Another zombie game.
Dying Light is another open-world zombie game. We have seen these before—we have played these before. Dying Light tries to differ itself from the other games of the genre by adding parkour as a major staple of the game. We play as Kyle Crane, a shadowy government agent who parachutes into a zombie infested city to find a lost file. Crane proves to be the best at everything he does, and of course saves everything he goes after, more or less.
Games like these, I tend to break into two large sections for criticism—gameplay and story. Dying Light is not inherently a bad game, but it is also not the greatest game ever. A quick scroll through the boards shows me that critics tend to be divided on whether this game is great or just okay. Even I cannot summarize my opinions on the game in a single sentence. Usually, I have a score determined before I write the review. For this game, I am actually not certain how it is going to shake out in the end.
The World and Story
Kyle Crane is an interesting and dull protagonist at the same time. He begins the story absurdly loyal to the GRE (the agency he is working for) to the point of destroying life-saving medicine for other survivors. He does this in order to face the villain Rais (and to get more medicine). However, Rais only gives a small handful of medicine instead of two crates (which was promised for services completed). Oddly, the medicine stays a plot issue, but there doesn’t really seem to be any consequence for the lack. You are under pressure, but that pressure doesn’t cause any result.
As with any game that has a day and night cycle, time seems a little weird. We are told that we have two days to do something, but you can literally dick off for weeks with nothing said or done. Even when a child is in danger and “you’ve got to hurry” you don’t. Now, I can see this as a troubling point for developers. Making the time real in a game might drive people nuts, but keeping it this way breaks immersion.
Immersion in a game is difficult. Dying Light does create a decent protagonist (he tends to grow on you), but the game is multiplayer. All players play as Crane, which is quite odd. Four Cranes running around and being forced to see the same things during cut scenes and dialogue works as a constant reminder that there should only be one of you. Further, this is zero customization of your character aside from clothing. Gender, race, and so forth are simply not an option for you to change. Once again, I understand the decision behind this for voice-acting costs, but with such a focus on multiplayer (and an obviously large budget) this seems like an oversight.
The biggest shortfall of the game story-wise is how little I cared about the characters. You are their savior and are constantly running to get them medicine, weapons, food, herbs, and whatever else. It is hard to connect with someone when the only interaction you have is them asking you to go do stuff. There are only a couple missions where someone is with you, and they often disappear fairly early. As with countless other zombie games, most of the people you interact with will die (at least those who leave the safe zones), so there isn’t really an emotional punch when “person who gives quests” dies.
The story as a whole is predictable. You switch sides and choose to help the people of the city. It ends up being your people versus Rais’ literal army. As I played this with a friend, we had to speculate how many people Rais had with him as we kept slaughtering them. Rais is overall a disappointing villain. Too clichéd, too simple for my tastes—his reasoning is faith in chaos (so innovative) and little more. He wants to do as much damage as possible. When the game has Crane burn medicine I had hoped the morality within the narrative would be more nuanced, but it isn’t. The story is reduced to a simple binary.
Despite being clichéd, the story is overall told well. The voice acting is good throughout, and I hope these actors get more work. The conclusion of the tale works in some ways, but not in others. To fully explain this, we should shift to gameplay.
Parkour with zombies and a bunch of weapons. Just about anything can be a weapon—table legs to assault rifles! You can modify these weapons to have elemental damage and such (a carry over from Dead Island). The early stages of the game work best with the varied weapons, as you have to work with whatever you find. Before the halfway point of the narrative, you can pick and choose. The scavenging aspect becomes less important the more you play, which affects the difficulty in a way that makes it front-loaded.
The first two hours of the game are probably the hardest (aside from the very end). We upgrade skills, which provides perks—more than half of which are more or less useless. However, I do enjoy a levelling system in games. I know some folks don’t like this style of play, and I can understand some of the complaints. My complaint with this game is that there is very little customization. My co-op partner and I got roughly the same skills. With no variation we couldn’t really develop the characters we wanted to.
The combat is okay. The melee weapons break, which means you are repairing often (and there is a limited amount of repairs—stupid). The physics of the combat seems a bit off. Hitting one zombie in the head gives a different reaction than hitting another. Sometimes you can one-hit kill them, others can take 23 rifle shots to the chest (and these are the same type of basic zombies). The higher levels of the infected become more of a nuisance than a threat. The viral class that chases you down when you make noise is annoying (particularly in the DLC). Once we found firearms, the combat changed a lot. I wish they would have made this game a shooter instead of favoring melee. The shooting is fun and mostly works. Unfortunately, we get a choice of two rifles, two pistols, and one shotgun in the vanilla game. Why they didn’t add any more is beyond me. Further, you can’t customize the guns at all. A silencer or a scope would have changed the game drastically. The bow sucks, and the crossbow from the DLC isn’t much better.
The parkour drove me nuts more than anything else. The game is inconsistent on what/when you can grab. Often a mistake results in death, which is more of an annoyance than anything else. The game sends you to jump on the most obnoxious stuff to hit a switch, arm a trap, or whatever. The game showcases the parkour by making it annoying. It works the best when you are just exploring, not working toward some silly objective. Some of the missions will take longer to figure out due to climbing something more than actually doing the mission.
The missions are broken into story/side. The side missions are primarily fetch quests, which is fine in my opinion. They serve to pad length and add upgrades—little more. As far as playability, most of the time, the quests go well.
That is, until the last mission. To start with, the game makes you play the last mission single player, and then presents you with a mission and combat format you have never done before. Instead of an emotional confrontation, you get a quick time fight. I was stunned by how lazy the game ends on the gameplay level.
The saving grace is that the ending doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat little bow for you. I was pleased that the virus is not cured (yet) and there are still many problems. The game as a whole can’t seem to balance between brutal realism and way too optimistic hero worship.
The Following DLC is worth playing, if for no other reason than the buggy is fun to drive. The story is okay, and it is more of the same. If you like the original, the DLC will be a nice addition.
In co-op, the game provides a lot of fun and a lot of frustration. There are better co-op games out there, but I feel we are all wanting more of them. You won’t hate this game. I enjoyed a good portion of it despite the faults. Playing alone I think would be terrible. 5/10.