Mixing the free-running parkour shenanigans of Mirror’s Edge together with the zombie, skull-staving action of Dead Island seems like it would be a winner on the face of things; assuming of course that the tenuous balance between ‘great’ and ‘complete broken bollocks’ is able to be struck.
Based on my limited time with the game, Techland’s Dying Light looks like it could fall into the former camp; but more certainty on that score will have to wait for a later date as six minutes of demo time proved to be insufficient to see much of Dying Light’s acrobatic zombie sandbox.
Immediately the first thing you notice upon playing the game is that the clunky and rough as rat shit visuals from the original have been replaced with a buttery smooth framerate, some gorgeous lighting and shadowing effects and best of all; character models no longer get their limbs trapped in the environment like some sort of zombified T-1000.
Playing the demo using a control pad on what appeared to be a somewhat beefy PC rig, I imagine similar visual fidelity will certainly be within the realms of achievement for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of the game. The current gen versions though? Nobody knows yet, since the only released video thus far hasn’t included footage from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game. Naturally when those videos do emerge, we’ll have your back.
Getting down to the nitty gritty of the experience, the new free-running elements of the game provide the player with the sort of versatility to traverse the zombie apocalypse in a manner that hasn’t really been seen before in the genre. You can make huge leaps from building to building in Dying Light’s shanty town esque sandbox, climb through windows, pull yourself up onto ledges and just about clamber on any surface with hand hold on it.
Its fairly breathtaking stuff that just makes you want to ignore the zombies and just muck about; seeing how far you can jump between buildings and which high points in the world you can reach.
Indeed, the verticality that the game empowers you with seems to make the task of escaping from the decaying flesh munchers even easier than before; perhaps a little too easy even, as a sanctuary from the burgeoning horde can often simply be found on the nearest rooftop where the zombies cannot follow. You have to be careful though; stamina powers your parkour tomfoolery and is very much a limited commodity that is easily drained, so your running and jumping about has to be sensibly measured as a result.
Elsewhere the combat elements of the game feel much more in line with Techland‘s Dead Island games; the constant hammering of the melee attack button to decapitate or dismember being a familiar proposition to anybody who has indulged themselves in those titles. Additionally, the violence itself is punctuated by occasional bouts of slo-mo, with the head of a decapitated enemy for example, hanging in the air for a moment before crunching into the dirt shortly after. Lovely.
Another nice visual touch is the depiction of the limited physicality of the zombies. For example, the hungering cadavers fall flat on their face when they drop off of a platform rather than landing perfectly on their feet; neatly reminding us that their decaying limbs don’t have the strength to support such physical shifts of weight as, you know, would typically be the case with a human being.
In the demo, the primary objective was to reach the top of an overarching bridge in order to continue the main story mission but with the paltry half a dozen minutes available to me, the allure of being able to leap about like a complete moron and occasionally get a zombie intimate with my wrench proved too difficult to resist.
Really, that’s my main complaint with the game at the moment in so far as other than the main objective and rescuing the odd survivor who managed to get themselves trapped in a closet, there really didn’t seem all that much to do in Dying Light’s zombie infested shanty town, other than act like a monkey on crack with a wrench swinging OCD.
As it is right now, Dying Light certainly looks and feels the part; the free-running gameplay setting the game apart from its Dead Island heritage, while still boasting similar enough combat mechanics that fans of those games won’t feel alienated. I just wish the veil was able to be peeled back that little bit further so that I could properly ascertain the full scope of the game’s potential charm; doubly so with the promise of co-operative play in the finished product.
Developed by Techland and published by WB Games, Dying Light will release on PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 sometime in 2014.