Hands-On Preview: Dying Light – Alone in the Dark
Zombies are no new creature when it comes to gaming — in the last decade alone, series like Resident Evil, Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead, DayZ, Dead Island, and numerous others have each brought new spins on the classic fight for survival against hordes of the undead. However, one can only spin a tale so many times, making it difficult to find new ways to kill the same hordes of zombies.
Following their previous experience developing the original Dead Island back in 2011, Polish developer Techland is seeking that exact new spin with its latest take on the zombie apocalypse genre, Dying Light.
At a first glance, it wouldn’t be remiss to see the game as a revised take on Dead Island — an open world action-adventure title set in the middle of a harrowing zombie outbreak, Dying Light‘s premise is familiar, but looking deeper into it shows something more than just the usual “zombie survival simulator.”
At least, it doesn’t walk like one. Instead, it runs.
Putting players into the shoes of newcomer secret operative Kyle Crane into the quarantined city of Harran combines a unique mix of genres, turning what may be the typical “zombie survival” formula into something fresh.
As most accurately a mix of titles like Dead Island, Mirror’s Edge, Assassin’s Creed, and Far Cry, Dying Light takes on the thrills of fighting hordes of zombies in the vein of something like Left 4 Dead, where sheer numbers of zombies can overwhelm you at a moment’s notice.
Alongside the exhilarating movement and speed it provides, the game’s most noticeable trait setting it apart from other zombie-oriented titles — its mobility.
Dying Light provides the player with a number of options in parkour and free running, allowing players to jump high, scale buildings, leap across rooftops, and all-around provides a whole new range of mobility options in escaping from hordes of the dead.
Combining sprints and jumps to be able to leap onto rooftops or scale walls, its key focus is on survival, and its varied abilities in giving players so many movement options give it a jump on other titles in its genre (pun intended). Additionally, it especially feels like an evolution in the first-person shooter department, in the vein of titles like Titanfall and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.
The jump and movement-based system certainly gives the player a feeling of empowerment, an unusual feeling given that most zombie-based survival titles focus on the opposite by presenting players with sheer hordes of zombies to contend with.
Though zombies can be easily outrun and escaping from a horde is manageable, the game doesn’t trade its parkour features for difficulty; though you have options to evade and dodge, abilities are always matched and challenged, whether it be in challenging boss fights or facing human enemies with firearms and ways to block melee attacks.
Dead Island combined with Mirror’s Edge and Assassin’s Creed may be the face value description that can best explain the concept of this title, though, as the “light” in its title implies, daylight and nighttime play a pivotal role in the game’s design and mechanics.
Implementing a day and night cycle where players roam through Harran completing missions, gathering supplies, and scouring across the rooftops and buildings of the war-torn city, Dying Light‘s true survival challenges come to the test when night falls, and when the game changes dramatically from exploration in the day to pure stealth and survival at night.
Evoking the Rage-induced zombies of 28 Days Later, the lethal walkers of Dying Light transform from the usual, shambling zombies during the day into lethal killing machines at night, known specifically as “The Volatiles.”
During the day, zombies are manageable in their slower state in the day, allowing players a chance to gather supplies, familiarize themselves with the terrain of Harran, and more importantly, to get missions completed during the day and get back in time before night falls, and things become much, much more difficult.
Transforming from shambling creatures to hunters of the night, The Volatiles become a whole other force to be reckoned with compared to the walkers of the daytime. Able to scale buildings and able to sprint at alarming speeds, avoiding the grasp of The Volatiles and getting back to safety unharmed is a challenge in and of itself.
Evoking the terror of being hunted by the deadly xenomorph of Alien: Isolation, this shift into night presents a whole new kind of challenge: where the player’s parkour skills make missions in the day shift and manageable to avoid hordes of walkers, at night they are essential to avoiding The Volatiles. Even then survival is a mix of skill and luck to avoid being nabbed by the deadly creatures.
Though it bears a striking resemblance to the zombie titles that may have come before it, a shambling walker in a sea of hundreds of others, this world is still one worth exploring despite the dangers around each corner.
With vivid environments filled with wonderful lighting and detail, it’s easy to become entranced in the game’s world even when blazing by it at lightning speed avoiding walkers. Tress blow nearly-realistically in the wind as the sun fades over the rise of buildings in the distance, leading to admirable beauty even in the wake of the terrifying night ahead.
Coming from the developer’s original creation with Dead Island, Techland’s revisit to familiar grounds makes Dying Light at first an experience that gives players the classic zombie survival former. In its open world setting, the game presents a huge area filled with equal parts danger and opportunity to gather supplies and scour each corner of Harran to build toward survival.
But, given time, Dying Light opens itself up to something more — each passing moment that draws players closer to the night, the hunt for survival begins, and it isn’t easily earned. Its true challenges come out at night, but for players willing to take the risk, there is plenty of light to be found from the darkness so far.