Dying Light surprised me. Too many games use the word "survival" to advertise a game that turns out to be more action that survival. Admittedly, before I ventured into the hideous but ironically gorgeous world of Harran, I came in thinking Dying Light would fall victim to this very problem. That theory was proven mostly wrong. While Dying Light does have its share of action, survival is the predominant approach the game takes. "Goodnight, Good Luck" is the slogan Dying Light has been using and I can't think of a more accurate one.
You are Kyle Crane. An undercover operative working for a company called GRE. GRE was formed after an outbreak in Harran. Kyle Crane has been sent to Harran to make contact with a rouge agent named Rais who has information that could damage their reputation if leaked. Upon landing in Harran, Crane is attacked by bandits that he quickly dispatches of but is bitten and infected by one of the zombies. Crane is saved by two runners who proceed take him to a safe zone to heal up and prepare to look for a cure.
I found Dying Light's plot to be interesting enough to keep me wondering what would happen next. There are a few twists I didn't see coming, but a predictable ending kept the story from being great. Also, the majority of the characters are quite uninspiring. Even though the story dropped the ball at times, Dying Light's superb gameplay was always there to pick it up.
Parkour is not a feature you see much in a first person game but Techland has handled it pretty damn well. If you can climb it in real life, chances are you can do so in the game. The controls, while initially troublesome, turned out to be extremely intuitive. Racing through the city is a blast and more importantly it's smooth, responsive, and the system mostly works as intended. The majority of my parkour deaths were my own fault. Rarely did the game screw me over by not allowing me to grab an edge or pole.
Combat in Dying Light is its own beast. For the first several hours of the game, it is beneficial to pick your battles wisely. You must know when to fight and when to flee. Zombies have heads of steel in Harran, and I found that out the hard way. Weapons scavenged in the city range from a broken 2x4 to a baseball bat. Just about anything can be used as a weapon, though that doesn't necessarily mean they are effective. Zombies can endure even the most brutal of beatings.
One single zombie can sometimes endure ten swings from a weapon. This makes taking on hordes damn near impossible. I absolutely loved this. Each encounter forced me to evaluate my surroundings instead of blindly going into battle. Noises you create attract creatures to your location, so you must always be mindful and watch your back. Stamina plays a crucial role during combat as well. If you run out of stamina while fighting, your attacks will be significantly weaker. Weapons can be upgraded by finding blueprints that, like Dead Rising, makes your custom weapons stronger, more durable, and easier to use. Like Capcom's zombie game, durability gives every melee weapon an expiration date dependent entirely on you. With every hit, your weapon becomes more brittle. "Is this zombie worth me losing durability points on this weapon?" is a question I frequently asked myself.
Dying Light features three distinct skill trees. The Agility tree increases your parkour abilities. Anything parkour-related actions you perform - climbing a building, jumping into a lake, or hoping over a car - earns points. Each time you level up your agility you get a point to spend on skills that upgrades the capacity with which you can climb, run, jump, slide, and roll. Each skill proves to be useful it its own way so learning your preferred playstyle is recommended before committing to a set of skills. The Power skill tree is for combat and works similarly to the Agility tree except points are awarded for combat. There are a ton of useful skills here as well such as strong attacks, grapples, and slams. The Survival skill tree can only be ranked up by completing objectives. Each objective you complete whether it be side missions, main quest, or random events happening in the wasteland will allow you to rank up and pick from a variety of different skills.
I spent most of my days in Harran scavenging materials for crafting, completing missions, exploring my surrounding but the whole dynamic of the game changes when to sun goes down. Night time is a horrifying experience. There are few too many sources of light when the sun sets so Harran is pitch black with the exception of your flashlight. To make matters even worse zombies become increasing more aggressive and Nightmares roam the city. Nightmares are extremely hostile mutated zombies that are blazing fast and agile. If spotted by one, there isn't much else to do but parkour your way to a safe zone as fast as possible. The increasing horrors of the night kept me on my toes at all times. Even later in the game when I was a higher level character, I stood no chance going on the offensive at night.
Surviving the night isn't impossible by any means. There's more of a stealth aspect to it. There are skills you can use such as camouflage which allows you to use the blood of zombies to maneuver your way through mobs. Nightmares are highlighted on the mini map and have a cone of vision so you can surely evade them if you play smart and slow. It's a defensive battle when the moon is up. Dying also has it consequences. If you are killed you will lose survivor points making it more difficult to rank up your skills.
The game features a day/night cycle so if you really don't want to take your chances at night you could always just go to sleep or wait out the night and handle things during the day. Going out at night has one huge advantage, however, as anything you do awards double experience. Every attack you land, every zombie head you decapitate, every building, wall or car you scale will net you double experience throughout the duration of the night. This alone was motivation enough for me to take my chances.
With the exception of the opening tutorial and the final mission of the game, the entire story mode can be played in co-op with up to three other people. The majority of my time I played with one other person and that made things much better. I found the game more enjoyable the more people I had in my game. The loot isn't shared either so I didn't have to kill one of my teammates over a med kit found on the ground.
The city of Harran is graphically astounding. During the day, the city gleams beautifully in the sunlight. Character models are developed really well with the exception of a few reused face models. The sound work is just as great. Hearing zombies moans and footsteps heightens the intensity of the game in ways unimaginable especially during the night.
Dying Light features a four on one multiplayer mode that pits humans against a single Night Hunter. The humans must destroy three nests in the game before the Night Hunters kills them a set number of times. Playing as the Night Hunter is a completely different take on the game. The Night Hunter is extremely fast, allowing you to traverse the city in a hasty fashion. Teamwork is required in order for the humans to survive the night.
Dying Light just about fires on all cylinders. The immensely satisfying gameplay, stunning visuals, and horrifying nights makes this easily one the best survival horror games to come out in the last couple of years.
Writer for Darkstation since 2014. I've been playing games my whole life and starting writing about them in 2010. Outside of gaming I enjoy anime and watching my Philadelphia Eagles let me down every Sunday. Follow me on Twitter @jsparis09