The most important part of any zombie game is the depth inherent in its dismemberment system. If we can vertically slice an undead’s torso in half, horizontally slash their stomach until only a pair of walking legs remain, or bludgeon their kneecap until their skeletal frame forces them to limp, then the game has succeeded in our books. Dying Light lets you administer all three of these surgical procedures, bringing Techland one step closer to realizing their ultimate dream; setting the benchmark for immersive zombie experiences.
Combat then plays a significant role in Dying Light, drawing much of its inspiration from Techland’s other zombie title, Dead Island. The similarities are immediately apparent, smashing bones and skulls is performed in much the same manner, but there’s so many more ways to kill. How does an axe sweep sound? Or a fly-kick that skewers bodies onto spikes like they’re a giant slab of rotten meat? Even better is a rear-view mirror-like feature that allows you to see the carnage erupting behind you; perfect for witnessing that chasing undead army, or salivating over the remote bomb used to flatten two-dozen alarm-curious zombies.
Another piece of curiosity Dying Light conjures up is in its story and game world, thus far hidden from public eyes under a blood-soaked wrap. The game takes place three months after a zombie outbreak, pitting you as one of four survivors in a place described as ‘Quarantined city (Harran) meets ancient history’. The world is split into areas like Dead Island, but this time around you won’t be exploring a flat landscape. Dying Light is all about verticality so you can make full use of the game’s strong free movement system.
This free movement system features its own skill upgrade path to grant more maneuverability in your attempts to evade any decaying nemesis’. It’s not just a superficial tack-on either, it plays as much a part in the game as frying your enemies to death with an electrified sledgehammer. In fact you could spend the whole game catapult-jumping over zombie heads and bolting away from danger, though you’d be missing out on half the fun.
Either way you’re going to want to invest heavily in those free-running skills. Dying Light’s zombies by day are a tough but vulnerable affair as they’re slow and not easily alerted to your presence. Tackling big groups is still a definite no-no, but keep out of sight and they’ll generally keep to themselves. This gives you time and space to prepare for the ensuing night, which you’d be wise to spend on setting up car bombs and light diversions. The game’s zombies by night, in comparison, are a near-impenetrable obstacle. Just like a vampire they’re out for blood with hunting athleticism as agile as your running skills. Still, running is your only option here – fight and you’ve almost guaranteed your own death.
Fortunately Dying Light’s free-running system is a blast to play with. The freedom of movement is immediately and continuously apparent, while its complexity prevents it from ever feeling like your actions are on auto-pilot, shielded from player failure. It takes some getting used to but once accustomed it’s hard not to admire what could turn out to be the industry’s most exhilarating system of traversal – the first person view maintains a high level of immersion while constantly offering the player flexibility. Producer Timon Smektala highlights two such examples the game strikes a nice balance between; the freedom granted by Assassin’s Creed, with the skill required for Mirrors Edge.
Dying Light has also adopted Dead Island Riptide’s support for collective play, with the whole game open to drop-in, drop-out co-op for up to four players. You don’t have to stick with your group either, each player can explore the world individually and then team up later as they see fit. Or perhaps you’d rather play as an invading zombie with your own set of upgradable skills to mould into the ultimate grim reaper. And if virtual reality is more your thing then keep an eye out on the Oculus Rift. There’s no concrete plans yet but Techland has the game running on the hardware, and they’re eager to support the tech.
It all amounts to Dying Light becoming the Dead Island (spiritual) sequel that Riptide should have been. Techland have built on the strengths of their first zombie romp then augmented it with a handful of new mechanics that substantially enhance the experience. If their first undead escapade was a commendable swipe at the action-adventure genre, then this is looking for a king-hit.
Dying Light is set to be released on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PC in 2014.