I honestly didn't expect Dying Light to be different from Dead Island. Both were set in a zombie apocalypse and made use of a first person combat system but as the demo played out, I found out that this is where the similarities ended. Interestingly enough, Dying Light was supposed to be a proper sequel to Techland's zombie adventure but the game's new tone and all new move set turned it into the game I saw last week. The sun bleached sands of Banoi are gone, replaced by a unnamed European-ish city crawling with hundreds of the undead. Dying Light gets its name because of a day and night cycle mechanic that does so much more than make the zombies harder to avoid.
While Dead Island offered different and creative ways to kill zombies, Dying Light makes the fight for survival a little more desperate. The game's tone is less cartoony and keeps the player on their toes by introducing human bandits and special, deadlier zombies that only appear at night ensuring that the game will be an increasingly dangerous place. There's a strong emphasis on player movement in DyingLight, as a free running system allows for creative traversal of the environment. Leaping over ledges and climbing buildings adds a great feeling of verticality to the experience along with the freedom to approach objectives in different ways. Don't expect to move like a someone out of Assassin's Creed right from the start. Your character's initial inexperience makes them unable to run for long stretches of time, wield heavy weapons or climb efficiently before running out of stamina. By regularly free running and attacking zombies, experience is fed into a Strength and Agility meter that, when filled, increases the efficiency of movement and unlock special abilities that add offensive and defensive capabilities to your repertoire, such as a running slide and a charged up power attack.
Free running and upgradeable fighting skills make dealing with zombies and completing objectives fairly manageable during the day. When the sun is up, zombies are slow and dumb but react accordingly to loud noises. You'll also have to contend with well armed bandits and looters that will not hesitate to shoot on sight. Bandits can either be avoided or can be thinned out by pitting them against zombie hordes. During my demo, I encountered a large group of humans and instructed to blow up a nearby collection of explosive barrels. The explosion directed the bandit's attention towards me just long enough for them to not see the horde of zombies advancing on their position, frenzied and hungry. Daytime offers the best conditions to complete objectives, collect supplies and help other survivors. Night time, however, is an entirely different ballgame.
The central mission in the demo was to secure a safe zone that could be used as a save point. The objective was occupied by well armed bandits. I tried to take them on but they proved much too strong and dangerous for my meager combat skills. Directed to a nearby safe zone, I fell asleep on a bed in order to advance to night time. When the sun goes down, all human enemies on the map disappear and for good reason. At night, the zombies are faster and deadlier. Their numbers are bolstered by the presence of stronger zombies with an increased sense of hearing and a sensitivity to light. Getting around in the dark would be impossible if it weren't for your Night Sense ability. By pressing in the analog stick, you'll unleash a ping to reveal and mark the location of nearby zombies as they are highlighted in red. Going back to the contested safe zone, the humans were indeed gone and replaced by a smattering of creatures. Dispatching them easily, I secured the zone by closing the doors leading into the area and turning on the power.
After taking over the safe zone, the next part of the demo took me back to daytime to show off a particularly useful tool: the grappling hook. While free running around and over buildings is a good way to advance, the grappling hook lets you travel from the ground to various rooftops as fast Batman. The amount of distance you can cover with the grappling hook seems pretty generous, leading me to think that it will be a late game item. It is also pretty noisy and will summon any zombies on the roof you're trying to reach. It is worth pointing out that the character I played at this point was considerably stronger and faster than before. His strength and agility were significantly leveled up, allowing me to climb and swing powerful weapons with great ease.
I really enjoyed what I saw in Dying Light. The smoothness of the game's controls and the ease of traversal make for a much more dynamic and exciting experience that Dead Island lacked. The game looks gorgeous too, a benefit of the demo running on a PC. The game is scheduled for a 2015 release and will offer four player online co-op. I only hope it will do away with Dead Island's bizarre online system that wouldn't let people play if they were at different points in the story.
Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.