Developer Techland has set the standard for 2015. A well balanced and excellent zombie survival game, capable of fitting many challenging styles of play.
Dying Light had a lot to live up to, being one of the first major games in 2015, and it certainly delivers. Taking place in the fictional, eastern european inspired city of Harran amidst the outbreak of a zombie virus, you play as Kyle Crane; an operative for a humanitarian organisation sent to recover a sensitive file from a rogue operative of the same organisation.
Praise must be given for having one of the most ‘realistic’ (I use the term loosely because this is a game where you throw medieval longswords at zombies while swinging from buildings with a grappling hook) storylines of any zombie survival game I’m familiar with. Characters are consistent and overall a very powerful story mechanic. The protagonist’s dialogue was particularly impressive and provides some of the strongest character development I’ve seen in recent games. There is clear progression as you become more involved with the lives of the people of Harran and discover more about the motives of those around you, all made possible with excellent voice acting in all areas.
The graphic and sound design quality of the game is superb. Sound effects are of good quality and well varied; ambient sounds create an eerie atmosphere that suits the game perfectly, keeping you attentive. The locations are well designed and with purpose, and all areas of the game world are utilised effectively; the world itself feels just the right size, with enough to explore but not so much that the quality suffers. Interestingly, except between the two main areas of the world, there is no fast travel system, however after playing for sometime it is clear why this decision was made, as it allows the player to both explore the world more fully to encounter many more random events, and also witness the stunning visuals of the game. The world is highly detailed and dynamic weather adds to the beauty of the game.
Exploring the world is additionally desirable to fully experience the games parkour system. It is fun to use and skills can be unlocked over time to increase the variety of actions available. The world is designed to aid the parkour mechanics and prevent them from becoming too repetitive. Time spent not running along roof tops will probably be spent hitting zombies with sharp or blunt objects. In the daytime, combat is moderately easy, most zombies are slow and clumsy and will happily impale themselves with no input from you. you’re more likely to be injured by bad luck than the standard ‘biter’ zombies. The games main feature, its day-night cycle, dramatically changes gameplay. At night regular zombies become faster and more aggressive, and many more special zombies are spawned, gameplay changes to focus on avoiding direct confrontation early on, but later in the game it is easy to be overwhelmed and killed too.
You’ll have help staying alive in the form of three separate skill trees, one for survival, agility, and power. Each gains points from a different element of gameplay, summarized respectively as not dying, running away, and killing things while not dying and running away. They all contain different styles of upgrades which aid that style of play, such as grappling hooks, dodging or the ability to throw weapons. The game uses a crafting system to allow the modification of weapons with increased damage or other stats.
The game allows up to 4 player co-op, and functions identically to normal single player gameplay, with the exception that mission progression is not saved by any player who is not at the same point of the campaign as the host player. If enabled, players may join your game at any time and leave at any time, and while playing, challenges can appear for anything normally seen in the game, creating short competitions between players. They are very contextual and interweave perfectly to gameplay; for example, if a player places a waypoint, a challenge may appear to create a race to that location. These challenges are optional, and players may play the game as normal if desired.
Unfortunately, whilst in single-player the game works near flawlessly, the same cannot be said for co-op play. Several bugs exist ranging from the small, such as weapons disappearing, to major ones, such as loss of game save data. Hopefully the co-op mode will become more stable as updates are released for the game, but for now these problems seem mitigated by returning to single player mode occasionally. While some items in co-op are available to both players, others may only be collected by one. It is unclear whether this is a bug or by design, but regardless players may consider completing these sections individually as well.
Something that keeps coming to mind while thinking about Dying Light is balance, that is to say that all aspects of the game seem very well balanced. Players wanting an easier game can choose to play predominantly in the day, and night for a harder game. Items are supplied generously, but not enough to use them without thinking. The competitive multiplayer mode where a player can invade a game as a zombie also seems well balanced.
Dying Light is let down by the glitches in multiplayer, but apart from this it is a spectacularly well made game. The gameplay is fun and interesting, the story is above average for a zombie survival game, the characters are exceptionally written and technical design is outstanding, The single player game is reliable and this is a remarkable release from Techland and a good start to the year.
Dying Light is digitally available now for Windows, Linux, Xbox One, and PS4.
Physical release has been delayed on all platforms until February 27th.