All games are not created equal. That’s probably a good thing, but when a particular style or genre of game becomes indefinably popular, everyone seems to think it’s a good idea to try and grab a piece of the action, whether that’s by attempting to be the next Day-Z or the next Flappy Bird. The battle royale genre, with Fortnite and PUBG at its head, is decimating the competition, so it makes sense that we’ve seen tons of other studios trying to imitate their success.
While some developers are having to start from scratch, those with working engines and already released games have a clear advantage, and it’s here that we find Techland Games and Dying Light: Bad Blood; building on their remarkably enjoyable zombie-fest with a new standalone multiplayer expansion. It’s not Battle Royale in the most popular sense, but something a bit different.
Dying Light itself debuted three whole years ago, and carved out its own piece of the maggot-ridden zombie pie thanks to its fantastic first-person traversal and heavyweight combat, but that’s been far from the end of the story. We’ve also seen Techland make numerous updates to the game, releasing two DLC packages and 2016’s full expansion The Following, not to mention the dozens of smaller content drops and in-game events, clearly marking the team out as a group who aren’t likely to let a good thing go. Indeed, why should they when they still have 2.5 million active players three years after launch?
Bad Blood then, takes the strengths of Dying Light – the setting, the traversal, and the gory combat – and transposes them to a six player battle royale-style fight for survival. While it borrows from some of the zeitgeist-riding heavy hitters in this particular sub-genre, it adds more than a few ideas of its own. You and your opponents are dropped into an area overrun with the infected, and you all have the same goal to escape in the rescue chopper that’s coming. The wrinkle is that there’s only one seat available, and in order to pay for it you first have to harvest blood samples from all those walking corpses that remain so keen to add you to their number.
There’s a familiar feel to the opening moments of each round, as your first task is to equip yourself with as much equipment as humanly possible, with a range of melee weapons joined by various explosives, weapon upgrades and medical packs. There’s just the right amount of malice to these first few minutes, and much like in PUBG you’re put utterly on edge by your sheer nakedness and lack of resilience if you come across someone, or something, else. Grabbing a few items suddenly empowers you though, at which point you’ll be turning your attention to the map, or using your search ability, to point you towards the main infected areas as you hurry off to collect as much disease-ridden blood as possible.
Each of the main infected areas include a number of regular zombies as well as at least one ‘boss’, who’s liable to be a complete nightmare to take down, particularly if your earlier scavenging hasn’t provided much in the way of serious armament. These enemies are shared with the main Dying Light game, and we saw both the sledgehammer-toting Goon and the acid-spitting Toad during our hands-on, with more of the cast set to appear in the final release.
Of course, besides all those decaying flesh bags, you’ve also got to worry about the five other players who are after the same thing you are, and given that you’re all directed to the same heavily infected areas it’s only a matter of time before you’re going to have to take someone down. There’s some tactics to consider here; do you team up and cooperatively take down the bigger foes before turning on each other? Or perhaps you’ll be better served stalking other players and waiting until they’ve taken an unhealthy amount of damage before diving in to finish them off and collect all of their hard won samples and equipment?
You also level up as you collect more blood, making you both stonger and tougher, though Techland don’t really explain why. Perhaps the bags of infected blood are leaking into your skin, and you’re still becoming something other than human, or maybe it’s just a computer game and I should stop thinking too hard about it. Either way, it adds another element into the mix which pushes you to try and take on creatures that you’re not really ready for, in an effort to get a leg up on the growth ladder.
The different systems sit really well together, with each round flowing from the search for items and crafting better weaponry to gruesome PvE interposed with frantic PvP before the race up a cliff to the extraction ‘copter. At this stage the only limiting factor seems to be that it’s designed for just six players, and while the zombie hordes help to make each area feel more alive – or is that dead? – it’s a big reduction from the hundred strong fields of PUBG and Fortnite. Bad Blood is obviously a fundamentally different game, but with that reduced player count it’s going to be interesting to see if it can catch on in the same way as that of its genre peers.