Dying Light | Game review: tense, scary and immersive
If you want to relax after a hard day of work, then Dying Light is not the game for you: it’s terrifying - and frustrating
Game Title: Dying Light
Publisher: Warner Bros
Reviewed On: Playstation 4
Available on: Playstation 4,Xbox One,PC
The game opens to you parachuting down into a zombie-infested city. The instant you land you get attacked by thugs trying to break your legs with a crowbar, who only run off when a zombie lumbers over and bites you before you can get to your feet. It’s interesting to play a character who copes with a zombie apocalypse as badly I would in reality.
Dying Light is an open world survival horror game, and it certainly delivers on those points. The game was developed by Techland, a Polish development team best known for the first-person shooter Call of Juarez series and Dead Island, another zombie survival horror game, so they know their way around the genres. The game takes place in the fictional city of Harran, with you playing Kyle Crane, an undercover agent sent to infiltrate the quarantined zone. You have to gain the trust of the locals while carrying out your own orders from above.
The main plot and characters are not the game’s strong point. It’s not very original, and it feels flimsy and forced at times. The plot really only exists as a way of forcing you out into the open world of the game, and that is where it really shines. The city of Harran is vast and dangerous, with dozens of zombies on every street. During the day the zombies are very much a threat, but they are slow and lumbering and not hard to outwit (if you consider climbing a wall wit).
Once the sun sets however, they become smarter, faster and downright terrifying, and it will take all your freerunning abilities to survive.
The game is more stealth than anything else and you have to carefully pick your way through the city, jumping from building to building. It’s like a childhood game of “the floor is lava” except in Harran, the floor is zombies. Your main base is the Tower, one of the biggest safe zones left in the city. They send you on missions to find food and medicine, set off traps, and various other tasks to keep the few survivors going. The side missions are often a lot more interesting than the main ones, and you will find yourself wandering miles off course trying to help random people.
The game tries to be realistic, which means a lot of blood and gore but also an extraordinarily difficult learning curve. You might be used to leaping from building to building in games like Assassin’s Creed, but the first-person perspective makes judging distances tricky. It can be hard to tell if you’re missing by inches or if the jump is even possible. You have to focus the camera on whatever ledge you’re trying to grab, but when you’re running for your life it gets very hard to control. It’s not very clear what is climbable and what’s not, and there are few indicators of possible routes – you’re expected to figure of what to do by yourself. While it does add to the atmosphere and tension of the experience, after a while it just gets frustrating.
Fighting is also much harder than you would expect. Maybe I’m too used to blasting things away with giant guns in other games, but zombies seem to be nearly immortal. You will have to hit your target over and over to make any impact, and at the beginning your character’s stamina will run out after three or four swipes, meaning you have to retreat and recover before trying again. If there’s any more than two you just have to run away. As the game goes on you get stronger and find better weapons, but there is an awful lot of laboriously hitting the undead with a pipe until they are “re-dead”.
The living are even harder to kill. While you mostly try to avoid zombies, sometimes killing people will be part of your mission and armed only with a board and some nails, it can feel impossible. When you die (and you will die a lot in this game) you reappear back at a safe zone, which will mean spending 10-15 minutes trying to building-hop your way back to your mission every single time.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it is a stealth-survival game after all, not a bullet-spraying free-for-all. The violence and gore of the game isn’t relished in, it’s unsettling and scary. Taking a life, even an undead one, is a rightfully hard thing to do. But the difficulty curve feels completely wrong. Instead of becoming more challenging as you play on and get more skilled, it starts off feeling impossible and gets easier as you gain skill points and better weapons. That might be how things often work in real life, but it doesn’t make for the smoothest player experience.
If you want a relaxing game to play after a hard day of work, this is not the game for you. If you’re willing to grit your teeth through the early missions however, the open world of Dying Light is really immersive. It’s gritty and grim rather than beautiful, but it’s a great place to explore.
For fans of other zombie games like The Last of Us who wanted to explore that world instead of sticking to the story, Dying Light will scratch that itch. If you ever wondered how you’d survive a zombie apocalypse with fighting skills only slightly better than your own then you will love it. But if you are sick to death of zombie games then Dying Light won’t be enough to change your mind.