Dying Light Hands-on: Good night and good luck
Let’s clear this up before hand: zombies are cool. Yes, there has been a flood of zombie-themed games lately and that might have annoyed some of you, but I maintain that the issue is always in the quality of the actual products – if a game is interesting and well polished, then there’s no problem at all.
Techland, the Polish developer, has a lot of experience with zombies thanks to their Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide releases. I enjoyed both of them (although Riptide was admittedly closer to an expansion pack in terms of new features), which is why I’ve been immediately interested by their upcoming Dying Light title (published by Warner Bros).
At first glance, Dying Light could very well seem like a new sequel of Dead Island, but in truth there are more than a few differences. The major twist is perhaps the greatly increased emphasis on athletic movement, or parkour if you want, to the point of drawing comparisons with Mirror’s Edge. Dying Light takes place in a quarantined city where supplies are being dropped via helicopters and the first objective of all human survivors is to get there first, before other human groups and avoiding any zombies; the result, as I can testify after the hands-on, is a much higher pace than what we were used to in the past games.
Our character is able to climb most walls and surfaces, sprinting at high speed, dodging and even moving on zombie heads for a while (after a jump from further above); this makes the action more dynamic and it also pairs off really well with the recurring need of running away, since the game has a significant survival element to it. This is even more prevalent at night, since Dying Light has been injected with a day/night cycle which considerably affects gameplay, and while zombies can be overwhelming in great numbers during the day, it’s at night that you really should be afraid of every dark corner.
When darkness falls, far more powerful zombies called predators start roaming the streets, and the bad news is that they can run as fast and climb as much as our poor fellow does; the rush towards the nearest safe house is frantic and full of adrenaline, thanks to a couple new actions that can be performed by the player when escaping: one is a quick turnaround which slows time and helps you understand how close are your chasers, and the other is a sliding move that can also be used offensively.
Of course, despite the new focus on movement, smashing and generally annihilating zombies will still be very much a part of Dying Light. The combat system has been improved from the already solid one seen in Dead Island, and once again we will be able to use electrified hammers, poisoned axes and all sorts of strange melee and ranged weapons created and modified through crafting (although Techland wasn’t ready to talk about that yet); also, you won’t have to worry about either running or fighting, since now there are two different stamina bars, one for movement and one for combat. Overcoming zombies will take far more than brute force, however, and here’s where cunning kicks in; as per usual zombie canon, the undead are susceptible to sound and our character can deploy various types of decoys to distract or attract them, for example towards explosive traps.
Similar to Dead Island, we’ll be able to choose one character out of four, and while each one will have unique talents, a skill tree system ensures that players can customize them in their own way. Unlike their previous games, though, there may not be any chance to drive vehicles in Dying Light given the focus on free form running. The studio is aiming for a longer campaign than what we’ve seen in the Dead Island series, and overall Dying Light is being labeled as their “biggest game ever”.
Graphically, the game takes a major leap thanks to the sixth iteration of Techland’s Chrome Engine, which is fully DX11 capable now. We played the PC version (although with a DualShock 4, as previously reported) and zombies were a lot more detailed than in previous Techland games, but what particularly stood out was the lighting; of course, the game won’t be as shiny on PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, but the gameplay should remain the same.
After a short time with Dying Light, I’m eager to read more information, especially on the “Be the Zombie” PvP mode where it’s possible to play as one of those “predators” I mentioned earlier. The game will be out some time in 2014.