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Dying Light Review – Falling Short of Greatness
Dying Light comes to us from the developers; Techland. If that name sounds familiar, that is because they are makers of the first two Dead Island games. A fact that is clearly visible in their latest outing.
Aside from having the same creators, Dying Light, being another Open World, First Person, Zombie Apocalypse, Action Adventure game, features far too many thematic and gameplay similarities to Dead Island to escape meaningful comparisons.
Dying Light lands players in the role of Kyle Crane, an American who is sent to the quarantined, fictional East European city of Harran by a humanitarian organization called GRE.
What follows is an adventure through the outbreak struck, desolate city where infrastructure barely works, rations are low and people struggle to survive, while Kyle tries to follow his orders and uncover conspiracies behind the virus and its cure.
Whereas Dying Light’s main story campaign is not much to speak about, the game’s side missions offer better variety and interesting scenarios, however even there, it does not seem like storytelling was Techland’s main focus in developing the game.
Rather Dying Light seems more focused on the gameplay as a tool to catch the player’s attention and keep it via opportunities presented for open-world exploration, specifically the introduction of free running.
Introduction of first person free running as a core gameplay element is one of the major areas how Dying Light distinguishes itself from Dead Island games.
Whereas traversal in Dead Island games seemed to always steer towards monotony in the absence of vehicles, Dying Light fixes this issue by providing players with the ability to quickly and smoothly navigate the open city of Harran through parkour.
Since this is a first person adventure game, the parkour in Dying Light is less akin to the automatic 3rd person movement seen in the Assassin’s Creed series and closer to the first person, deliberate and timed platforming that was part of Mirror’s Edge.
Anyone who experienced Mirror’s Edge in 2008 remembers the smooth parkour mechanics of that game which, while unique in their implementation, were not simple to execute for many players.
While the first person parkouring experience offered by Dying Light is a much more polished and robust, there is still a definite learning curve associated with mastering the art of parkour platforming in this game.
Though Dying Light feature’s Mirror’s Edge like platforming, the game showcases it in absence of linear level design and blindingly obvious prompts for progress that were staple of the Mirror’s Edge experience.
Dying Light’s open world traversal requires players to get adjusted to thinking vertically when sprinting through the game environments.
The button scheme also takes a little time to get used to. Jumps and attacks are mapped on the bumpers/triggers of the controller. The fact that most gamers are attuned to pressing one of the face buttons, particularly “X” or “A” button for jump platforming in most 2D and 3D games might cause a little discomfort at the start of the game.
However this change does not adversely affect the gameplay experience as most gamers will get used to the button scheme soon after the platforming tutorial is over.
Aside from this free running aspect Dying Light features Dead Island’s staple gameplay mishmash of open world exploration, scavenging, fetch quests and melee combat.
Game also features a combat system which seems to be better fleshed out than the one offered in the Dead Island series.
While the core combat mechanic revolves around swiping with a melee weapon however in Dying Light; each swing that connects with a zombie’s face, neck, torso or legs results in a mixture of impactful thud and reactive animation that really brings forth the feeling of having delivered a satisfactory blow to the enemy.
Enemies themselves, whether Zombies or Bandits, bob and weave in response to player actions, trying to evade strikes and come in number of varieties, requiring different strategies to take down, thus effectively keeping the game’s combat element from getting stale.
Not only is the player able to scavenge, craft and utilize variety of melee weapons but also use items like firecrackers and UV lights to their advantage against the hordes of zombies
While initially the player only has access to few mundanely weak pipes and wrenches as well as a limited melee skill set, the presence of a skill progression tree offers players to upgrade their abilities and add a slew of skills to their repertoire.
Earning XP and upgrading skill set offers noticeable rewards that change the player character from the clumsy and weak newbie at the start of the game, to a fast and deadly veteran who is able deal with rank and file zombies with minimal effort.
Dying Light features three distinct skill trees called Survival, Power and Agility, each featuring different method of gaining relevant XP.
The survival tree offers upgrades towards crafting, equipment storage and bargaining and is unlocked through completing missions.
Power tree allows players to upgrade offensive moves and builds up more combats the player participates in.
While the Agility tree allows players to learn different actions complimenting their traversal and upgrades depending on the amount player spends sprinting and climbing obstacles.
In essence, the way players earn XP in Dying Light is quite similar to the Elder Scrolls XP system.
Aside from freedom of mobility and more polished combat, the key differentiating factor of Dying Light is in how it works with its dynamic day and night cycles.
Whereas the city is populated by slow and weak zombies during daylight, the game ramps up the difficulty in the night time where more powerful undeads come out and even the normal zombies offer a much more challenging chase in the dark.
This feature creates an organic gameplay cycle where the player spends the day time exploring and traversing environment and freely bashing any zombies that they might stumble across, while the event of nightfall opens up a more survival horror and stealth based gameplay experience.
Dying Light creates a great risk reward dynamic by offering unique loot and ability to gain double XP at night time when outside the safe zones, which are gained just like outposts are won in Far Cry series.
Speaking of which, Dying Light’s lighting engine does a remarkable job in making the day and night portions have a remarkably different feel in its visuals.
Each structure of the fictional city of Harran lights up beautifully under blazing mustard yellow Sun and becomes hauntingly muted under the darkened sky of the night.
This huge city is split into two huge maps and sets itself apart from the sprawling bright islands of Dead Island by not only offering a much more vertically available open world exploration experience but also offering a more gritty and somber visual tone in contrast to Dead Island’s bright and campy one.
However there is not much in the name of environmental variety in Dying Light’s two huge maps. One is set in dilapidated slum outskirts and other an abandoned metropolis.
Although the lighting and weather effects make environments in Dying Light look quite pretty from afar, the game lacks details in some environmental elements and features annoying texture pop-in at relatively close draw distance.
Furthermore Dying Light features several inconsistencies in its visual presentation with occasional clipping issue, wonky lip syncing animation, characters showing a distinctly lack of facial emotion and constantly repeating face models.
Dying Light is a similar mixed bag when it comes to its audial presentation.
The background soundtrack is great in being minimalist and environmental during simple explorations and then dynamically changing to elicit feeling of dread and tension in the chases and night excursions.
However, while the game tries to evoke empathy and connection with the NPCs, its script and dialogue delivery sorely lack the gravitas to add any depth to the stilted faces, leading to half-baked characters that are difficult to care about.
Similar to the Dead Island series, Dying Light also allows players to engage in 2-4 player multiplayer excursions which offer missions for cooperative play but also opportunities for competitive play via missions that ask players to kill most zombies or collect the most loot.
And while the “Be a Zombie” mode is held up as a pre-order bonus DLC, the mode offers another unique competitive play opportunity where one player controls a powerful, Spiderman/Venom-esque zombie while other players play as humans.
All this multiplayer goodness, coupled with the 12-15hour main campaign and the litany of side missions at the player’s disposal means that Dying Light has a lot of gameplay to offer for those that enjoy the experience.
Dying Light is neither a masterpiece nor a complete failure. Similar to initial entries of franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs and Far Cry the game suffers from a lack of refinement and polish that the developer; Techland can work at improving in its next iteration.
Fortunately most of these issues have to do with the game’s presentation rather than gameplay itself. Dying Light has it where it counts. The meat and bones of the game are polished and well executed.
So players in search of a fast paced open world zombie apocalypse game need not wait for an eventual sequel to play and enjoy the gameplay experience this new franchise has to offer.
Dying Light borrows gameplay elements from Dead Island, Mirror’s Edge and Far Cry games and manages create a mixture that not only works but is fun to play.
What’s more, the game offers all this gameplay in 4 player coop and player versus players modes.
With its flashy lighting, gritty mood and huge open world Dying Lights looks pretty remarkable at first glance. However a closer look reveals several instances of visual repetition and unevenness in levels of detail that diminish the impressiveness of the whole package.
Just like its visuals, Dying Light is a mixed bag in audio department.
Though the game features great sound effects for the zombies and the impact weapons make with them as well as the soundtrack which dynamically compliments the dearly and tense moments of the game, the dialogues, voice acting and occasional sound glitches hamper the overall experience.
Inconsistency. That is what mars all the effort done my Techland for their new game.
From its tone to its story and animations to dialogues, Dying Light manages to simultaneously impresses and disappoint in almost every aspect of its presentation.
With two huge open world environments to explore, a suitably long single player campaign, scores of side missions, hundreds of weapons and items to loot and create, and a cooperative and competitive multiplayer experience, Dying Light offers a lot of game time for its players.
Dying Light is a good game that could have been exceptional if it had just received a little more polish in certain areas.
While the inconsistencies of its presentation bring the whole experience down a notch, Dying Light’s strongest suit is its gameplay and those gamers that enjoy fast paced, first person open world gameplay and are fans of zombie genre would certainly enjoy experiencing its free running gameplay in action.