Dying Light – Preview

Title   Dying Light
Developer  Techland
Publisher  Warner Bros
Platform  Windows PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PS3, Xbox 360
Genre  Survival horror
Release Date  Q1 2015
Official Site  http://dyinglightgame.com/?lang=en_UK

Athletes. Tyres. Zombies. Opens envelope…”Name three things that are at risk of becoming worn-out”. Yes, that’s right, it’s another zombie title, yes you should pay attention and no, there are still more war games than zombie ones – we’re not moving onto pirate-ninjas until the figures are even. Until then, we’ve got Dying Light to keep us busy, a first-person zombie survival game from Techland who gave us the Dead Island series. While I wasn’t a fan of Dead Island at all, I’m (not) secretly nursing a soft spot for Dying Light for a number of reasons.

At E3 I was treated to a hands-on demo for Dying Light, a game where players need to quickly navigate large open spaces in order to complete objectives, collect supplies, and avoid zombies and other dangers. One of the reasons I’m so excited for Dying Light is because it’s very refreshing to not be some over-powered superhero in a zombie apocalypse. Players have to earn their abilities and work hard to improve themselves. Too many zombie titles give you the ability to barrel past zombie hordes like they’re nothing more than bowling pins with teeth. Instead, Dying Light drops a staggeringly large number of zombies into a space and requires you to do your best to avoid pissing them off, as I found out during my time with two missions, one set in the slums and the other in the old city.

Starting in the slums, the mission objective was to head to an area that could be secured and used as a new stronghold. I had a lead pipe and a baseball to use and I was informed by the developer that my character was an extremely early build, so I had no experience points and wasn’t levelled up in any skills. Zombies in videogames usually aren’t that difficult to kill, regardless of what weapon you’re using. Even in Dead Island you were never really threatened by large numbers of them; even when you were they tended to go down fairly easily because you either had a ridiculous amount of weapons to hand or were being aided by other players.

In Dying Light your strongest skill is moving quickly and carefully. Fighting zombies in the early stages is both foolhardy and a quick way of getting yourself killed. Attacking a cluster of them early on, I killed one zombie from the group of four, destroyed my lead pipe in the process and lost a chunk of health, which forced me to beat a hasty retreat. Despite how its sounds, retreating can actually be fun because it gives you an excuse to go running and jumping around. I wouldn’t exactly call it Parkour but it’s certainly as fluid, if not more so, than Mirror’s Edge. In the early stages the character gets tired quicker and climbs slower so taking it steady until you level up will be crucial; the last thing you want to do is fall into a pit of zombies, breaking your legs in the process. To add to the enjoyment, the climbing animations are very well presented, which was a nice surprise.

Moving through the rooftops felt effortless, thanks to the clever level design and it seems like the levels have been created for the purpose of easily accessing any area, which is handy for the randomly generated requests for assistance. During the demo a few cries for help were heard (and mostly ignored), but eventually I felt the need to intervene, the reward for which was some experience points and petty cash.

Finally we approached the compound in question only to find it occupied by bandits. The developer encouraged me to take on the five guys with my one baseball bat despite my protests of wanting to try and find an RPG first. Combat against human opponents feels just as good as it does against zombies (if not better), as humans seem to take more damage and are more resilient to melee attacks. The first guy got a satisfying crack round the head from my baseball bat, but it did little more than alert the other four to my presence, causing my health to drop at an alarming rate.  Cue another tactical retreat.

Running from human opposition is different than fleeing zombies (during the day, at least), because they give chase, and it was only after line of sight was broken that they gave up the hunt. The mission objective switched, informing me that I’d have to try re-taking the compound at night, rather than during the day, as the bandits wouldn’t be out after dark because it was too dangerous. Quite why my character thought he would be any safer at night was beyond me, but rather than argue we got some sleep to speed time forward.

Night-time in Dying Light is a very different beast – one of the reasons why it looks so exciting and refreshing for a zombie game. At night, zombies rule the streets in the same way that piranhas rule a body of water. Huge numbers of zombies still exist but the real danger comes from the ‘volatiles’ – a select number of zombies that are harder, better, faster, stronger (but not associated with Daft Punk in any way). The key to surviving the night is to remain silent and use your Night Sense, a kind of sonar that highlights volatile zombies in red, allowing you to do your best to avoid them. As with all other zombies they’re attracted by sound, and using traps made by the player and NPCs is key to drawing their attention or slowing them down.

Traversing the rooftops (I dared not go on the ground) at night was genuinely nerve-wrecking and double-checking every jump and decision became second nature. I didn’t have the tools or the skills to outrun a volatile, never mind trying to fight one of the fuckers. Trickier still was the fact that other zombies were still just ambling around like mobile traffic cones. The developer who was watching me with mild fascination advised me that any attacks that didn’t result in an instant kill would just create noise that would attract the volatiles. The only way back to the compound without getting to ground level was to make a running jump off the roof and hope I made it most of the way up an embankment.

I didn’t. Instead I landed (loudly) in a huge pile of rubbish and watched in utter horror as nearly every local zombie turned and looked in my direction. I didn’t waste any time in sprinting the rest of the way, slamming the compound gate shut and breathing a huge sigh of relief. The demo faded to black as we were transported to the old city level. This particular part of the demo took place further on in the story, during the day, and there were various skills and weapons to hand from the start. I didn’t waste any time in leaping from the roof of a building into the water below and swimming to the edge of a wall to begin an ascent to ground level. It was highly refreshing to be able to climb out of the water from almost any point along the wall and not have to look for a dock or a specific piece of rock to clamber onto, reinforcing the Parkour themes of the game.

Killing zombies was still a challenge but weapons like the Zap Hammer, Spiked Baseball Bat and a pistol certainly helped. Using the newly announced grappling hook to reach new heights I quickly put the pistol to good use, firing off one shot that racked up enough kills to reach double figures. Shooting a cluster of fuel drums in a courtyard full of bandits attracted tens of zombies that they were powerless to stop, meaning that later on, when the dust (and bodies) had settled, I could return and scour the area for supplies. In the same instance, however, my pistol had attracted its own interest, leading to a quick dash across the rooftops as several zombies gave chase.

The demo ended shortly after and I was left suitably impressed. The climbing and movement elements of Dying Light feel like someone is doing a first-person attempt at Assassins Creed blended with Mirror’s Edge. The combat feels similar to Dead Island but improved ten-fold. You don’t feel like you’re being limited by some stupid computer algorithm or contrived excuse as to why you’re weak as shit, you just accept you’re actually weak because you’re trying to go ten rounds with a couple of thousand walking corpses. The juxtaposition in terms of how you play in either day or night is refreshing and alternates atmosphere between a lightly coloured zombie playground to pitch black stealth-or-die game.

As it stands, Dying Light is one of the games near the top of my must-have list for 2015, and with it releasing on five different platforms, everyone is going to have a chance to get in on the action.

Last five articles by Chris


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