I don’t hate Dying Light.
During my first few hours with the game, I was rooting for it. It seemed to be taking the few things I liked most about Dead Island and making them better (random loot and tons of enemies to kill) while scuttling many of what I thought were its most damning downfalls — Dead Island was a game that was much less fun on your own. Dying Light, though, is a thorough single player experience, one which doesn’t suffer if you’re not going it with a pal. It’s a game that I enjoyed immensely for the first six or seven hours, but whose repetitive nature I grew tired of, and one that I couldn’t help but love and hate simultaneously.
If you’ve played Dead Island, you’ll feel right at home in Dying Light. The combat in both games is incredibly similar (almost like they were developed by the same studio!), and while Techland’s style of melee combat isn’t especially interesting to me, I understand its particular brand — it’s just too bad it still feels sluggish, like I’m moving through water most of the time. The crafting, while a huge improvement over Dead Island (instead of crafting tables, anything can be crafted from anywhere in the world), is still reminiscent of almost every other video game with crafting.
Doing almost everything in Dying Light rewards XP. Parkouring (is that a word?), killing zombies, and completing quests grants progress towards three distinct skill trees: Agility, which handles the parkour abilities like slide-dashes and drop-kicks (the latter of which I found utterly useless, though the Internet at large has taken to calling the game as a whole “Drop Kick Simulator”); Survivor, which deals with crafting recipes, backpack size increases, and general quality-of-life upgrades; and Power, which focuses on dealing damage, granting elemental effects, and making melee weapons last longer.
The defining aspect of Dying Light — the day-night cycle — is its most unique feature, and that’s why it’s so unfortunate that after the first few scripted nights I never wanted to go outside at night. During the day, zombies are pretty easy to kill: chop, or slash, or bludgeon, and they go down easily. At night, though, super-powered zombies called Volatiles roam Harran, and being caught spells almost immediate death unless you somehow manage to escape. Exploring at night grants double experience, and surviving until morning outside grants a chunk of experience on top of that, but otherwise, it’s just a giant hassle that I never wanted to go through.
I don’t hate Dying Light.
Dying Light opens in perhaps the most stereotypical way possible: generic White Man, voiced by Troy Baker, is sent into a middle eastern city to save indigenous citizens who are powerless to save themselves. It is maybe one of the oldest and most ludicrously overused tropes in video games. It only gets more cliché from here, with a vaguely militaristic humanitarian organization whose only modus operandi seems to be “rigid commands,” and a damsel in distress moment which seems completely out of place — especially given that the character in question initially presented so strongly.
From minute one, it’s pretty obvious that the protagonist, Kyle Crane, isn’t very bright. He asks questions about everything, which leads to speculation about how he became a special forces agent for this GRE organization in the first place. Over the course of the game, he begins to show his stupidity more and more, making dumb decisions and remarks at nearly every turn. There’s even a side quest in which Crane needs anti-seizure medication, and a boy named Gazi has been stockpiling it. Instead of breaking down the kid’s door (like most people in a zombie apocalypse would do), he proceeds on a side-quest that involves fetching a DVD and chocolates for Gazi’s mom (who isn’t even alive). It’s ludicrous. Even the main antagonist, Rais, is an absurd caricature of 80s movie villains whose dronings on sound like a Tea Partier’s campaign speech, and whose temper goes from zero to “Time to kill an underling!” in the same breath.
The worst part? None of the story matters. Any emotional weight Dying Light builds is immediately shattered by ham-fisted, drawn-out action sequences which go on for entirely too long and which serve only to make sure that control isn’t taken away for too long. Add to that a host of secondary and tertiary characters who are almost universally predictable and stale — even the main female character, Jade, is completely uninteresting.
Please remember: I don’t hate Dying Light.
By virtue of being a next-generation exclusive, Dying Light is one of the first games that I looked at on a graphical level and thought “Wow, these new consoles really are powerful, huh?” It utilizes some pretty incredible lighting and shadow effects along with some neat tricks that were likely not possible on last-gen consoles — the whole city is drawn at all times, and some pretty clever thought was given to when to draw certain things like enemies and environmental objects.
Dying Light’s greatest failure is, perhaps, that it is too safe. It seems like Techland snagged a bunch of parts off of a shelf labeled “open world video games (2013-2015)” and threw them into a next-generation game engine — it’s sort of like Frankenstein’s Monster, but instead of horrible patchwork monstrosities, we have infected corpses. Even the most striking feature, the day-night cycle, feels more like a chore than a fun gameplay concept. It’s a game full of tropes, and which suffers from what is clearly an attempt to make “Generic AAA First Person Video Game.”
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PC (reviewed), Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One; Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment; Developer: Techland; Players: 1-4; Released: January 27 2015; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $59.99
This review is based on a retail copy of Dying Light purchased by Hey Poor Player.