My partner and I leapt from rooftop to rooftop—well, at least I did, while he tended to land haphazardly on the sides of many of their jagged, rusty overhangs. From there he’d scramble back up to his feet and attempt to spring to the next raggedy building.
“Come on, we gotta hurry! It’s almost dark,” I tersely reminded him. There was no answer. I turned around.
Once again, I spied him back on the ground level, in zombie infested territory, scampering around and trying to find loot. He’d done this a multitude of times and it had slowed our progress down greatly.
“Come on, we have to get back to the Tower. I’m telling you, we don’t want to be around out here when the sun goes down,” I pleaded with him while perched upon a roof above. We’d already retrieved the item that we needed in order to appease our compatriots of convenience back at the main headquarters, the Tower.
“Alright, here I—“ he was suddenly interrupted by a monstrous shriek in the distance, which prompted him to spring upward and back to the relative safety of the rooftops. He was new to the game, which is why his parkour skills were rather lacking. He’d also scoffed at my warning about the horrid super-undead creatures which came out as evening gave way to night. Now, it looked as if he were taking me a little more seriously, but was it too late?
As we bounded from tattered shack to crumbling building, the terrible roars grew closer. We were only a few blocks from our closest safe zone, which was studded with ultraviolet lights that could ward off the legions of undead.
All of a sudden I heard a crashing sound and turned around, only to see that my partner was absent.
“Dammit! I fell again,” he exclaimed.
I ran to his last position and looked down to find him rising up to his knees again from a hard landing upon his backside. Just then, I saw the silhouette of something large moving quickly in the darkness, leaping with frightening, unnatural agility toward us. Would my friend be able to recover in time in order to escape or would we have to test our meager weapons against this powerful new undead threat?
Scenes likes this were littered throughout my play-throughs of Dying Light, Techland’s latest zombie survival horror offering. Yes, this is the same crew that brought us Dead Island, their other zombie game, which drew decent to lukewarm reacts when it was released back in 2011. In fact, to me at least, it seems like Dead Island was in many way just a tune up for something more special. Is that something more special Dying Light? Let’s find out…
You begin the story as Kyle Crane, who is promptly airdropped from a plane down into Harran, a sprawling city situated on a tropical island in Turkey that has been quarantined off for quite a while. The poor squalid place experienced a massive pathogenic outbreak and its few remaining survivors are forced to get by on food and medicine para drops, that the government graciously bestows upon them from time to time. His main mission from there is to recover some important documents from a local bad guy whom may or may not be an undercover member of Crane’s organization, the Global Relief Effort AKA G.R.E.
Crane is fleshed out a little bit at a time, but there isn’t a zombie horde-sized amount of depth here to be had. Nor is that really expected in a zombie game or film. I mean, this is not exactly a genre that screams Shakespeare. Dying Light’s narrative and its characters are serviceable enough, however, and lend a credible backdrop to the main star of the proceedings, the city of Harran itself.
I haven’t played too many games in recent memory that conveyed such a lonesome sense of abandonment and squalor. The developers really took their time cramming as much atmosphere into its recesses as possible, and it shows. Everywhere you look, there are signs that people used to live in Harran and that something really, really, bad has gone down. Besides the fact that there are zombies milling around in the her rough streets, there are overturned carts and chairs, junked cars with bloodstained doors and hoods, half-stuffed pieces of luggage that never made it to the airport, and so on. Harran really feels like a once lived-in place that has been overtaken by a super-virus and its resultant undead spawns.
The gameplay more or less consists of Crane going on errands for the leaders of the only safe haven in Harran, the Tower, while he secretly tries to procure clues that will lead him closer to his secret mission. But the interesting thing here is how he goes about things. In Dying Light, you can scale just almost any structure in the game. I had a blast (and got sidetracked many times) just exploring the city, pouncing from building to building, high above masses of clueless, shambling, zombies during the daytime. At night, my adrenaline got pumping as monstrous super-zombies came out to hunt, and it became much more of a bonafide survival horror experience.
Dying Light’s much ballyhooed about parkour mechanics, while nothing novel at this point, are handled well and feel intuitive. They offer a new and surprisingly fun ripple to the tired and worn zombie genre. Combat is also satisfying and is melee-centric. Every swing and resultant connection with your undead foes seems hefty and significant, as opposed to airy and floaty.
The game’s graphics are a real delight indeed. Light bloom, vignetting, and motion blur all form a beautiful and convincing confluence that transport you to the game’s world and make you feel a part of it. Character and creature models are very detailed and almost photo-realistic, and the expressions of the various characters that you encounter are easily discernible. The minimal music is also handled well, and lend an additional layer of gravitas to the rather depressing tonality of Harran’s environs. Even as I am writing this review now my mind drifts back to many of the scenes that I experienced while playing Dying Light, and others have mentioned this as well (so I’m not crazy I tell you). Basically, if you have a higher end gaming PC or gaming laptop, this game will look and sound fantastic.
In all, Dying Light is a welcome departure from the usual conventions of zombie game-dom. Comparisons will be made to Far Cry, Mirror’s Edge, Assassin’s Creed, and of course, Dead Island. But here again Dying Light stands on its own as a separate and unique beast of a game. While admittedly it has borrowed from other games and genres, it sets itself apart because of its attention to detail, extremely fun and fluid gameplay, polished graphics and immersive (although not totally original) plot. Zombie fans will definitely want to snap this up. But I also think that anyone who enjoys a good horror or survival experience will also enjoy the ride. I know I did.
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