The John Carpenter-esque synth soundtrack is utterly fantastic, but the voice acting is pretty patchy. While Roger Craig Smith gives a fine performance as a sympathetic, wise-cracking hero caught up in an extraordinary situation, some of the supporting cast are a bit weak. Although the script doesn't help much. Sound effects are fantastically squelchy.
Some character faces are flat, waxy and not very animated, while detail can be a little inconsistent. There's a rare glitch now and again, but I encountered nothing game-breaking. Harran City itself is remarkable, with a draw distance that lets you see all the way to the horizon. Despite that, there's an overall lack of visual finesse.
A slow starter, Dying Light soon becomes unbridled fun. Mashing zombie heads into little lumps of brain and skull is a sick sort of joy, whereas the parkour is something that you'll become better at the more you play. Initially, it can be finicky, but soon becomes second nature.
A substantial story that has a few memorable moments is supported by a range of largely decent side quests and various collectibles. You'll be murdering zombies, looting corpses and abandoned stores, legging it through the city and braving the night for hours on end. It's addictive too.
A damn fine list that's one of the best we've seen in a while. There are some creative achievements, some hard, some easy; but there's a good spread and a great selection tasks to complete.
February 03, 2015
Zombies, zombies, zombies. For years the shambling undead have been the video game cannon fodder of choice, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that the humble zombie is beginning to go well past its sell-by date. I might have agreed with you too, until I played Dying Light. Given the last Dead Island, I hadn't held out much hope for Techland's latest foray into first-person survival, but give Dying Light a few hours to warm up, and it'll reignite your passion for stoving in rotten zombie skulls.
Here's the setup: you play as GRE agent Kyle Crane, sent in to the doomed city of Harran to retrieve a mysterious, but vital government file. You'll meet the game's good guy survivors at the Tower HQ and run a few errands, getting to grips with the parkour acrobatics and what not, before falling in with the bad crowd, led by Dying Light's equivalent of Far Cry 3's Vaas. An uncompromising psychopath named Rais runs the show here, hoarding the supply of an infection suppressing medication called Antizin. Before long, you'll see what's what and get a sense of where the narrative's heading.
Leap! Leap with all your might!
Dying Light is something of a slow-burner, however. Not in narrative terms, but in building Crane's abilities. Initially, getting around Harran's slums can be something of a slog until you start gaining skill points and purchasing abilities from the game's three skill trees. Points feed into Survival, Agility and Power, improving and upgrading Crane's resilience, speed, athleticism and combat prowess.
Once you've bagged some of the useful skills like sliding, grappling, finishing floored enemies with a head stomp and vaulting off zombies, you can start to ground pound, barter for lower prices when trading or cover yourself in zombie entrails to avoid detection, just like in The Walking Dead. Crafting also feeds into your skill trees, so being able to better repair broken weapons, craft items more efficiently and create grappling hooks and shields soon unlock other opportunities and advantages.
The problem is, some might not persevere for long enough to really get into the meat of Dying Light. But it's worth sticking with, because once you start hitting that sweet spot and Crane becomes a zombie-slaughtering powerhouse, things quickly become immensely gratifying. Clearly, Techland has learnt valuable lessons from its Dead Island series, and as a result combat feels incredibly meaty; swings of bats, blades and pipes are all met with liberal splashes of arterial spatter and squelchy chunks of bone and viscera.
It helps that the audio is exemplary, giving you aural feedback that invariably has the capacity to make you cringe. Slicing off a zombie's limb or head and bringing your boot down on a skull to see it explode like an overripe melon sounds every bit as icky as it should. The game's score is also superb, channeling the best of John Carpenter with deliciously dark synth noodlings that lend Dying Light a cult B-movie quality.
And on that front, the game's script matches that B-movie remit, with more than a few bizarre character encounters. There's a knowing element of humour amid Dying Light's core storyline, which is peppered with its fair share of dark and downbeat moments. You'll often find an oddball character or snappy one-liner around the corner to bring a little levity to proceedings.
What really matters, however, is how the game plays, and Dying Light is almost always fun. There are times when the parkour doesn't really work in quite the way you'd like it to, but practice makes perfect and fatalities from mistimed jumps are often followed by a hastily reloaded checkpoint that doesn't set you back too far. Frustration is very rare, but can happen occasionally, like during the checkpoint-free gauntlet in the game's final mission, for instance. Or indeed being overwhelmed by hordes of the undead when you're simply trying to get from A to B.
Even being killed out in the open-world isn't too punishing, simply subtracting your hard-earned survival points (which can sting a bit) and respawning you at the nearest Safe Zone with your progress intact. Never let it be said that Dying Light doesn't play fair. Speaking of safe houses, you'll need to clear these out throughout Harran in both the Slums and Old Town, if you want a secure place to sleep through the night, when the city's nastiest inhabitants come out to play. We're talking about the flappy-mouthed Volatiles, who'll hunt you relentlessly and kill you dead in seconds.
Ability points are doubled during the night, but getting around is tough, with only UV flares or a UV flashlight and some makeshift traps available for staving off the speedy Volatiles. Sometimes it's best to just stay indoors and not run the risk of getting torn to shreds. Although surviving the night unscathed brings with it substantial rewards. It's your call; just don't try taking them on with weapons. Chances are you won't win.
Although you will find some formidable weaponry in Dying Light, from two-handed swords to sledgehammers, hatchets, scythes, machetes and shovels to assault rifles, pistols and throwing stars, axes or knives. Crane can also craft Molotovs, firecrackers and concoctions for temporary boosts to abilities, as well as medikits, lockpicks and so forth, from the resources you'll scavenge from abandoned houses, cupboards and lockboxes.
Crafting can be done on the hoof, meaning you can conjure a flaming axe or electrically charged sickle anytime you like, and repair them until they fall to pieces. Oh, and everyone in Harran smoked cigarettes and drank coffee, by the way. There's loads of it stashed away. Playing in co-op also enables you to drop items for other players to pick up, which is a trading system of sorts.
Playing Dying Light solo is involving, but banding together with fellow survivors in co-op brings with it PvP challenges, like collecting the most loot, racing to an objective or killing the most zombies. This adds another neat layer of competition to proceedings, while fostering a sense of camaraderie. You can heal and revive one another too, which makes surviving night-time perils a little more bearable.
Co-op is something you'll need to play to bag all of the achievements too, winning challenges and such. Dying Light's achievement list is one of the finest we've seen in some time, filled with creative tasks to perform, while encouraging exploration of every single one of the many activities you'll find across Harran. There are Challenges to complete, a huge litany of involving side quests (a few too many of which are fetch missions, sadly), collectibles and more, all granting a dose of Gamerscore, but it's the clever achievements that really stand out, like 'Italian Plumber', 'BBQ' or 'This is Harraaaaan!'
By far one of Techland's best games, Dying Light is a hugely enjoyable bout of zombie killing mayhem that's occasionally irritating, but always entertaining. A blend of nimble navigation and brutal evisceration, the game also comes alive in co-op with friends and is a tense affair when being pursued in the downloadable free Be the Zombie mode. It might not seem like it at first, but Dying Light is a superlative zombie survival experience that (mostly) pushes all of the right buttons. Butchering zombies has seldom been so deliriously entertaining.