When Dying Light was introduced to the gaming world, there was one question that greeted it: “isn’t this just Dead Island?” There was also “oh no not another zombie game”, but that wasn’t a question. Techland’s been playing catch-up addressing both of these statements, but the proof’s in the infected pudding. With that in mind, I was eager to get my hands on the game to see just how it differs from Dead Island. And it does, quite a lot.
Much of the story is under wraps, so the main differences have to be gameplay based. At first glance though, we have to say that it looks much like Dead Island. First-person with melee and shooting, the ability to throw weapons, tough zombies, run-down open-world tropical city, and the latest iteration of Techland’s distinctive Chrome Engine? All here. At further glance there’s also four-player co-op and the ability to craft new weapons (including an electric machete). Luckily this is just the start of the game, as actually getting your hands on Dying Light presents a different experience – not a wildly different experience to Dead Island so far I admit, but one that did indeed feel unique enough to warrant a brand new franchise.
Disclaimer: Not Dead Island
The most obvious difference is the free-running/parkour. Rather than being confined to the ground your (currently unnamed) character can run, climb and leap around Assassin’s Creed-style. While playing about with this system it was obviously not quite at the level of Altair, Ezio and the rest as I was unable to climb up every wall and there weren’t hand-holds in every building, but it was undoubtedly fun to play like this. Sprint, hold jump, and you can bound from rooftop to rooftop and even do cool leaps over zombies. I’m guessing your character’s parkour skills will be upgradeable and that there is still more work to go into it from Techland’s side, but right now the ability to not just go everywhere but to climb over every obstacle including buildings is a big draw. I honestly believe the next generation will bring in free-running as standard as players demand more freedom, and Techland look very ready to take it on.
Starting off in a safe area of town occupied by soldiers, the guy in charge gave me a seemingly simple task: activate the zombie traps around the area. Sounds straightforward enough, especially with my new-found free-running skills. These traps were divided into three types: electric, car alarm (to attract zombies away), and light. Light? What does light do to zombies? Guess I was going to find out soon. The electricity trap came first and wasn’t far outside the base, but I of course screwed it up by immediately walking into a group of zombies and attempting to hack them all to death. I had forgotten that in Techland’s games zombies are actually quite tough and I nearly died a minute after starting. Luckily it was a perfect test of both my parkour running-away-and-up-things-as-fast-as-possible skills and the electricity trap, which after waiting on a roof for the zombies to disperse a little I turned on and zapped the buggers (and nearly myself). One down two to go, and I could turn on the previous trap at any time afterwards apparently if I wanted another zombie BBQ. I’ll remember that.
Lots of roofs to jump on in the town
Making my way across town I tried to get used to the controls and test them out. Jumping across rooftops, balancing on walls and fences, running away from zombies or kicking the crap out of them, all felt intuitive. But there is definitely a learning curve here, or at least a “getting used to” period. Uniquely there’s two stamina bars, one for fighting and one for running, so you can run away and still stop to fight. I was playing on PC but with an Xbox pad, and while I was assured that even on console you’ll be able change the control setup the ones I used didn’t quite fit in my opinion. It was a typical Call of Duty setup, with “sprint” done by pressing the left thumbstick and jump being RB (holding it to climb). Fine in most FPSs (well, slightly, I hate having Sprint on the left clicker), but in Dying Light running and jumping is of more importance than shooting. This won’t be a problem once I play the game with keyboard controls and my beloved Shift and Space, but right now the free-running was a little bit more awkward than it needed to be. It’ll be interesting to see what the final gamepad setups will be like.
Anyway, after getting the car bomb trap going the light trap was my next target, for which I had to divert some power at a few stations. No problem, apart from a special zombie I encountered on a rooftop that spat acidic bile at me (one might even call it a Spitter) and the fact that the sun was rapidly beginning to drop. I was assured that bad things would happen once the sun had set. I flicked the switches, ignoring the secondary objectives on my map as I really didn’t want to face anything else in the dark, and turned on the light trap – which turned out to be some streetlights that began illuminating the town. Hooray? Then, finally, night fell. And oh boy was I glad for those lamps.
Welcome to the next big difference between Dying Light and Dead Island, not to mention every other zombie game (with the possible exception of the amazing Crimson Heads in Resident Evil Remake on the GameCube). When darkness falls, the previously mindless shambling Walkers take on a decidedly more lethal bent. Their eyes glow red and they actively start hunting you. Whereas before they’d only half-heartedly attack if they saw you, now they’ll pursue you endlessly and quickly. It’s a unique and terrifying way to up the challenge and distinguish Dying Light from other zombie games, and changes your whole way of playing. Remember I Am Legend, where Will Smith hunted vampires in the day and hid at night? Or, er, Minecraft? Same thing, except you most likely won’t be hiding. You’ll be running for your life.
This isn’t going to end well for me
I kept to the rooftops as best I could, sticking to the lighted areas wherever possible since the hordes were at least slightly mollified there, but there were just too many of the Evil Night Zombies to avoid. I cleverly lead them into (well, ran my arse off in the vague direction of) my electricity trap... and pressed the button too late to get them. Crap. Moment of coolness denied, I made a quick exit and headed into the safe zone. Things are about to get interesting, but there the demo ended, leaving me thirsty for more.
As I stated before, Dying Light may look like Dead Island at the start but when it starts bringing in the Mirror’s Edge-style first-person free-running and with the terrifying hunt that begins after dark, it’s clearly a different proposition... and potentially more fun, especially in single-player. It’s also a next-gen game so looking lovely right now with Techland’s Chrome Engine turned up to the max, although the demo itself admittedly didn’t wow me as much as I expected in the graphics department – oh well, it’s probably because of the cross-gen development, and there’s plenty of time left for surprises of course. To think, if those scary night terrors are what they’re showing now, what horrors are Techland keeping secret for the final release? We’ll find out in 2014 when Dying Light releases on PC, 360, PS3, PS4, and Xbox One.
Most Anticipated Feature/Element:What other horrors are lurking in the darkness?