Dying Light review for PS4, Xbox One, PC

Platform: PS4
Also On: Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: Techland
Medium: Blu-ray/Digital
Players: 1-4
Online: Yes

Techland is a developer that?s no stranger to zombie-themed video games, responsible for 2011?s Dead Island, and its follow-up Dead Island: Riptide in 2013. I found Dying Light to be a far better experience than both, showing that Techland has managed to learn and improve upon various areas for this engaging, open-world romp through the fictional city of Harran. It?s not perfect, but if you?re struggling to find a new release in this current first-quarter gaming drought, I think you?d do well to check out what Dying Light has to offer.

The story starts off with your character air-dropped into a city already rife with zombie infestation. This infection runs the gamut of various zombie types, featuring slow moving, shambling zombies more akin to the George Romero films, along with faster, running zombies that take a page from the Zack Snyder helmed remake of Dawn of the Dead. There?s other unique variations, with mutated zombies capable of spitting damaging liquid, and vicious night-only creatures that scout the environment and are almost guaranteed to kill you if spotted. Of course, there?s also an assortment of standard humans that you?ll occasionally do battle with, capable of blocking and parrying attacks, or using guns to attack you at range.

dying light_23The enemy variety here forces you to adjust your play style based on both the encounter and the time of day. Typically during the day you?ll encounter the more run of the mill zombies, both runners and walkers, and occasionally run into pocket gangs of humans that usually appear near air supply drops randomly distributed throughout Harran. For the most part, zombies are easy enough to battle or run from, thanks in part to the excellent movement/parkour system in place. The lead character, Kyle Crane, can traverse the environment at a pretty good clip, capable of sprinting, climbing and jumping to reach rooftops or other out of the way locations. The ability to scramble up the side of a building allows you to stay out of harm?s way, and find quicker, alternative routes to reach whatever destination you have in mind.

Gameplay shifts dramatically at night, as Harran is typically near pitch-black once the sun goes down. At this point you?ll need to keep an eye out for a more vicious form of the undead, which will hunt you down and can move at great speeds, provided they?re able to spot you. During nighttime runs, you?ll often need to incorporate more stealth-like movements, always being mindful of your radar which helpfully points out the vision cones of scouting undead, while still paying attention to the whereabouts of the slower, but still dangerous varieties. Your only source of light comes from a single flashlight, which gives you enough visibility to move forward but not enough to see danger from all angles.

dying light_27Why bother with running around the city at night, you might ask? Well, some missions will require you to be active at night, with requests coming from both story and side missions. However, another benefit is the boost to experience points you can earn. Experience in Dying Light is divided up into Survival, Agility and Power. Earning experience in these three categories will unlock skill points, which can then be applied to a variety of abilities in each skill tree. Survival is typically earned by completing missions, or making it through an entire night unscathed. Agility is earned by using your freerunning skills, so everytime you climb across an object, you?ll earn a small number of experience points. Power is strictly based on combat, with every successful swing of a cricket bat or hammer netting you experience points in the Power category. When playing at night you can earn double points in both Survival and Agility, giving you a risk/reward mechanic that can make nighttime runs a bit more enticing.

Combat is where Dying Light most resembles Techland’s Dead Island, but not as much as it should. Dying Light is still primarily focused on first-person melee fighting, with very few guns to access, and even fewer bullets. You?ll primarily be using pipes, bats, knives, crowbars and other objects, bludgeoning or stabbing your enemies to death. But where Dead Island featured the ability to use an analog stick to direct the path of your strike, you?ll simply be pressing an attack button while Crane swings  his arm left to right and back again. It?s a little boring to be honest, and doesn?t feel worth engaging in unless you?re stuck in a situation that forces it. You can try to aim the strikes, with hits against the head causing the most damage, but it doesn?t hold a candle to the analog swings of Dead Island.

dying light_26The open-world setting of Dying Light is utilized well, with Harran actually feeling like a lived in city with plenty of different buildings, interior spaces to explore and scavenge, and an appropriate number of survivors holed up to uncover. The parkour mechanic helps to open the city up quite a bit, allowing you to freely move just about anywhere, outside of some unscalable cliff sides and other obstacles. Exploring is also generally worthwhile, as there?s plenty of hidden goods scattered about, useful for crafting medkits, lockpicks and weapon mods. It?s also just plain fun to run around Harran, bouncing from rooftop to rooftop, or taking a large leap knowing you can cushion your fall in the pile of trash directly below.

All in all, Dying Light is a lot of fun, thanks entirely to the way it handles movement and city exploration. The combat is serviceable, but Dying Light is at it?s best when you?re avoiding zombies, running away, or attempting to stealthily evade danger at night. The story is serviceable, with plenty of NPC?s to encounter that contain a variety of eclectic personalities. Dying Light is also a pretty lengthy game, with a large number of side quests, so if you equate gaming value with time, you?ll be pretty happy with what Dying Light offers. I?d definitely suggest checking out Dying Light, and  hope to see even more refinements in Techland?s future efforts.

Grade: B+