Dying Light: A game about how boring a zombie apocalypse can be - Games Weekly

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dying Light: A game about how boring a zombie apocalypse can be

Dying Light is a game about zombies. “But wait,” you say. “Techland already did the zombies thing. It did it to death, pun intended!” Well, friend, you’re right and we did appreciate the pun but nevertheless, Techland isn’t ready to shut off the old zombie-game mill just yet. Turns out it has some new ideas…

It’s just a shame all those new ideas are bastardised versions of successful mechanics in other games. The core parts of Dead Island, Techland’s other zombie franchise, are apparent in its attempt at survival horror, its XP-fuelled skill trees and all them zombies. But look closer and you’ll see that this isn’t just your run-of-the-mill reanimated game corpse: it’s got Assassin’s Creed’s rooftop-clambering and Eagle Vision stealth stapled to its necrotic leg, Skyrim’s weed-harvesting and lockpicking sewn into its sagging flesh pouches, Sniper Elite’s slow-motion damage porn stretched across the raw sores on its back and Far Cry’s… well, Far Cry’s everything else stuffed into its open wounds.

Just like a zombie, the campaign shuffles lifelessly on, throwing wave after wave of joyless quests at you as your grumpy protagonist bemoans the fact that he has to do anything at all. “Ugh,” he moans after getting Vital Thing A from Far-Away Point B. “I hope this is worth it.” You and me both, mate. How did the helpless assholes of Harran city survive this long without our fetch-quest-happy selves?

The aim is to help a group of survivors, holed up in safe houses and requiring various tasks to be performed, in return for weapons, money and XP. Three skill trees Survivor, Agility and Power are levelled up by performing tasks related to their name. Agility points are earned through climbing and running, Power points through thwacking zombies in the ribs and Survivor points are general ‘thanks for doing that thing’ ticks unlocked by completing most quests.

Initially uninspired combat opens up once you’ve got into the higher-level stuff. Wielding an actual weapon rather than a piece of wood or metal and having Molotovs in your arsenal vastly improves the otherwise fairly tame combat. Melee consists of sloppily swinging at things until they fall over permanently, but climb up on a roof, lure the zombies with firecrackers and chuck a Molotov in the throng and you’ve got yourself a fairly entertaining and lucrative game of ‘bait the zombie’.

Running Total
The parkour, which is the central hook other than zombies sees Techland bite off more than it can chew. Parkour games have traditionally been tricky to perfect even more so with a first-person perspective’s limited field of vision but it works on a technical level, with hand animations adjusting to a variety of grips. But it’s slow and the lack of obvious racing lines means you rarely hit full flow. You also spend too much of the game with the camera two inches from ugly wall textures.

The tension of the day pales in comparison to the night. The darkness is fraught with the kind of dangers that make even the most frightening daytime zombies look like sleepy bunnies. Volatiles lightning-fast, screamy zombies appear on the map with conical field-of-vision areas, and if they see you, running is the only option, unless you’re a fan of breathing through a hole in your throat. XP is doubled at night, so the risk is worth the reward and if you can set up a bait area just outside a safe zone, you could potentially exploit your way to a whole bunch of points before sun-up.
“The tension of the day pales in comparison to the night”
But that one original idea doesn’t make up for all the lazy tropes. The protagonist, Kyle crane, perfects the art of parkour not 20 minutes after his first go, and almost every character in the game falls into the category of ‘gruff man who has a dark secret’, ‘lady who doesn’t want to deal with your BS’ or ‘guy who desperately needs supplies that can be found in the bin outside his house’. Even crane’s boss is totally, obviously evil, forcing us to enable some grim human trafficking just a scant few hours into the story. Hooray!

Then there’s the inconsistency. You’d think the survivors people with military gear, training and guns would be as willing to help out as the T-shirt-wearing ‘noob’ (that’s you), but no. They sit inside, entirely static except for occasionally asking you to go and rescue a really valuable thing they left behind. online co-op might inject life back into the city we’ll have a full multiplayer verdict next month.

Small glimpses of fun such as signs for ‘left 4 Bread’ and ‘Bites Motel’ are enough to make you wish that the game had more of a sense of humour about itself. not necessarily a Sunset Overdrive-style zaniness, just something more lifelike than a building full of AIs that only differ from zombies in their propensity to dole out fetch quests and a protagonist whose primary weakness is that he “cares too much about people” though apparently not enough to stop murdering people for their flares.

Dying Light is a vast improvement on the broken Dead Island indeed, if you managed to eke fun from that technical shambles, you’ll be in heaven here. But with no real ideas of its own, it borrows heavily from other games without ever realising that a successful game is not the sum of its mechanics. You’ll be able to fill many mindless hours in Harran, sure, but it certainly doesn’t have the brains to be a great zombie game.

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