Zombie games and films are starting to be common and almost clichéd. To stand out of the pack you need to have an edge and something unique. 28 Days later had fast zombies. The Last of Us had character and storyline. Dying Light has fast Parkor zombies making a fast paced horror open world survival game. This sounds just like my sort of game.
For those who have no idea what Parkor or the Art Of Movement is it can best be summarised as extreme urban running, climbing and jumping. The idea is to view surfaces, walls, roofs and ledges as accessible terrain. Dying Light lets you and the zombies do this and makes the world feel even more open.
Dying Light is primarily a single player game with over 50 hours in its standard campaign but also has an up to 4 player multi-player cooperative mode and a unique option that lets you go as a zombie into other players openworlds.
The game follows character Kyle Crane an operative sent into a sealed off zombie filled quarantine zone to assess the situation and try to retrieve a set of plans that someone in the zone is trying to blackmail his employer, the GRE with. The mission starts off badly for you – attacked by mercenaries, bitten and infected by zombies and rescued by a group who decidedly are not impressed by him. The main storyline then has you being pulled back and forth between four factors – the ‘good’ tower civilians, the mercenaries, the GRE and your own conscience.
Along the way are a huge number of optional sideline quests and an intricate and a detailed openworld to explore. These can have as much or little time devoted to them as you wish, but if you do spend time exploring, practicing and getting XP the storyline becomes easier. If you attempt to stick only to the main storyline you may have problems with the difficulty increasing faster than your skills, gear and talents.
The Parkour. When you watch videos of Dying Light you are struck by how seamlessly and quickly the player seems to move from wall to roof and leaping across ledges. It looks like it would be something extremely difficult to do and whilst it does take some practice Techland have implemented it very well. The openworld is very carefully designed to initially funnel you through particular ‘recommended’ routes but still allowing you to go other ways if you choose. As you get better and your skills and gear increase you realise how much of the open world you can really get to – all of it. I took a while to adjust to it but the first time I really got that movement and height were life in the game I found myself covering huge parts of the map very quickly bouncing over walls, along roofs and through crowds of zombies – it was incredible.
The night-time. The first time I ended up outside at night without meaning to and realised I had a super-zombie I’d never seen before behind me – and it was catching me! – was a surprisingly tense and scary moment and caught the post apocalyptic atmosphere perfectly. Dying Light gives you motivation to go out at night rather than just waiting it out and these potential rewards are well balanced against the potential damage you can take. The fact that your stats improve at night as well means that if you are clearing out a building it is actually sensible to wait for nightfall – as long as the building is sealed!
The storyline. From the first cut scene you know that the storyline might be engrossing at points but it’s not going to be original. Without any spoilers this gut feeling turns out to be right. Crane gets pulled one way then another and rarely has control of what he is doing – indeed he comments at several points that he hates himself for doing what he is but is convinced to think of the “Greater Good”. Some of the side missions have compelling glimpses of life and death in Haran and pull you in but the main storyline never quite worked for me.
A point on scale. Dying Light has a very large openworld filled with quests, items, buildings, art and easter eggs. I’ve logged many hours and have managed to hit a little of most things but have not been to all locations or content.
Dying light is reasonably accessible for someone with mild to moderate visual impairments.
The text used in the menu, user interface and for subtitles is of a reasonable size and is either light grey, orange or white against a generally dark background. This can make subtitles difficult to read on occasion particularly when in full daylight against white surfaces but this is a minority of the time. Subtitles are off by default but can be switched on before the game starts.
The centre of the screen has a dot crosshair which is on by default. This is white and very small and easy to lose. It indicates the point you will parkor towards when moving and the point you swing your melee weapon towards. These are both important. The movement because if you miss a ledge or grip it can slow you down or seriously injure you, the weapon swing because if you hit a zombie in the right spot, usually the head it does a lot more damage or can disable them. The dot can be treated as a guide but only that. When you get access to guns you also get access to a conventional iron over-the-top sight so do not have to aim with the dot.
Color is not used as a sole indicator anywhere I have discovered in the game. There are several instances where there are red and green lights to indicate on or off – car traps – but it is usually possible to figure out from position, context or the mini-map what is indicated.
One of Dying Light’s core mechanics is that of looting. The player needs to pick up and find materials, items and money all around him as he moves through the city. The dev’s have chosen to use ‘Survivor sense’ for this. This ability when triggered sends out a visual pulse which that looks like a sonar ping. This then highlights any items which can be operated or collected in your immediate range and adds some of this information and zombie locations to your minimap. This means that finding loot is actually quite straightforward – get into the habit of triggering survivor sense regularly and you will find lots.
Large parts of the game are played at night or inside buildings with no light entering. You have a flashlight from the beginning of the game which while it reduces your field of view considerably does give you a clear view directly in front of you. Unlike noises this light does not seem to attract zombies, even at night, so can be used most of the time.
The FOV (Field of View) is fixed on the PS4 version of the game, although it is reported to be adjustable on the PC.
There are a number of game mechanics which have substantial flicker and flash patterns. Some of these, such as the option to electrify your own weapon can be avoided but some particularly at night cannot be avoided.
Motion (simulation) sickness and balance disorders
One of Dying Lights biggest selling points is the way that you can move – building to building, roof to roof, along the top of walls and zombie to zombie. To get this working properly you need to do it running at speed. And this all from a first person point of view with a small amount of camera bobbing on running. If you get motion sick from FPS games the chances are that Dying Light will make you nauseous.
There is no player driving of vehicles in Dying Light and I have not experienced any quests or cut scenes where Crane is driven. The only non-running type of movement is via zip lines and these are smooth and less nausea inducing than running is.
The game is fairly accessible to deaf players or those with hyperacusis (sound sensitivity) that may prefer playing without sound and also very accessible for anyone with a hearing impairment or tinnitus.
Subtitles are available for all in-game conversations and are switched off by default. They can be switched on before the first introductory cut scenes. These subtitles state who is talking and stay on the screen for a reasonable length of time. There appear to be no un-subtitled conversations or relevant speech in the game.
Dying Light splits its volume control into three sections. These allow individual control over music, sound effects and speech. This means that you can turn down the very atmospheric music and speech and only use the sound effects.
The game also makes use of the speaker built into the PS4 controller which can be switched to all sound effects, radio communications only or muted. By default this is set to radio communications and is rather a surprise first time it goes off.
I tried playing with the game entirely on mute and found that while it was more difficult – particularly getting less warning of attack at night – but that it was playable. I needed to pay close attention to the mini-map and ping the survivor sense regularly to be warned of approaching zombies but this was viable. The only time where I really had a problem playing muted was when picking locks – I could not hear zombies approaching and the minimap was covered up so I could not see them either. The only solution to this was clearing the area enough that I was unlikely to be interrupted which is not viable for some picks.
Input and Touch
Dying Light is a fast paced game that needs a reasonable level of physical control and reflexes. The central game mechanics of parkor and melee combat both need controlled reactions to work well. The settings allow for a reasonable amount of adjustment of stick sensitivity, inversion of the Y axis and an adjustable dead-zone and this will help some players. The keys are not remappable but there are several preset control schemes that will suit different people
A reasonable amount of accuracy is needed for combat and parkor. Where and how you hit a zombie makes a big difference in the amount of damage done to it. Hit it in the head and you’ve got a much better chance of stunning or killing it than hitting a limb. When running and climbing you need to aim your viewpoint at a ledge to catch onto it. Miss aim and you miss the jump. Dying Light offers you two auto aims, one for melee weapons and one general one that seems focused on the parkor.
Button mashing is required regularly through the game. The most frequent occurrence of this is when a zombie manages to grab you – repeated pressing of the X button is needed to knock them off. If you do not hit fast enough the zombie is not knocked off and chews you to death. This also comes up regularly when trying to open some containers – most normally fuse boxes – mash X fast to bend the door open.
No speech is required at any point of the game.
Dying Light uses a checkpoint save system that can be frustrating at times when you are exploring rather than following the quest lines. This makes taking a logged out break difficult. There are however a number of safe houses scattered throughout the city where safe breaks can be taken whilst still logged in. It is also possible to pause at any time by bringing up the crafting screen.
Controller vibration is used at some points in the game and can be turned off in the settings. This does not cause any problems with game play as there are no situations where it provides the only cue. For example an airdrop is indicated by vibration, the sound of an aircraft flying overhead and a notification.
Ease of Use
When you are first given control of Crane you are put through a basic tutorial. This starts with basic movement, progresses to jumping and climbing and then puts you in a one on one with a fairly docile single zombie. From there you are shown how to search, loot and craft and then pushed outside for a fairly simple first mission. This prologue tutorial finishes with a slightly longer mission introducing safe zones and how to handle larger amount of zombies and then a scary brush with the night.
Once you’ve worked your way through these you have been introduced to all the basics of surviving Dying Light and can choose to follow the main story line, diverge and pick up some side story quests or just make your way out into the city and start exploring and clearing out safe houses.
If you choose to pick up the main story line you will be given harder and harder missions introducing you to and chasing after air drops, clearing buildings and hunting zombies at night. These missions are wrapped in a series of cut scenes that explain why you are doing what you are doing. These cut scenes rarely repeat even if you die in the mission but there is always an option to skip the current scene offered.
The is only one difficulty setting in Dying Light but there are several settings which can make playing easier. These are in-game hints, automatic swapping of your weapon when your current one breaks, a general auto aim assist and a separate auto aim assist for melee weapons. Using a combination of these you could make the game somewhat more difficult or easier.
The is a fair amount of complexity involved in both inventory and in skills.
As you progress through the game you earn points by doing specific things which go towards one of three skill trees. These are Agility, Power and Survival. Do more parkor and earn agility. Kill zombies and earn power. Be a survivor and loot and earn Survival points. They are issued in fairly typical style trees and Dying Light will prompt you regularly if you have unspent points.
Inventory and crafting is more complex but familiar to anyone who has played openworld or MMO games. Pick up, loot or buy crafting materials and blueprints and craft supplies, weapons and weapon mods from them. Materials and items are ranked by rarity using a color system that will be familiar to World of Warcraft players, ranking from grey ordinary to orange legendary items. If you choose to ignore the crafting it is possible to simply sell everything you find and then purchase supplies and weapons from traders but you will miss out on a lot of possibly helpful items.
Navigation is both easy and hard. The game has a permanent mini map that shows the next quest objective (or direction to it) including if it is higher or lower than you. The full scale map, accessible at any time is zoomable and quite detailed and allows you to set checkpoints wherever you like. In the day time it can be as simple as heading in the direction indicated on the mini-map, rooftop to wall to rooftop. At nighttime this becomes more complicated as you need to be far more circumspect with your movements and if you try and move to fast you can outpace what you can see.
Language and Math
Dying Light has a reliance on time which is unusual. The game follows a strict day / night cycle with the day taking about an hour of real world time and the night about 15 minutes. You need to consider this when out in the city as getting caught mid way through a mission too far from a safe house unexpectedly could be a big problem. Conversely if you are hunting at night knowing how much of the night is still available is very useful.
There is some reliance on numeracy to manage your in game currency but this is should be straightforward for most people.
The level of language used in the storyline and cut scenes should be understandable for anyone who is old enough to deal with the themes of the game. Quests are available in a quest log at any point in different simpler language and whenever you are on a load screen you get a very simple precis of the mission you are currently on.
If you play Dying Light on single player there is no social interaction.
You can choose to play co-op with up to three other players (four total). This can be restricted to friends only, LAN only, private (which translates to a nominated list only) or public.
Dying Light also has a mode which allows a player to be a zombie and invade another players game. This can be set to allowed or not or night time only. It can also be restricted by the same filters as co-op.
Trigger warnings & age ratings
Dying Light is one big trigger warning. I have encountered almost every possible trigger in this game including but not limited to: gore, violence, sex, mentally ill characters, suicide, swearing, nudity, drug use, rape, organised crime, violence to children, violence to women, cannibalism, kidnapping, and many more. If you have triggers on any of this a zombie survival game is probably not going to be for you.
Surprisingly the game has also had some very touching if sad moments. These are almost worse than the triggers as they humanize the situation and make it real rather than making it a gore fest that you can accept as a game.
Dying Light is perhaps the best example of a openworld horror game ever made. It is intricate, fast paced, fun, and occasionally genuinely scary and touching. By it’s very nature and central use of parkor it needs a player with a good set of reflexes and physical control but it is still surprisingly accessible to those with auditory or visual problems. There have been reports of a number of game breaking bugs and problems although it seems Techland has worked their way past most of these and the game is now fairly stable, at least on the PS4 version.
If you like openworld or zombie games and have the physical dexterity for it you should be playing this game.
Product: Dying Light| Developer: Techland | Publisher: Warner Bros | Platform: PC Windows, PS4, Xbox One,| Genre: Open World Horror Zombies| Players: 1-4 | Version: Europe | Release Date/Last Update: January 2015 (digital) |