Techland is no stranger to developing first-person action games that revolve around killing thousands upon thousands of zombies. The Dead Island series provided plenty of horde-killing mayhem all its own. As a fan of the series, hearing that it was working on another zombie game with more freedom of mobility through the use of parkour made me sit up and take notice.
Dying Light is a culmination of Techland’s past experience with the zombie-killing genre that feels like a natural evolution at times, while also feeling like the studio could fine tune some areas in order to reach the pillar of excellence fans know the studio could attain. What's left is a spiritual successor to the Dead Island series that takes two steps forward and two steps back.
In Dying Light, players assume the role of undercover operative Kyle Crane, who has been sent by the GRE to infiltrate the quarantined city of Harran as survivors fight to survive the infected. Crane finds the city has been broken up into two separate factions: Runners and Bandits. Both factions fight for precious resources while Crane himself is torn between completing the mission he was sent for and protecting Harran’s survivors.
Techland was largely criticized for their B-movie style of storytelling for its Dead Island series. While Dying Light doesn’t offer as many moments that are perfect for eye rolling, the story is still hokey as there were some moments that I gave an audible sigh in response to its story. One piece of the story that stuck out in particular was learning your leader used to be a parkour instructor, which is why a lot of members of the group are able to perform it, including Crane. Crane’s response? “Wait - you’re responsible for this? You saved everybody’s lives with your lessons!”
As you make your way through Harran, you’ll be given the opportunity to upgrade Crane in one of three categories: Survival, Agility, and Power. Both Agility and Power skills can be unlocked as you perform more parkour moves or attacks. Survival skills, on the other hand, can be earned through story progression, completing side missions, or completing other tasks around Harran.
Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
When Crane first starts out, he’s pretty weak compared to his evolution into a lean, mean, zombie-killing machine. By unlocking abilities within the three skill trees, Crane will be able to move around at a faster pace, exert less energy when performing melee attacks, and be able to carry more weapons inside of his backpack. Even though Dying Light attempts to keep its gameplay balanced through these three major skill categories, I still felt using Crane’s parkour skills was the best course of action considering the weapons are even less durable than they were in Dead Island.
In Dying Light, Techland decided to change how weapons degrade and how you upgrade them. Instead of having to run to a workbench to tweak your weapons, you’re now able to fix, upgrade, and modify your weapons while on the go. This is a great improvement over Dead Island’s methods as there was nothing more annoying than having all of your weapons broken and no workbench in sight. On the other hand, Techland decided to allow weapons to only be fixable a set number of times. Early on in the game, I was very selective with what I attacked as my weapons were only able to be repaired two or three times, at most. As Crane is upgraded, I was able to unlock a skill that gave me a better chance of a fix not counting towards a weapon’s limited number of fixes. As helpful as that is, it’s still a major annoyance to have a weapon I worked so hard to upgrade and modify into the ultimate zombie- and bandit-killing machine to only wither away into nothing just because I favored using it.
Speaking of killing things, Dying Light has a large number of enemies that you can beat, blow up, and cut down, with an equal variety. You’ll fight your standard zombies, known as Biters, Runners, which are much more agile, heavy zombie types that require more effort to take down, and the most terrifying: Volatile. The Volatile is the main reason why I felt a bit of real anxiety when I ventured out at night as they’re extremely fast, agile, and ferocious when attacking humans. Thankfully, Dying Light rewards players with twice the agility and power earning power when you travel at night, although you’ll probably die way more in the process. There are more infected enemies you can encounter, but you can find those out for yourself when you play Dying Light.
If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join' Em
Dying Light includes a special multiplayer mode called Be the Zombie, an asynchronous 4v1 game mode that pits up to four survivors against one player-controlled Volatile. The survivors need to work together to destroy five hives, while it’s up to the Volatile to stop the survivors from doing so.
As the Volatile, you’ll be able to unlock a number of skills as you kill survivor after survivor that will make you even more deadly than you were before. You’ll be able to spit a corrosive liquid, attract Biters and Runners by spitting out bile, and you can tackle survivors, among other things. As devastating as the Volatile is, it’s extremely weak and can be taken down by a few swings of melee weapon. It also doesn’t help survivors are equipped UV flashlights that can sap the Volatile’s power if he’s caught in the ray.
I found Be the Zombie to be really fun, especially if you play as the Volatile and know exactly how to fight as one. As much freedom as the player has with their parkour abilities, the Volatile is able to move much faster, jump much higher, and use tendrils to pull himself across great distances. And just like the main campaign, your Volatile only gets better the more you play as him and unlock skills.
Good Luck Indeed
As someone who enjoyed both Dead Island games, warts and all, Dying Light certainly feels like a vast improvement. The inclusion of parkour allows the player to be much more agile than they were in Dead Island, which helps in giving them a better escape plan if they get in the middle of an undead pickle. The variety in infected also kept me on my toes, and missions that needed to be carried out at night required me to pop an extra Zoloft to help from having a complete breakdown.
Unfortunately, Techland is still unable to deliver a story worth telling. I didn’t feel any emotional attachment to any of the characters, nor did I care if they ended up surviving or not. The addition of an overall weapon durability was also something I could have done without as I prefer to cut down my enemies without having to worry whether or not my weapons will disintegrate in my hands.