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I wasn’t expecting much from Dying Light. The developers have had a weird and spotty track record including another zombie game, Dead Island. Dead Island was a fun co-op game that was filled with bad voice acting, bugs and a general sense of “jank.” So I wasn’t sure what to expect from Dying Light. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect that I would fall in love with jumping into trash piles or end up enjoying so much of Dying Light. Expectations are funny like that. They’re usually wrong and I’m usually happy when they are.
One aspect of Dying Light I am not in love with is the game’s story. It’s an interesting setup. You play as Kyle Crane, an operative sent into a zombie infested city. Inside the city is something valuable and your employers want you to get it. Only catch is the person who has is it is the leader of one of the major factions in the destroyed city. So you have to go undercover and infiltrate a faction to find out who has it.
It’s an interesting idea for sure, but it quickly goes nowhere and your secret never really means anything. The story itself does the same. It meanders around and eventually you reach an ending.
It’s a shame the story is so lackluster because many of the characters you meet are great and have really good voice acting attached to them. It’s just the lines they are reading and the story they are in isn’t really worth much beyond a way to move you through to the next mission.
Many of the side quests actually have some really fun characters who will give you all sorts of tasks. The performances are mostly great and the writing for these side quests is humorous and filled with character. Even the boring generic dude you play as in the game sometimes has some funny reactions to these strange, but intriguing characters. For example one quest had me helping a man who was pretending to be a wizard. Another had me getting chocolates and movie for a long dead mother.
The game is filled with side quests like this and collectibles and even random events. These random events led to some of the more memorable moments I had with the game. Running after a recently dropped air supply crate or finding a fellow survivor surrounded by zombies, these random events are simple and take only a few minutes at most. But they allow you to use all of your tools and skills in any way you feel like.
They also led to a lot of moments where I was getting ready to stop playing but decided to do “one more air drop…” which would lead to two hours of continuing to play Dying Light. Yeah, it can be addicting. Getting to these random events and quests is a breeze thanks to an easy to read mini map, tons of paths to take and the ability to “parkour” your way around the big open city of Harran.
That last part is one of Dying Light’s big selling points. Dying Light allows you to use parkour to climb, jump, slide and vault your way around the city and it’s undead inhabitants. This was the part of Dying Light I was worried about the most. After playing the stiff and hard to move Dead Island characters I was concerned. Thankfully, Dying Light is fluid and feels great to play.
Moving around the world is so much fun I didn’t mind the omission of a fast travel system. In fact, I loved it. It made me learn the city and forced me to get better at using the parkour. By the end of the game I was moving around the city with no troubles at all and having a huge smile on my face the whole time. Eventually Dying Light gives you a second part of the city to play in. This part allows for even more parkour fun and I found climbing the city and running across rooftops to be one of the best things in Dying Light.
Another thing Dying Light does really well is make you feel like a badass. You can leap into trash piles to survive high falls off tall buildings. It’s not unlike Assassin’s Creed’s leap of faith moments. But in Dying Light you are always in control. You can aim for the trash pile, making it or sometimes missing it. There is no pre-canned animation where you watch and then get back to playing. You are always in control and always making decisions that could lead to your death. Which makes the final boss encounter a real shame as it’s nothing more than a series of quick time events. What a crappy way to end.
On the plus side, Combat in Dying Light is filled with these decisions. You can use hundreds of different types of melee weapons. These include bats, hammers, knives, swords, batons, wrenches and even metal pipes. All of them have different stats and feel different. Large swords are slow, but kill most zombies in one hit. Batons are super fast, but not as damaging. As you use weapons they will begin to deteriorate and will eventually break.
Deciding when to run away and fix a weapon, when to stay and fight or sometimes when you need to just run are decisions you are forced to make constantly. And because the game is quite generous with checkpoints and autosaves, I never felt punished for making a bad choice.
The actual combat is really satisfying too. Smacking a zombie in the head with a hammer and watching the game slow down to show you the gruesome detail never got boring. There is something very visceral to the combat. Each swing and hit feels heavy and dangerous, which makes the combat feel more meaningful than the melee combat in a game like Skyrim.
On top of how fun the combat is, you can also modify your weapons to make it crazier. Want a flaming axe? How about an electric machete? Or a acid covered hammer? All this and much more is possible in Dying Light and the interface you use to craft these weapons is easy to use and manage.
As you run, fight and climb around the city you will be rewarded with different points. These points will eventually level up one of three skill trees. Each skill tree is filled with new and fun things to unlock. Like drop kicks, rolling, exploding ninja stars and a grapple hook. The grapple hook is of particular note because of how much fun it is to use. You can quickly shoot across rooftops and alleyways like Spider-Man. There is a cooldown and it can be a bit buggy sometimes, but I ended up loving that thing so much.
There is one more major part to Dying Light. There is a day/night cycle and when the night comes it is a scary time to be out in the city. I won’t spoil too much about what you will encounter at night, but even at a super high level with great weapons the night was still scary to me. Night time will come regardless if you are in a mission or exploring the city. When it does come it does so with an ominous warning and soon the city is pitch black and you will be looking for a safehouse to sleep in so you can time warp to the morning.
Of course, if you decide to fight through the night you will get more experience. If you survive that is.
All of the stuff I just described and talked about is playable in co-op. You and up to three other players can run and jump your way around the city together. The co-op worked great and felt pretty seamless. My character kept all his items and gear and any story progress I made. You can easily drop in and out. I played a decent chunk of Dying Light co-op and I had a blast. If you have friends this is a great way to have some fun.
Drop kicking zombies is always better with a friend or two.
PS4 gameplay I recorded of Dying Light
For the most part Dying Light ran great. I had one crash and a few bugs here and there, like falling through a ledge or a zombie getting stuck in the terrain. These bugs and issues were fairly unobtrusive and didn’t happen much. I also had a few visual bugs, like weird lighting issues, but again these weren’t too common. Most of the time Dying Light looks great. (I will say that co-op seemed to cause some framerate drops during combat.)
One part of Dying Light that doesn’t work is the “Be The Zombie” mode. It’s just broken, at least for me and my friends. None of us could get into a match and after playing the tutorial I’m not too concerned. It seemed like a neat idea, but not something I would want to play for hours on end.
That is the opposite feeling I had while I played Dying Light. I have already put over 25 hours into the game and I have dozens of quests left to do and I can’t wait to play more co-op. The game is just a ton of fun. Even more fun with a few friends. The story may be a bit dull and some bugs can cause some issues here and there, but I still think Dying Light is a fantastic game filled with some great ideas and tons of stuff to see and do.