Developer: Techland / Publisher: Warner Bros. / Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4, PC / Release Date: 2014 / ESRB: Rating Pending
Zombie games continue to be a popular genre for the game industry to exhaust, and Techland is no stranger to undead hordes. With games like Dead Island and Dead Island Riptide under their belt, Techland is out to alter the formula with Dying Light: a new IP with a free-running mechanic, a skill needed to outrun the more frightening, more intelligent, and more deadly zombies this world has in abundance. Still, many have pegged this game as a combination of Mirror’s Edge and Dead Island, and after some hands-on time, those similarities have plenty of credence.
In an unknown tropical setting, you play as a survivor who lives in a safe zone, and happens to already be infected with the zombie virus. Still aiming to survive, you must loot and gather supplies, and because your character is an expert free-runner, you’re able to use this skill to bypass danger. For good reason too, zombies can be just as quick on their feet if you let them overrun you, and there are plenty of vicious people out in the wilderness who are chasing the same supplies you’re after.
For Techland veterans, you will find many familiar traits carried over from Dead Island: you can still kick away zombies for some breathing room, you bash in heads with melee weapons (which you then have to repair), you can loot enemies and cabinets alike, and you can still craft interesting items like electric machetes. That said, the combat seems more defined than in previous Dead Island iterations—as in, you can swing melee weapons faster and more accurately—and even then you have the opportunity to run away from overwhelming encounters, a concept the seemingly large open world of Dying Light facilitates.
Touching on the open world, there are dynamic side missions that appear throughout the world to give you opportunities to save and interact with other survivors. For instance, on my way to a supply drop I encountered a little girl in a hut hiding in a closet because her father had just turned into a zombie. Whether or not you choose to engage in these side missions is ultimately up to you, but the Techland developers expressed they do provide more background on the outbreak and other benefits towards your playthrough.
Alas, the zombies this time around have learned from their Techland predecessors, and now they’re smarter and more brutal. You have your general run-of-the-mill zombies, and brutes, large zombies that are strong enough to throw cars at you, but then you have the more aggressive types that can make enough noise to attract nearby zombies and climb on to high points of interest if they spot you. Zombies seemingly walk in hordes more often to have a better chance of entrapping you.
In addition, a new type of zombie, Virals, are infected people who have half turned, and thus cry out for help and feel pain when you hit them. There are also moments when you hit a zombie that you get an x-ray glimpse into what bones and organs you’re puncturing, though it wasn’t quite clear when this would happen and why it mattered.
Another new feature not typically (or effectively) found in zombie games is a dynamic day and night cycle, which has an impact on the way you approach combat. At night you’re forced to use your flashlight and meet the worse of the infected: volatiles. These ferocious monsters, fast muscular zombies with mouths inspired by Predator’s family, typically sleep during the day, but once awake at night will stop at nothing to nibble on anything that dares roam past curfew.
Because your character is infected, you have the ability to emit a pulse that illuminates the more violent zombies, though at night it seems all of them can be classified as such. Volatiles make for some gruesome enemies you’ll want to make sure to avoid.
Overall, Dying Light still has to show us more to prove it’s not just an enhancement to the mechanics in Dead Island, but I will commend the free-running format for seemingly working well (though having to use the right bumper to jump and climb took some getting used to). With a motto like, “Good Night. Good Luck.” Techland is confident Dying Light will be one frightening experience. Dying Light is set to release on current and next generation consoles in 2014.