Dying Light Review in Progress
Dead and alive.
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Twelve hours or so thus far into Dying Light, and of all the surprises this zombie adventure game has sprung upon me, the small dent I've made in the story is perhaps the biggest. "8%," says the story progress meter when I load up the game, and I realize that I am losing myself to the side objectives in this undead-infested South American city. As it turns out, that is both a wonderful thing, and a not-so-wonderful thing.
We only received Dying Light this week, so I don't have a review ready for you just yet. Shockingly enough, however, I am full of opinions already--most of them positive. The game springs out of developer Techland's own Dead Island games, if not by name then certainly by concept. There are some key differences between Dead Island and Dying Light, however, the most substantial of which is your means of locomotion. Dying Light allows you to race ahead and parkour your way around the city from a first-person view, Mirror's Edge-style, though the open world makes moving around a lot more freeform than when running around as ME's Faith. You leap over obstacles, pull yourself up onto ledges, and bound along rooftops, though this is hardly Assassin's Creed: you won't be rushing forward with the trigger held down and having everything just sort of work out. You need to have spatial awareness. A built-in stickiness allows Altair and his fellow assassins to easily dive into a bale of hay or a wagon of leaves; breaking your fall with a pile of garbage in Dying Light requires care and precision. And the most powerful of the zombies you encounter sprint after you with voracity, so you must keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to lose them.
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The platforming has a learning curve; in particular, you must take care to look at the ledges you want to leap to in just the right way, lest you take an impotent hop upwards and look like a fool. I'm used to the movement mechanics at this stage, but that doesn't mean there aren't some good motion-based challenges. You unlock safe spaces throughout the city, which in a few cases means climbing to the top of a tall tower in the vein of Far Cry 4. In Dying Light, those climbs can be tense: the tower pierces the sky and getting to the top is a bit of a puzzle. One bad jump, and you hear that awful splat the game makes when you die from fall damage. Elsewhere, the game is more about momentum, and there's great glee in stringing together some slick parkour moves, particularly because performing those kinds of acrobatics requires skill.
There's a downside to Dying Light's reliance on fancy footwork. As fun as it is to move around, the game's repetitive mission structure becomes even more tedious when you have to navigate so much space in the process. It sounds like heresy, but I occasionally wish for a means of faster travel. That's not because the movement isn't fun, but because your role as an errand boy is exacerbated when running the errand takes up so much time. Dying Light hero Kyle Crane even cracks a joke about it at one point, but making fun of your own game's biggest flaw--the monotony of following someone else's to-do list--doesn't erase the flaw. In fact, it only makes it more noticeable. Crane is a government agent on a secret mission; fetching supplies for everyone else seems beneath him.
Nevertheless, I like the story thus far, in part because Dying Light strikes a more serious tone than Techland's other zombie games. "Medicine is scarce" is an old zombie-story plot point, but it's effective here. So-called antizin is not just a panacea for the infected, but a currency and political resource. I enjoy my role as a political ambassador between the game's two major factions, but I am beginning to feel more and more guilty about keeping my true identity hidden from people so desperate for help. Something tells me Crane's guilt will become an important story beat. Now if only I could get my faction bosses to give me something more interesting to do. There are other types of tasks out there: rescuing citizens from zombies, collecting airdropped supplies, and so forth. But the lack of diversity in these objectives makes this stuff feel like, well, just stuff. "We heard you needed to do stuff in an open world, so here's some stuff, and some other stuff over there." I readily admit to being an occasional sucker for "stuff," however, and Dying Light's core mechanics and bursts of intensity compel me to pursue the side missions.
There's more to say on Dying Light, of course. There is the combat itself, which is more solid than that of Dead Island, though the newer game is not devoid of Techland's propensity for glitches. (I haven't experienced any game-killing issues, but the little collision and animation foibles can lend an occasional air of "wonk," as I gracelessly call it.) There is also an intriguing day/night mechanic, in which daytime freewheeling gives way to cautious, stealthy adventuring when the sun falls. I'll say more about those subjects in the full review, but the video embedded above should give you an idea of what the early hours are like, and what I think at this stage. Or, if you need a quick summation: Fun platforming, some great tense moments, and a nagging sense that you're a professional gofer. I'll have a better idea of how these elements will balance out by the week's end.