I love me some zombies. Seriously, anything from Resident Evil all the way to Dead Nation, as long as there’s shambling corpses waiting to have their heads bashed or detached I’m game. In 2011 developer Techland graced us with a first person, open world romp called Dead Island and the sequel, shortly after call Dead Island: Riptide. This tasked us with picking one of several survivors (each who had their own strengths) and setting about the island with miscellaneous quests and lots of blood. This was one of the first zombie games I had played in a while that actually felt visceral in regards to the damage you could inflict and how an actual outbreak would be like if your were in the middle of such a situation. Needless to say, when I heard Techland was doing another open world zombie-fest I was excited. Then they said it included parkour style locomotion I was sold. Enter Dying Light.
Dying light is another open world adventure from Techland with a first person perspective that pits you against the undead in a more suburban type sprawl than in Dead Island. The main protagonist in this quest is an undercover operative named Kyle Crane who is dropped into the fictional city of Harran. Harran has recently been swept up in an outbreak that turns the infected into to the usual zombie fare. Crane is sent in to recover a file that’s key to the outbreak by the group he works for called the GRE. After parachuting in and almost being eaten alive Kyle meets up with a local group of survivors to begin his adventure. I don’t want to get into plot points here, but lets just say there are a LOT of side missions and quests to keep you occupied.
Before we get too far I need to point out there are quite a few similarities between Dying Light and Dead Island. I mean, to the point where I thought I was playing the wrong game for a second. The combat, crafting , loot, etc. all feel like a sequel to Dead Island. This is good in it’s own right, but I was curious why this wasn’t just called Dead Island 3, then I started to notice things. First off, the graphics and sounds are excellent. Dead Island did a great job on PS3 for looking good , but the new consoles make tropical settings and suburban environments all the more realistic. Shadows are cast in very natural light as the day slowly progresses towards night, and when the sun rises in the morning. The infected even received an overhaul in regards to appearance and realism. The modeling accounts for layers so when you haul off and hit a zombie in the head with a sickle you get a pretty realistic result. They’ve even added a “stun” feature so when you hit a zombie with a critical it goes into an x-ray view to show the bone damage a la Sniper Elite.
The next thing that really changes things up is the infected AI. They’ll do their normal shambling and staggering, but with the new infected runners will come looking for you if you make too much noise. These runners make the ones in 28 Days Later look like pansies. I made the mistake of throwing a Molotov too close to an exploding barrel once, and although the resulting explosion was amazing the echoing shrieks that emanated from surrounding neighborhood let me know I was in for it. A pack of runners showed up and I figured I’d parkour my way out of the situation.
This is where the free running aspect comes in big time. You can freely run, jump over obstacles, grab ledges just like Mirror’s Edge. Based on how much you run you level up your skill for Agility which in turn grants you more moves like sliding, vaulting, and even leg sweeps to break your pursuers limbs to slow them down. On top of it all of the mo-cap for the parkour moves was handled by the founder of parkour himself, David Belle. So when the runners closed in on me I thought I had it made when I climbed to the top of the house next to me. This is when I realized theses are not your run of the mill fast zombies, these are parkour zombies spawned straight from hell. They hone in on nearby sounds and will search for you until they find something else that interests them (IE another noise distraction). If they make eye contact you better get to running and try to break line of sight.
Needless to say, after being torn apart and re-spawning I made more of an effort to be aware of my surroundings. Then night fell. The voice over the loud speaker will tell you to find a safe house until morning. Now if you want to level up fast running around at night is the way to go. They give you double power and agility points for everything you do, but at a cost. At night is when the hunters come out. Aptly named, the hunters are night stalkers that can leap from rooftops out of the night to dispatch you quickly. This adds even more a difficulty because these hunters will chase you like the runners during the day.
On top of the next gen graphics, sound effects, and new aspects of game play there is also drop-in/out co-op for up to 4 players. This has worked seamlessly so far with hardly any issues. The inclusion of the “Be the Zombie” DLC rounds off the co-op and lets you invade another players game at night as a hunter. There’s also more DLC lined up with a season pass available through the PSN Store so the zombie goodness can continue.
Dying Light is definitely in the same vein as Dead Island, but with more crafting options, bigger and better zombies, and the inclusion of night time missions it certainly not the sequel people assume it is. This is one of the more fun open world adventures you’ll go on in a while. So, if vaulting off a zombie in to a crowd of the undead brandishing Excalibur (it’s an Easter egg) to remove some limbs sounds like your kind of party, pack up 3 of your best buds and see if Dying Light whets your appetite, or leaves you running scared.