We were introduced to Dead Island, Techland’s previous first-person zombie basher, with a poignant trailer that seemed to imply focus would be placed upon the human side of the apocalypse.
Descending is a problem (though in fairness nobody has that figured out yet), so good luck getting down safely if there isn’t a pile of rubbish nearby to break your fall in the same fashion as an Assassin’s haystack. There’s no feel of being able to flawlessly and skilfully string moves together – it doesn’t flow.
Yet somewhat bemusingly, the fact I’ve had nothing positive to say so far is by design. These problems begin to dissipate as you play and unlock abilities to combat the issues, before they eventually disappear entirely. It’s not a smooth ride, however, thanks to the levelling system, which tasks you with performing the actions you want to upgrade à la Elder Scrolls. You can’t complete missions and put the experience you gain into improving your parkour skills, you have to endure hours of bad parkour to make it bearable and messily kill hundreds of zombies to become slightly combat proficient. Eventually, I unlocked a grappling hook to zip wherever I wanted to go in an instant and I killed zombies with one satisfying, head-popping blow. I was a badass and I was loving it, but why on earth did I have to endure hour upon hour of tripe to make the game fun? This is the protagonist’s line of work, after all, so there isn’t even a contextual reason for him to begin unskilled.
Conversely, one element of the game gets progressively weaker. When night falls, “volatiles” take to the streets. These faster, more deadly enemies change the entire dynamic of the game, transforming it into a tense, stealthy, survival horror experience. When you’re spotted, heart-pounding chase music kicks in and you flee to reach safety at the nearest hideout or work to shake pursuers. If they catch you, or you try to fight, you’re as good as dead – it’s a terrifying game of cat and mouse. Unfortunately, when you reach Old Town in the second half of the game the map’s verticality makes it incredibly easy to avoid foes, and the darkness no longer holds any horrors.
Dying Light is just Dead Island done slightly better
In addition to volatiles, several other nasties add variety to the enemy arsenal. The Dead Island cast return with exploders and large brutes, accompanied by the equivalent of Left 4 Dead's Spitter, and straight out of Dead Space come mutated children that attract the horde. Human enemies also feature – although you barely realise, as they’re as brain dead as their undead brethren. You’ll often need to equip a gun to counteract their added firepower, which is a shame, as the gunplay is unsatisfying and unresponsive.
The story is typically clichéd and both awfully voiced and written. There’s a possible cure, a fight against time under the threat of the city being levelled and a drug to delay turning when bitten, to name just a few genre tropes. You already know the story because you’ve heard it a million times before – and 900,000 of those are told better. The ending is particularly weak, offering no closure and a QTE final boss.
Missions don’t hold much variety and some are shamelessly ripped straight from Dead Island. Side missions and random encounters often outshine the main quest with quirky characters and interesting self-contained stories, but unfortunately these are mostly tied to typical fetch quests. Quarantine zones and challenges are fun diversions, although challenges ridiculously don’t have a reset option; if you get off to a bad start you have to wait the timer out before being able to restart. There’s such a high volume of missions on offer that the lack of both fast travel and vehicles becomes a real issue. The setting is thoroughly drab, and traipsing back and forth through it holds no joy, so you’ll likely give up long before completing them all. Unless, like me, you’re an avid achievement hunter…
Considering developer Techland parted ways with Deep Silver due to creative differences on where the Dead Island franchise should be taken, I’m not quite sure what couldn’t be agreed upon. Dying Light is just Dead Island done slightly better. It’s highly unoriginal, nicking copiously from numerous games, but if you can stick with it and switch your brain off, there’s some fun to be had here.