Dying Light is the latest offering from Dead Island developers Techland. Like Dead Island, it’s a zombie brawler set in an exotic locale, but for this particular outing, they’ve opted to do some things a bit differently. The grit and tension of the original has been amped up in this iteration, using game mechanics to drive suspense. They’ve also enhanced the crafting mechanic, allowing you to cobble together weapons from whatever detritus you happen to find, allowing for apparently hundreds of different combinations.
A totally new feature the developers have added is a day/night mode, offering fresh and interesting gameplay mechanics. During the day, your tasks include gathering resources, contacting other survivors and generally trying to mount some sort of defence against the zombie hordes. In the daylight, they’re traditional Romero fare: slow, stupid meat piñatas. At night, however, they kick up a gear, getting tougher, gaining the ability to sprint and just generally making your life a misery. In this circumstance, rather than trying to fight, your best recourse is just to run like buggery.
This is where the new free-running mechanic comes into play. Built with this transport mode in mind, the game environments are full of multi-level verticality, the idea being that you jump around the levels like a spider monkey on speed, twatting the undead as you sprint past rather than wading through mobs with a lawnmower, Braindead style.
I recently got the chance to get a very brief hands-on at the nVidia Game24 event, and I can safely say that based on what I played, Dying Light seems absolutely… underwhelming. As a disclaimer, I should state that the demo I played was exceedingly short, and I had just played Eve: Valkyrie on the Oculus Rift, which may have spoiled me for every other game ever. I also didn’t get a chance to try the day/night switchover or the crafting system. However, I did get a while with the base gameplay mechanics. The free-running is based on the same kind of one-button system as Assassin’s Creed, but it suffers from the same problem as Mirror’s Edge in that platformer mechanics don’t work terribly well in first person. It’s better than it was in Mirror’s Edge, but not being able to see your feet still proves a little disorientating when hurtling over rooftops at high speed.
The free-running also seemed a little hamstrung by the undead. Maybe it’s just a lack of skill on my part, but it felt a lot like my graceful parkour was being constantly cut short by blundering into an unwary corpse, who then attempted to use me as a snack pack. Simply clattering them about the head with blunt objects didn’t seem to help as much as it ought to, either. Sure, the combat feels satisfying and weighty, but the short reach and slow speed on many of the melee weapons I was given meant that going toe-to-toe with even a moderately sized group of brain junkies quickly devolved into frustration. The grabs in particular are a pain in the ass, requiring a spate of button-mashing to escape from, and leaving you vulnerable for a few seconds after, ripe for the next grab.
Rather than something like Dead Rising where, for the most part, you can bully your way through the crowds, the combat in Dying Light feels awkward and clumsy. Stoving in zombies’ heads with a barbed-wire baseball bat should, by rights, reduce me to a giggling child, but I kinda had to force myself to keep playing this. I will admit that it could be down to the shortness of the demo, or a lack of skill on my part, but I just didn’t enjoy Dying Light, and I feel like I should have. I sure as hell wanted to.