Zombies come in all shapes and sizes, from the shambling slow walkers George A. Romero made famous to the fast runners that can be seen in 28 Days Later. Just like their Hollywood counterparts, video games have had an equally diverse cast of undead. Dying Light features the entire gamut of zombie types, all of which share the same irresistible hunger for human flesh. By day it’s rather easy to take down zombies one by one, but when the sun sets and darkness settles the tide changes and the hunter soon becomes the hunted.
The city of Harran has been quarantined off after a mysterious viral outbreak has caused the majority of its citizens to turn into flesh-eating zombies. One of the few remaining uninfected survivors, Rais, has declared himself the city’s new leader and has stockpiled weapons and precious supplies. In the process he’s also gotten his hands on a top secret government document regarding the virus that could potentially be used to cause a worldwide panic. Players take control of Kyle Crane, a Global Relief Effort (GRE) agent whose job is to infiltrate Harran and recover the document while taking Rais into custody. Things quickly spiral out of control after he crash lands in the city, however, and Crane realizes that this won’t just be some simple snatch-and-grab mission.
Dying Light is Mirror’s Edge meets Dead Island. It’s the best of both worlds, featuring solid parkour and freerunning gameplay mechanics in an open-world playground infested with zombies. Crane quickly befriends the local resistance group who have taken shelter at an apartment complex in the middle of the city, aptly named the Tower, and goes on missions in order to gain the trust of their leader, Brecken. Players start out with very little; you find a lead pipe early on for defense and you can run, jump and slowly climb.
There are three ways to level up your character. Completing missions levels up your Survivor Rank, performing parkour stunts levels up your Agility Rank, and fighting the infected levels up your Power Rank. Each one has their own skill tree set that unlocks various abilities that’ll help you move around Harran or defend yourself from the undead.
One of the best upgrades that you won’t receive until later on in the game is the grappling hook which drastically changes how you move across the city and even fight enemies. Rather than climb up a building or jump from roof to roof you can quickly pull yourself up to the roof or create your own zip lines between buildings. It’ll even keep a skilled player from a nasty high altitude fall that would otherwise mean instant death.
Oftentimes traversing the map in games is a chore, but with Dying Light it’s one of the most enjoyable moments of the game. The parkour elements work really well and the controls are, for the most part, responsive. Running from rooftop to rooftop, climbing to flimsy radio towers and hearing the wind rush past you, or finding a new abandoned apartment to explore and wondering what collectibles are hidden inside are all what make it so enjoyable. Actually confronting and fighting the infected plays second fiddle to the exploration.
The zombies themselves are varied, ranging from slow shamblers to fast running virals. Rotting zombies will spew toxic who-knows-what at you from a distance while hulking behemoths can deal massive damage up close. A single zombie (or even a few) is an easy kill no matter what level you are, but things can spiral out of control quickly if you’re not careful. Noise will attract more zombies and it doesn’t take long before you’re surrounded by a horde of them, which can be much more difficult to survive. You never feel overpowering, even at the later levels and with better weapons. One wrong move and it’s easy to turn into zombie fodder.
Thankfully there are numerous weapons available at your disposal, most of which you’ll find hiding in locked crates or in some far to reach location. Weapons range from blunt baseball bats and pipes to slick swords and machetes. I’m personally a fan of the slicing weapons as they’re much quicker and deadlier. Weapons can be further customized through blueprints you either find or receive for completing a mission. Crafting blueprints can increase a weapons power, handling, and durability while also adding deadly status effects like freezing, burning, electrify, bleeding, or toxic. It’s pretty cool to see Crane wielding your newly crafted weapon, although the constant hum of some of the status effects, especially burning, can become annoying after a while. Still, when it comes to survival I’d rather have a flaming sword over a dull knife any day.
Eventually you’ll get to the point where taking out a group of them becomes second nature and the only difficulty you’ll have is whether or not to throw a homemade explosive device or go in closer and perform a devastating dropkick.
Things quickly change when the sun dips below the horizon and the once bright and colorful city is blanketed in darkness. The infected become stronger and more agile, and the extremely dangerous Volatiles roam the streets. At night, your best option is to run because even one on one the Volatiles will have no trouble tearing you to pieces and not even a flaming sword will be able to save you once they get a whiff of your scent.
There are some benefits to staying out at night as Agility and Power experience points are doubled and there are some missions that can only be completed at night. It’s a good risk/reward system that’ll push players to take that extra chance in order to level up more quickly. There are plenty of safe houses around that you can take shelter in until the sun rises, as well.
Harran is a massive city that is split between two major sections; the Slums and Old Town. Each has their own vibe to them. The slums are filled with buildings closely packed together and don’t get too high off the ground save for a few structures, while Old Town is more spread out. Exploring Harran is necessary in order to get the full experience. There’s plenty of stories to be told and the main storyline, and even the side quests, can’t tell it all. Random encounters will inform you of life before the outbreak will scattered notes and collectibles will give more in depth insight into life inside the quarantine zone. The main story will give players a basic understanding of the world, but to get the full impact you’re going to have to do plenty of exploring.
You’ll learn, for instance, about how the biters wearing hazmat suits came to be from a random stranger on a rooftop. There’s a side mission early on where you have to deliver a gun to one of the Tower’s inhabitants. If successful, you’ll come across the character later on in the game as you make your way through the sewers towards Old Town. It’s little details like these that make the game enjoyable and make me want to continue to explore everything it has to offer.
Dying Light is primarily what you make of it. There’s plenty to do and explore, and it’s easy to get sidetracked for many hours completing side missions while the main story thread goes ignored. The parkour mechanics are some of the best I’ve seen in games, and the combat isn’t half bad either. Typically one or the other suffers in a game, but Dying Light manages to do it all pretty well. Harran is a city worth exploring, but surviving, well now that’s entirely up to you.