Dying Light (PS4) - ReviewChris Matulich , posted on 23 February 2015 / 4,262 Views
I really liked Dead Island, despite all of its flaws. While the first person melee combat was anything but revolutionary, it was a refreshing change of pace from the complete oversaturation of the FPS genre in the industry today. Braining the undead with a grab bag of weapons that could be modified provided hours of open world fun, but the game was admittedly plagued with game-breaking bugs, a lack of difficulty, and a plot that was wholly uninteresting.
Having relinquished Dead Island to Deep Silver and partnered with Warner Bros. instead, developer Techland has sought to improve upon its open world zombie action RPG formula with a brand new IP, called Dying Light. But are the additions of a day/night cycle and parkour enough to differentiate the game from its spiritual predecessor?
My initial impression of Dying Light was that the tone of the game, when compared to Dead Island, was much darker and more serious. Playing as Kyle Crane, a black ops mercenary hired by the Global Relief Effort (GRE), you're tasked with retrieving a file from a radical politician turned maniacally violent warlord in the wake of the virus outbreak. The file, which details sensitive information about the virus and the GRE, is vital to the GRE as the warlord Rais is using it to blackmail them.
The GRE fits the bill as the shadowy organization that could be at the center of the outbreak itself. Instructions are doled out by them through a satellite phone that keeps Crane in the dark, tasking him with destroying research pertaining to a cure. Keeping undercover, Crane befriends a large encampment of survivors, whereupon it becomes difficult for him to choose between his new friends and his mission for the GRE.
Though it's a significant change from Dead Island's "Who Do You Voodoo" vacation outbreak tone, Dying Light gives the impression that it's trying way too hard to create a serious narrative with underlying tones of conspiracy and moral choices. Crane's interactions with the GRE feel painfully strained, though they are fortunately infrequent as Crane spends most of his time assisting the survivors of Harran.
The rest of the supporting cast that Crane befriends are much more interesting, as some real emotion begins to shine through between Crane and the other survivors, but it too falls short of becoming completely engrossing mainly because of Crane's whiney performance. The voice acting in general feels a bit off, due in part to the highly varied accents. While it's briefly explained that an international sporting event was to be held in Harran, it doesn't help the overall narrative, and the different accents make it feel Dying Light could be set in any city overrun by a virus outbreak.
It's a good thing, then, that Dying Light doesn't rely on story to make for an enjoyable game. If you're familiar with Dead Island, then you'll already have a good grasp of how the gameplay works. Combat is melee-centric, with multiple types of weapons available to slice and dice or bash and mash zombie skulls in with.
Like its predecessor, combat is regulated by a stamina bar that limits how many times a weapon can be swung. Weapons are rated by 3 stats - damage, durability, and handling. Damage is pretty self-explanatory, durability regulates how many times you can use your weapon before it needs to be repaired or breaks, and handling determines how fast and easily a weapon can be used. Lower handling ratings make weapons unruly, cumbersome, and stamina training, while higher ratings make them much easier to swing at a faster rate of speed. Weapons can still be crafted into a number of interesting machinations that include electricity, fire, bleeding, and toxic attacks.
While there aren't many significant improvements to combat, the removal of the workbench to repair weapons and craft other items helps to make running around Harran more fluid, as you won't have to constantly return to a safe house to repair your favorite weapon or make medpacks or flares. Searching for loot has also been streamlined, as Crane can use his "survivor sense" to highlight items or containers within a couple of meters radius. It certainly makes looking for crafting items and rare containers to lockpick easier, as different colors signify the rarer loot, but it also feels a bit out of place since Crane isn't equipped with any special scanning equipment or super abilities.
Another addition allows Crane to modify his weapons. Mods alter the three characteristics of a weapon and come in four different varieties, with grey being the least beneficial, orange the most, and green and blue fitting in between. The mods are a great way to customize weapons. If you're more apt to using a heavier weapon but don't want to deal with the delay due to its bulkiness, then you can add mods that will make it much easier to swing if you want to slice a few limbs and decapitated heads with extreme speed. There's more freedom to how you can take down the zombie hordes as well, especially since you're not pigeonholed to a certain kind of weapon because of character choice like in Dead Island.
The biggest and most interesting change to gameplay is the inclusion of parkour. Crane can easily run along the rooftops of Harran by hoisting himself up on to a ledge, ladder, drain pipe, or other easily reachable object. Once you progress further, more advanced moves become available, like the always useful wall climb, a grappling hook to make travel faster and easier, and some tackle and dropkick attacks.
The parkour movements are very fluid, utilizing a tight control scheme similar to Mirror's Edge, minus the bright red objects. Jumping and grabbing happen with the same button, allowing for quick transitions between the ground and the rooftops, as well as grabbing onto things as you launch into a long jump or fall to your otherwise inevitable death. The physics also work well, giving the free running a great realistic feeling. Exploring Harran is incredibly enjoyable with this fine-tuned parkour system - you could easily lose hours just running around the fictional Turkish city - and it helps Dying Light create its own identity.
Level progression has also gone through some changes, with three different skill trees that level independently from each other. Survivalist gains experience through quests and collecting air drops filled with medicine and supplies for the survivors of Harran, Agility is leveled through performing freerunning maneuvers, and Power is increased through killing zombies and other nefarious survivors.
At night, Agility and Power experience are doubled and, depending on how long you spend the night outside a safehouse, a bonus of Survivalist XP is also given. There's a lot of freedom to how you navigate Harran, and only a handful of times are you absolutely required to only use free running or to fight your way through enemies.
However, certain skills can only be acquired through the Agility or Power tree, like being able to turn and use items behind you as you're sprinting or not losing as much stamina when you swing a weapon. It certainly helps to be a more balanced player, but you can easily escape most encounters or completely massacre every hostile in a 50 meter radius, depending on how you want to play.
Though there is freedom with separate skill trees, its a bit unbalanced, as the combat tree is much easier to level up and will undoubtedly make Crane way too overpowered towards the last quarter of the game. While crushing skull after skull with just one swing of your weapon is really satisfying at first, it quickly becomes repetitive and makes you yearn to run the rooftops.
Another major improvement comes in the form of the day/night cycle. Dying Light features a bunch of different types of zombies; some spit acid, others hold valuable crafting materials but are skittish, and some are super fast and strong since they only turned recently. While not exactly original in terms of their abilities, the undead that appear at night (known as Volatiles), are menacing brutes that give you something to truly be scared of. Volatiles look more like gray symbiote aliens rather than zombies. They can move extremely quickly, and will climb and freerun as proficiently as Harran's best freerunners if they become aware of Crane's presence.
A decent freerunner won't have much trouble evading the Volatile's pursuit, but one slip up can mean death, as they can take you down with just a couple of hits. Even if you find yourself surrounded by Volatiles, you can always make use of one of the traps lying around, like a UV spot light that weakens them, as well as your own personal UV flashlight. The night can still prove very dangerous, but equally rewarding due to the fact you gain more experience and face no competition for supply drops from Rais' men at night. The day/night cycle helps to keep the game from becoming stale thanks to the added XP gained at night, variety of enemies, and increased difficulty.
Harran's open world is filled with a long list of side missions given out by other survivors and is itself a decent size. It's almost a little too big, as even with the grappling hook it takes some time to get around the city. Free running and combat activities are also scattered about, giving you big boosts to XP once completed.
Like Dead Island, Dying Light also features drop-in/drop-out co-op multiplayer that works rather seamlessly, though it's a bit bizarre to watch three other Kyle Cranes running around with you. There is also a competitive mode called Be The Zombie, and if you happen to be lucky enough to finally get into a match after several tries due to poor matchmaking, you'll unfortunately soon come to the conclusion that it's largely tacked-on.
The zombie gets access to a one-hit-kill pounce and tendrils that act as high-speed infinite grappling hooks. Initially playing as the Volatile is fun and interesting, particularly during 1v1 battles where the zombie has a giant edge, but as soon as there's more than one player it becomes severely unbalanced in favor of the survivors. Combine having to boost up a zombie's stats from level one against powerful Kyle Cranes with how long it takes to even get into a match at times and Be The Zombie is a big letdown.
While the narrative may not be up to par, Techland has definitely captured the essence of a city suffering from a zombie virus outbreak. Great use of textures and lighting make the slums come to life during the day and transform it by night. Lighting gives the city an exceptionally creepy aura during the night where a flashlight and the purple glow of UV-lighted safehouses are your only friends. Characters show the same of level of detail, exhibiting the downtrodden look of people struggling to survive on a daily basis. People look worn and tired, bolstering the ominous atmosphere.
Most of the zombies are grotesquely beautiful, even more so as Crane lops off some limbs or decapitates them, which showcases how great the physics engine as. The Volatiles are particularly unique; when UV light hits them they shine with a bright orange glow, and the playable zombie is one of the more terrifying creations I've had the pleasure of getting my head crushed by in a long time. Suffice it to say, Dying Light is a beautiful game that creates a tense and realistic atmosphere.
While Dying Light is technically its own entity, it's hard not to compare it to Techland's previous outing, Dead Island, as it shares many of the core mechanics. However, unlike Dead Island, Dying Light brings much more to the table, with a fantastic parkour system, more streamlined and customizable weapons, and a day/light cycle that keeps the game fresh and interesting. Even with a forgettable plot and tacked-on versus multiplayer mode, Dying Light is still a solid open world experience that will satisfy any zombie enthusiast for well over 20 hours (and a dozen more if you want to tackle all of the side missions and activities). Whether you're looking for a new open world game, want some Mirror's Edge styled freerunning, or just want to kill some zombies, you can't go wrong with Dying Light.
This review is based on a digital copy of Dying Light for the PS4, provided by the publisher.
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