What Is It?
I’ve owned this game for about a year and a half but only just got around to playing it. Zombie, open world, craftable items… what could go wrong? As you’ll see, there are several flaws to this game that – should it garner a sequel – I desperately hope will be ironed out. You spend the time exploring a large, rich and vast city environment trying to save inhabitants and unpiecing the story.
The ancient city of Harran (based on Istanbul) is the centre of a crisis – a zombie outbreak. Crane (that’s you), a GRE agent, parachutes in on a secret mission. He lands and is immediately bitten by a zombie. He is then rescued by a ragtag group of survivors. These survivors are being threatened not just by the zombie horde but also by a wannabe warlord by the name of Rais. What’s more, the GRE intends to bomb the city at some point.
What I Liked
Atmosphere: The ruins of the city was in danger of becoming quite boring and repetitive at times but not as much as the last generation’s Condemned. The atmosphere worked incredibly well here though. It feels like a real city. What adds an extra dose of tension is the impending arrival of nightfall when the really bad zombies are due out into the wilderness. The bright and the dark contrast well to create a great atmosphere.
The juxtaposition between day and night: You can skip the nighttime element of the game, and you should in the beginning, but the difference in play between the different times in effect creates two different games. You can walk and run during the day or attack as many zombies as you like. At night, stealth is the name of the game because of the Volatiles. There are optional night missions to help you gain the full experience of the game, but you don’t have to do these. There are just a handful of main missions to perform at dusk/during the night.
Weapon Variation: At first, Dying Light is a complicated and difficult game but the more experience points you build up it gives you greater access to more skills and weapons. Not only the weapons, but you can upgrade them with the various blueprints you’ll collect throughout the game and separate one-time upgrades. Make heavy weapons easier to wield, and to add fire, freezing and spikes and so on for greater customisation.
Side Missions: The side missions don’t just allow you to gain access to blueprints, experience and other weapons, they add to the story, add to the characters and create a much richer game playing experience.
Focus on Tactics: There is more to this game than fight or flight. Each mission and side mission requires you to stop and think about your approach. Do you abandon it in the race to get the air drop? What happens if there are already people at the air drop? Should you leave it or fight them? Can you overpower the zombies or should you race through them? This isn’t just point and hit. You need to think about how you approach each element.
What I Didn’t Like
Visuals: This game looks as though it was designed for the previous generation of consoles, which makes it even more surprising that it’s not available on the XBox 360 or PS3. It was apparently “too large” for release there so they left it to this generation. I’ve become so used to the impressive visuals of the latest Assassin’s Creed titles that this came as a bit of a shock.
Parkour: I wasn’t completely sold on the parkour methods at the beginning and I still wasn’t at the end despite the fluid movements and extra abilities. It never felt quite right; it never felt as fluid as it could be. I’m used to the fluid motion of Assassin’s Creed (despite the control flaws). First person games like this usually (and wisely) use other methods of getting around. When I think about Alien Isolation, that movement method worked much better. It felt experimental but the experiment didn’t quite pay off. Getting onto low buildings could be difficult if you angle the direction even slightly off.
Counter-intuitive Controls: On a slightly related note, the controls of movement seem counter-intuitive – relying heavily on the shoulder buttons rather than the main buttons. Even when used to this, I wasn’t happy with the arrangement. Should a sequel ever follow, I would hope the designers look again at this aspect.
I Rage Quit… Twice: I finally finished this game at the third time of asking. The game is too difficult in the beginning with too few weapons, weapons that break easily, easy death, unkillable simple zombies and difficult missions. Once you’ve got through the early phases though, the game gets easier. For this reason, Dying Light seems to be one of the most rage-quitty games ever released onto the market. I like a challenge but early on this felt too difficult. There is very little guidance so you need to learn most of this the hard way.
Turkey? Really?: This game is supposed to be set in a fictional city in Turkey. The geographic setting appears to suggest Istanbul but little of the game feels like the country that straddles two continents. The aesthetic of the slums makes it feel South American. I wouldn’t have questioned if somebody told me this was set in Mexico, Puerto Rico or somewhere like Guam. The Old Town section is better but feels more like southern Spain or even Malta (due to the blend of Middle Eastern and European architecture). All the signs are in English, there are no minarets, no mosques but several churches in the Old Town which look Spanish Catholic rather than Eastern Orthodox. A strange choice to set a game in Turkey but not to bother making it look much like Turkey.
I ended up loving this game which surprised me. There is much to love despite the flaws. It’s an engaging (if familiar and unexciting) story, a likeable (if familiar and unexciting) protagonist and NPCs to root for. Where it falls down is in the controls, especially when trying to get up and over obstacles. I feel the third-person approach is the flaw with the parkour, beating the counter-intuitive controls into second place. Night missions are terrifying due to the “Volatiles” and there is enough variety to maintain interest. Iron out the flaws for a sequel and I will certainly buy it.