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Dying Light might feel familiar to some of you since Techland isn’t new to first-person-zombie-killing-open-world-game genre. You may remember them for Dead Island, their 2011 surprise hit. Back then everyone was prepared to see what Techland could do with a true sequel to Dead Island but fate intervened when THQ, then Dead Island’s publisher, went bankrupt and sold off the Dead Island franchise. It seems however that Techland decided the first person zombie killing genre wasn’t worth giving up, and so they have now made Dying Light. The two games are pretty similar, but Techland clearly knew where they went wrong before and where their earlier ideas needed to be improved to make a better, and somewhat thoughtful, sequel.
Dying Light moves past its predecessor in a few meaningful ways. First, through free running, ledge climbing, and other parkour systems. The added mobility takes some getting used to at first, but the game is designed around using ramps, jumps, and traps to get around, so you had better learn it. The initial map consists of small buildings that make leaping out of the reach of the zombie horde pretty easy, and also save you from going splat if you fall off the top. Eventually the game opens up into a proper city, where the parkour feels naturally integrated and changes it from a mode of escape into a mode of inertia. For a while the parkour just feels like a clever workaround so you won’t feel frustrated with the simple combat, but it eventually flowers into something unique and wholly it’s own.
The analogue combat from Dead Island is gone. Sorry, but “right trigger to smack a zombie” is what you get here. You’re also given a secondary weapon slot where anything from distracting firecrackers or exploding ninja stars can sit, and while it doesn’t add a ton to the game’s rather bland combat, the extra flavor is appreciated. The various skill trees also unlock upgrades that open up your options for dealing with the open world, helping keep things fresh. Suddenly you can drop down on zombies to do damage, throw your weapons in a last ditch effort to deal massive damage, and unlock new ways to distract and kill zombies such as car bombs or electric fencing. I went from fearing the daylight hordes roaming the open world slums and city to owning any zombie that dared cross my path, at least until nightfall.
Dying Light isn’t just a name Techland picked out a hat, It refers to the game’s day/night cycle which can change your calm exploration into a tense scramble for the nearest safe house. The monsters really do come out at night: Volatiles, your classic fast moving zombie, are endlessly searching around at night for human flesh and if you make too much noise or pass by their Metal Gear style vision-cones you’ll find yourself in a tense, frightening chase.
Still, the fun of exploring the city only lasts so long before you need a reason to keep going, and the game’s story is as good as any. The characters are all varied with diverse accents, motivations, and interesting back stories, and while the story isn’t great it isn’t worth skipping either. The city you’ve parachuted into used to be an oil boom town, and the remaining civilians are struggling all over again against a new invading sickness. Even the tourist parkour instructor who leads the nice band of survivors you fall in league with is over his head. This sense of desperation gives the town some life, and gives the characters (even the secondary or side quest ones) depth. It almost makes the city worth saving.
But then the story keeps going. And going. You reach a new area, a city of larger buildings and more survivors in need of a hero to run their errands. Your standard bad guy foil is a cliche, and while you desperately try convince the outside government to give you enough time to find a cure before they fire bomb the city you also somehow always manage to find the time to deliver coffee. Unfortunately the story often misses its mark, and only some of the side quests and a few of the main character interactions actually elicit some emotion. And then there’s that ending, oof. Forced first person platforming followed by a long quick-time event to end the game is pretty underwhelming and sour. I had just spent an untold amount of time fighting in zombie filled arenas, guiding myself through dark sewers, and killing bosses. To punctuate these combat experiments (which, by the way, do work well) with an overly difficult parkour running gauntlet and a simple sequence of button presses is a waste. The ending left me frustrated, let down, and annoyed. Just when I thought Dying Light had found it’s stride, it tripped all over itself.
After beating the game though I loaded my save back up and started working through a back catalog of side quests. I was searching cafes for bags of coffee, collecting power cables for a set of insulting twins left behind by their oil company employers, and purposefully waiting until night and traversing across the map just to see what I could accomplish without getting caught by the horde. It was fun. I may not push my play count to over thirty hours, as finishing the game only took about twenty-four, but I’m still thinking about Dying Light. Techland clearly knows what they want from this genre, no matter the name on the cover. They may not have made Dead Island 2, but they did make something more mature and considerate.
Managing Editor around here, moderator over at Giant Bomb, writer at prowrestling.cool
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I thought a lot about Melty Blood during this movie.
I love Jim Carrey.