Review: Dying Light (PS4)

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Title: Dying Light
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (15.6 GB)
Release Date: January 27, 2015
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Techland
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
Dying Light is also available on Xbox One, PC and Linux.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Ever since I started up Techland’s first zombie-themed RPG, Dead Island, I was in love. I’ve played countless games where you play as an all-powerful character who can lay waste to countless enemies but there was something special about Dead Island which made it even more enjoyable. Maybe it was the zombies, maybe it was the combat, or maybe it was the co-op gameplay. Then when I laid my eyes on Techland’s newest creation, Dying Light, I knew I was in store for a boatload of more fun.

Don’t be fooled, Dying Light does share a lot with Techland’s previous zombie, melee-combat, game Dead Island but it’s leaps and bounds better. Take Techland’s love for zombies, throw in one of the best video game parkour mechanics around and a competent fighting mechanic. Where as in Dead Island it was hard to find any sense of connection to the zombie-filled island, the citizens of Harran city can hit that “I care about this character” nerve because they’re not that much different from you. Sadly, while the characters themselves can grab you, the story itself is quite boring which makes it hard to really care about much in the world, except killing zombies.

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Gameplay:
You play as Kyle Crane, an operative who has been sent into the city to find and recover a file. Through the course of the campaign you’ll meet many citizens that will recruit you to aid them in various requests and even join two factions which run most of the city, all the while reporting your findings back to your boss over the radio.

In a city filled with the undead, Mr. Crane’s best friends are his hand-to-hand combat ability and his impressive parkour skills. As you progress through the game you’ll slowly unlock upgrades to Crane’s arsenal of skills, turning him into an even more lethal killer. The process of unlocking new skills it built on top of an experience system in which every little thing that you do contributes to that particular skill level. Smacking a zombie in the head with a pipe adds to your fighting experience while clambering up the side of a building adds to your parkour experience. Later upgrades, like a running drop-kick or the ability to vault off of zombies, remove a lot of the difficulty that Dying Light has towards the beginning of the game, but that makes it even more enjoyable.

… Everything changes at night …
Dying Light features a day/night cycle that is a key gameplay feature. It drastically changes the way you need to play the game and changes the experience that you gain through actions. During the day, Crane is basically a walking tank. You can take on multiple zombies at once while still escaping unscathed if you play your cards right. When the sun is out the zombies are slow and almost groggy making running from them an easy task. Everything changes at night. Once the sun falls below the horizon, everything that you learned about the game changes. Instead of being a one-man wrecking crew, the zombies are now the more powerful creatures.

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Zombies becoming the dominant creatures at night isn’t the only change which hides in the dark. It is during the night that Dying Light becomes a fantastic game. At night a new breed of zombies comes out from hiding. These new, even more powerful and aggressive zombies will actively seek you out, and once they find you it means almost certain death. These new zombies can climb and run just as fast as you so staying out of their line of sight, which you can see via the mini map, is of utmost importance. Yet, don’t be discouraged, you can survive during the night if you play stealthily. Sneaking around the city, trying to elude the over-powered zombies all the while gaining extra experience because of the increased difficulty in the dark is when Dying Light becomes a fantastic game. Dying Light shines at its darkest.

To progress the story you’ll take on missions from the various people of Harran that you run into. Most of the missions involve going to “location X”, do something there, and return – so a fetch quest. A part of me was getting utterly tired after the eleventh fetch quest but I kept playing for the excitement of the experience I had between the starting location of the quest to the end. It was the in-between stuff that kept me playing. The gameplay of Dying Light is good enough to support the entirety of the game’s mediocrity. The second-by-second gameplay of running over rooftops to slicing through a zombie with an electric blade kept me engaged throughout my time with the game.

Returning from Techland’s Dead Island series, you’ll be able to create ultimate tools for dealing out destruction to the undead. By finding blueprints that are hidden throughout the world you’ll be able to create devastatingly powerful weapons that are, for the vast majority of them, a blast to use. Some will even feature elemental modifiers like electricity or fire but be careful as those effects can hurt you as well if you decide to walk over a zombie who is on fire or electrocuted. While the weapons are rather imaginative don’t expect the same level of outrageousness as you saw in Dead Island. The weapons in Dying Light have a bit more believability to them.

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Visuals:
Though the setting of the game might be far from reality, the world that Techland has built looks very real. The transition into the current generation of hardware has given Dying Light a very eerie realism.

The city of Harran is crafted so meticulously and believably that I really felt as if I was running through a once thriving city. Each building, street, block that I ran across showed signs of a once populated area that was home to many people. Clothes left on the beds, toys sprawled out on the carpet, dinner left on the tables; there are signs all over the place to show this was a home to many, many people. Each building, though assets are repeated, feels personal and unique unto itself.

… feeling their fear and dread …
Though Harran is a beautiful set piece for Dying Light, the main act is the zombie population. Thankfully the same perfection that Techland used to create Harran is found when looking at the zombies themselves. Again, here there are only a set number of character models, but you won’t really even notice it with the amount of varied clothing and decay-levels available. In a gross way, the zombies are quite beautiful which is good for those moments you’ll get a close-up of them as they grab you for a feast.

The increased capabilities of the new consoles has also given Techland the chance to expand the mobility of those zombies, giving them multiple new movement animations. While “movement animations” might not seem like a big deal by itself it becomes very clear when you witness a mass of ten plus zombies all walking/stumbling towards you and not a single one is moving the same way as another. It gives a sense of individuality to each of them.

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Audio:
Dying Light’s strongest part is arguably its audio quality. From character voices, to zombie grunts, to the sound of electricity, and even the wildlife Dying Light’s arsenal of sound and music really helps create a believable world, pulling you more into its grasp. There is nothing like hearing a zombie grunt behind you, then in a split second hear the hissing of your electrocuted knife dig into its dead skin.

Character voices, for the most part, are acted out almost perfectly giving the otherwise boring characters a hint of humanity. Just listening to the tone of a person’s voice will give you empathy for them, feeling their fear and dread of the world they now live in. Each voice carries a weight of depression within them making it almost impossible for you to not feel some form of connection to these citizens of Harran.

… every few hours you’ll have to change your play style …
In one of the very beginning missions you’ll learn that making particularly loud noises will attract certain zombies that are faster, can climb, and are overall more deadly. So, making loud noises such as explosions or gunfire will quickly draw these creatures in resulting in your death. While that aspect of sound isn’t anything new for video games, that same principle also teaches you about sound at night. The lessons that you learned during the daytime in regards to sound are exponentially higher at night.

Night, as I mentioned, turns Dying Light into a stealth game, and just as any stealth game, noise is bad. The penalty of creating loud noises at night is far greater than during the day due to the zombies that only come out to play at night making the task of staying quiet ever-more important.

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Online/Multiplayer:
Except for the beginning thirty to forty minutes of Dying Light, you can play through the entire game with up to three friends. Progression is saved only for the person who is hosting the game but everyone will be able to take part regardless of their progress in their own game. Connecting to someone else’s game in quite easy and while playing with some friends and random people I rarely experienced any issues. The game loaded quickly and there wasn’t any lag noticeable.

While in co-op mode, adding a bit of friendly competition, the game will prompt at random times to start an event. These events will pit each player against each other to meet a certain goal: reach a specific check point first, kill so many zombies first, and so on. While there is no real reason to do these it does add in an extra bit of enjoyment to the co-op part of the game.

If you’re able to get a few friends into your game with you, you’ll have a blast. Guaranteed. Play Dying Light co-op if possible.

There is also a competitive mode that allows you to play as a zombie and invade another player’s game. In “Be The Zombie” mode you take on the role of a crazy powerful zombie with the only real objective being annoying or killing the other player. This mode is quite fun in offering a new way to play the game but the vast majority of the time the human player won’t be able to kill the zombie since it is so overpowered.

Conclusion:
Techland has created a great zombie hack-n-slash game. While the story and world that Dying Light takes place in is fun and enjoyable, if you’re just playing for the story you might be disappointed. The inclusion of the game-changing day/night cycle keeps the game fresh and interesting as every few hours you’ll have to change your play style.

While Dying Light doesn’t nail all of the things it tries to do, you’ll be hard pressed to find another game on the current generation of systems that is as strong and as complete a package as this is.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Kyle Jessee

Kyle Jessee

Your lone Kentucky writer on staff. Loves the Big Blue Nation, rock music, and Resistance 2 (the best in the series).

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