Zombies, Now With Climbing
Polish developer Techland’s three most famous releases have this is common: they are large, they are bloody, and they are absolutely covered in zombies. Their first two were Dead Island and its sequel, Dead Island: Riptide, both large and ultimately boring. Dying Light is somewhat seen as their attempt at redemption, and many have referred to it as what Dead Island should have been. Of course, that doesn’t make it great, either.
Dying Light traps the player in a quarantined city filled to the gills with zombies, hands them a rusty water pipe, and teaches them parkour. That last one seems a little out of left field, but it actually makes perfect sense, as the (majority of) zombies cannot climb, and it’s where Dead Island adds freshness to the increasingly limp, decayed, and overplayed zombie. Dying Light shows further cleverness by adding in a special type of zombie called the Volatile, which is twice as fast as the player, tough as a tank, and extremely photosensitive. Night becomes horrifically dangerous, and the first few nights that the player dares go outside for are nothing short of pulse pounding. Escaping a horde of Volatiles cannot be done by outpacing or out-climbing, but only by outsmarting them, by juking down dark alleys, bouncing off zombie heads for a personal advantage, or if you’re feeling bold, shining a handheld UV lamp back into their eyes while running forward blindly. The Volatile is quite possibly the best thing about the entire game.
With a million side-quests to do and a lot of city to explore, Dying Light shines in its more “organic” moments of interaction: exploration, investigation, and carving out a niche for the threatened player. It’s in the opposite category where it fails the hardest: its scripted moments.
The characters are largely forgettable: Protagonist Kyle Crane quickly abandons his interesting internal conflict to become a boring (and somewhat whiny) hero, and there is Girl, Jade Aldemar. You can recognize her because for some reason the protagonist really likes her, and the camera zooms up really close, onto her eyes, whenever you talk. There is also villain warlord, Rais, who is a horrible realization of an angsty teen using philosophy to justify being an ass. It doesn’t help that the majority of the campaign missions are constricting and at times confusing, often trapping the player in mazes of pipes or corridors, leaving the player longing for the glory of sidequesting.
As the game progresses, however, even many of the sidequests become more frustrating busywork, as new zombie types seem to evolve solely to be a pain in the ass, and the enormous stockpiling of medkits and massive damage weapons makes late-game Crane a walking tank, slowly grinding through the poor city of Harran.
At its core, Dying Light has great ideas and great potential, yet ironically, the further I progressed into this RPG, the less I enjoyed it. Despite all that, don’t let my negative talk turn you too far away; early game sprints through the slums from Volatile hordes in pitch darkness were worth the price of admission on their own.