expansive open-world and interesting night and day mechanics, as well as free-running, ranged gunplay, melee combat and some pretty intense encounters with the undead, Dying Light looks to build upon Dead Island and then some. If Techland can learn where it went wrong with Dead Island and its sequel, Dying Light could be another next-gen title to look forward to. Visually accomplished and filled with some neat ideas, it certainly appears that Dying Light has all of the right ingredients to make for a superlative zombie experience.
Dying Light will be free-running on to current and next-generation consoles in 2014.