Parkour saves Dying Light from the edge of mediocrity

By Matt Martin, Friday, 30 January 2015 14:02 GMT

Techland’s latest scrapes together enough fun to help you survive the winter. But only just.

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“There’s a great sense of vertigo in Dying Light. Techland has done a thorough job of building a tiered city that you can scale quickly and easily.”

Dying Light doesn’t do itself any favours in the first 30 minutes. It should be exciting, but you don’t get to press a single button during the skydive, the early conflict with locals and the first zombie attack. Even Call of Duty set pieces let you press X now and again. Someone took the fun away.

When you eventually get control what follows is a trudge from one person to another as you learn the basics. Talk to someone. Do a quick favor. Craft an item. Change your clothes. Nip to the gym. It feels never-ending. You get to hit exactly one zombie during this lengthy tutorial and it goes down with a tap. What I really want to do is bust some heads, y’know?

It turns out Dying Light isn’t about confronting zombies, it’s about avoiding them. It’s Dead Island with better, faster movement. There’s a little bit of Mirror’s Edge, Far Cry and Bulletstorm thrown into the mix but the gameplay is ultimately like the zombies – a no-brainer.

That’s not to say the parkour isn’t fun; it’s the best part of the game. You can go anywhere just by holding one button. It feels empowering to grab a ledge, pull yourself up and leap across huge gaps with the undead groaning down below. I even got a sense of motion sickness after a fast bout of climbing and running – something I haven’t felt since playing DayZ in hardcore mode.

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The view of Dying Light’s city is well worth the climb.

And there’s a great sense of vertigo in Dying Light. As the camera dips with your movement you’ll feel a little woozy. It’s not a real simulation of climbing but it’s a fun one, and you’ll stop at the top of tall buildings to take in the view. Techland has done a thorough job of building a tiered city that you can scale quickly and easily.

But the single-player campaign is weak. You’ve done it all before; run errands, craft items, scavenge from toolboxes, smack a zombie with a piece of wood. You occasionally get to take down a boss. Upgrade channels slowly improve your character but there’s never a feeling of being truly powerful. Things get interesting when night falls and the game becomes a lot tougher, but weirdly you’re encouraged to go to bed for 10 hours and sleep through it. Weapons are generally functional – fitting for a game about scraping together to survive – but that doesn’t make them a lot of fun to use. If you do find something you really like it will eventually break beyond the point of repair.

What you’ll find more entertaining is going out and messing with the zombies for your own amusement. It’s the equivalent of the scene in Dawn of the Dead where the survivors sit on a rooftop naming celebrity zombies to snipe out of boredom. There are traps to set and cool kills to be had if you make a game out of it yourself. Arsonists are right; fire and explosives can really liven up a party.

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Guards in safe zones have high-powered guns and I risk my life armed with a spanner?

Co-op is, well, co-op. Any swinger will tell you it’s more fun with extra people and Dying Light is improved not by the options as such, but just by the fact you can play it with friends or strangers. The game adds competitive elements to co-op, almost as if it knows a bunch of friends bashing zombies in the face is going to get dull after a while.

But ultimately Dying Light is a game only worth playing while you wait for something better to come along. There’s a reason it’s been released in January, afterall. It’s fun with more players but overpriced to begin with, so can only really be recommended when it’s in the sales. Unfortunately by then there’s likely to be much better games for you to spend your money on.

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