Dying Light Review

Chasing the sun.

Dying Light isn’t developer Techland’s first punt at the survival horror genre. In 2011 the Polish studio released Dead Island, a game which many will no doubt remember for its tear-jerking trailer and fumbled execution. A couple of years later, Techland revisited the infested shores of Banoi with the launch of Riptide, a “sequel” that felt more akin to a weighty expansion as opposed to a true successor. Although the game went on to enjoy generally favourable reviews, fans were left wondering what could have been, at least up until now.

In many ways Dying Light feels like a continuation of the series, albeit masquerading under a different name. It’s genuinely as if Techland finally got the greenlight to do a proper sequel to Dead Island. Although Dying Light sports a few innovations of its own, there are an abundance of unshakeable similarities – some good, some bad.

The game gets off to a fairly ambiguous start with players taking up the role of undercover operative, Kyle Crane. Although charismatic enough he’s hardly 007, leaning more towards the everyman hero archetype. Tasked with tracking down a rogue agent and retrieving government intel, Crane goes through a baptism of fire the moment he touches down in Harran.

Having recently been quarantined, the fictional city has succumbed to the outbreak of a deadly virus. What’s worse is that it’s not just killing people, it’s mutating them too – twisting them into all sorts of nightmarish monstrosities. On top of that, the man you’re searching for isn’t exactly easy to find, forcing Crane to make friends and run errands in order to narrow down his location.

Much like its predecessors, Dying Light isn’t an easy game to categorise. Instead of fitting snugly within the bounds of a single genre it spreads across several, creating a patchwork of sorts. Aside from open-world exploration, there’s a fair amount of first person combat along with survival and role-playing mechanics. It’s an ambitious amalgam of elements that enables the game to thrive in some parts while holding it back in others.

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Navigation is without a doubt the highlight here. Unlike most first person action games, where movement is restricted to a single vertical plane, Dying Light allows players to explore freely thanks its innovative parkour system. Whether scaling buildings, climbing poles, or jumping between rooftops, all free-running actions are assigned to a single button. Naturally, there will be comparisons to 2008’s Mirror’s Edge but, in truth, the two parkour systems are completely different. Where EA’s first person platformer focused on small, condensed areas, Techland had to kit out an entire open-world with its navigation mechanics in mind. As a result, Dying Light’s movement isn’t as sharp or precise, and getting used to the controls does certainly take time, but succeeds in giving the player complete freedom to improvise, no matter what situation they are in.

The game’s weakest link, on the other hand, is its combat – a shame considering the amount of time you’ll spend up close to the infected. Techland has near enough lifted the base combat from Dead Island and retooled it to work in tandem with Dying Light’s parkour. Aside from simply swing your weapon back and forth, you’ll also have to option to grapple, ram, and even drop kick your opponents. In moderation, combat scenarios are actually a joy, especially when you’re able to toy with a small cluster of zombies. As the numbers start to build up, however, it becomes messy, often forcing the player to retreat. With that said, it can be argued that this is a intentional design choice. Even after unlocking many of the game’s high tier perks and equipment, you can’t simply wade into a horde of the infected wind-milling a cricket bat and expect to survive. Dying Light demands that players pick their fights sensibly or else risk being overwhelmed.

To spice things up there are also a number of projectile weapons and gadgets to boot. Throwing knives, molotovs, firecrackers, shields, and other crafted goodies provide you with plenty of ways to engage (or evade) the enemy. Speaking of crafting, players can also upgrade and modify their weapons too, adding extra damage and speed while also assigning specific elements like fire or electricity which can set zombies alight or see them spasming on the floor.

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Given it’s open-world structure, there are a shedload of side activities to partake in when not pursuing the campaign. Aside from gathering resources you’ll be able to take on challenges and carry out side missions. The latter are mainly comprised of simple fetch quests that often feel drawn out and pointless. Paradoxically, these errands also make up some of the best parts of Dying Light, introducing players to a series of unhinged and memorable characters looking to stay alive.

Explore for too long and eventually night will fall, triggering a series of major changes. The first and most obvious of these is the darkness that blankets the entirety of Harran. Although players have a flashlight at their disposal, it does little to illuminate the environment around them. That’s a problem, especially when you consider what creatures now lurk in the shadows.

These “volatiles” are much quicker and stronger than their shambling zombie counterparts, with direct conflict rarely being an option and the tension ramping up noticeably as you try to avoid them. However, by reading the minimap which displays their lines of sight, using the Survivor Sense to show them through wall and by using diversions, you can evade them entirely. If that doesn’t work, however, you’ll be forced to leg it back to the nearest safe house. So, you’re probably wondering, what is point of staying out after dark? Well, aside from gaining access to exclusive missions, you’ll gain experience points at double the rate.

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If you don’t fancy braving the streets of Harran alone, Dying Light also packs a comprehensive multiplayer option, allowing co-op wherever and whenever. Although finding matches can be a gruelling process, playing with other human players really does make the game much more enjoyable. Realising that, even when working together, players tend to get competitive, Techland has worked in a number of quickfire challenges that spring up from time to time, tasking survivors with gathering loot, racing to checkpoints, or killing enemies.

What’s Good:

  • Parkour works surprisingly well.
  • Plays well with friends.
  • Gritty open-world with plenty to do.
  • Tense night-time gameplay.

What’s Bad:

  • Story is a bit of a drag.
  • Combat can grow tiresome.
  • Matchmaking isn’t up to standard.

Although a sound game, Dying Light just falls short of greatness. Compared to its predecessors it looks stunning and has picked up a raft of new and interesting ideas. Several hours in, however, and a familiar sense of fatigue will inevitably set in. Unless roaming Harran with friends in tow, Dying Light isn’t one of those games you can comfortably sit and play for hours on end. Zombie enthusiasts are still in for a treat though, as well as anyone looking for an unconventional first person action game.

Score: 7/10

19 Comments

  1. It takes some getting used too the parkour, but besides that I love this game, I try to avoid night time or I just run my ass off.

    I haven’t played co op as no one on my friend list has the game so guessing everyone is waiting end of the month. I think it’s a 8 but opinion opinion

    • Im loving it aswell. my PSN id is jones_81 if you wanna add me for co op

      • If you’re still playing it next month (when the hard copy is released) I might just take you up on that offer. PSN is kjkg.

      • Ok nice one, i expect i still will be as im only at 11% story completion on a total playtime of 20 hours, plus i will want to start ng+ after that

      • I got you already Jones, we should arrange something, time & all

      • Yeah ok taylor, possibly over the wknd or weekday if not, will probably be on later if your’e around and 2mora afternoon and evening aswell

    • Jones_81 if anyone fancies co op, superb game

  2. I’ll definitely be getting this. I was genuinely worried that it would tank in the reviews but most seem to be similar to yours. Especially since this is the kind of game that is really up my street.

    Out of interest (I don’t believe you mentioned it and nowhere else I’ve seen has) can you give a rough estimate of how long it takes to travel from one side of the map to the other? I realise it’s very open to interpretation since it’s not all on one level but just a rough estimate would be good. Always intrigues me to know how big my playground is.

  3. I’m loving this game, I for one like the way you have to run from the zombies rather than fight them (and that’s pretty easy to do with the parkour)..one of those that if you think you’ll like it, you’ll probably really like it.
    If you’re not sure then wait for a drop in price of the physical copy.

  4. Must admit the game does look great. Playing it single player will be the way to go I reckon as I can’t see those night sections being as tense with three friends goofing around at the same time. Great to see survival games making a comeback :)

  5. Might be my favourite PS4 game next to Driveclub. So much fun!!!

  6. I’m enjoying it, seven is about fair though, it’s gorgeous and fun but rather repetitive.

  7. The combat was most obviously fine-tuned from Dead Island which felt right. Weighty, dangerous but right. Not only that but the devs said the game would be about picking your battles and running like hell when things became too tricky.

    It’s a shame but this is one of over seven or eight reviews where I think the review process (and time constraints) has missed the point of the game. Just to have fun… preferably with friends. I know it’s all about our own personal opinion when it comes down to it but I’ve seen so many comments – on a multitude of gaming sites – where people are constantly praising the fun factor. So much so that I’ve not seen anything like it for months… maybe a year or so.

    Even with the streaming (with Tef) it didn’t feel nearly as freeing an experience as just buggering around without worrying about viewers, etc.

    Oh well. Utterly loving it here.

    • As a technical mention, playing co-op (Online and LAN) has been flawless here.

    • So you are suggesting that because of the late delivery of review copies, and then a rush to zip through and complete the game for review, reviewers haven’t had time just to mess about and enjoy the game?

      Quite possible, I think I’m enjoying it just by pootling about and doing the odd mission.

      • Yep. Not aimed at Jim, but “yes”. I was mentioning this to Hannypoppie just an hour or so ago. It’s something I’m seeing more and more on game sites where the games are clearly co-op focused and that “typical” situation isn’t easy to fabricate at the right time to get a review out.

        I’ve noticed a pattern (both in reviews and comment sections) on respective gaming sites around the internet and you can see how “review conditions” aren’t always optimal.

        Anyway… I have to go. Harran needs me! :-)

  8. *mirrors edge* with zombies!
    whats not to like?
    this has got price drop written all over it so when it hits a pony I’m in!

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