Dying Light: How Dead Island should have been

Dying Light is a game that can be described as many things. Take for instance ‘FarCry 3/4 middle eastern zombie edition’ or ‘mirrors edge with zombies’ and my favorite ‘how Dead Island should have been’. “But how do these titles describe the game in any way?” I hear you ask. Mostly because the game takes the main concept of Dead Island adding some lovely parkour like that can be found in Mirrors Edge and adding solid gameplay comparable to that of FarCry, only with more focus on melee weapons instead of ranged. And what this game does best, is that all these elements make you feel like a badass zombie slaying ninja!

As you can easily tell by my opening paragraph, I’m pretty much in love with this game. The fact that I love this game, or rather, a game is this genre is actually very odd. Why odd? Because I’m sick to death of fricking zombies all over the market these days. I was certain that nothing could make me like zombies again, or at least so I thought. And then this little game came unto my radar and I just had to play it. Mostly because I just though the parkour looked just to awesome!

Part I; The story
The game takes place in the fictional city of Harran. You play as Kyle Crane or as I like to call him, generic white guy number too many. Generic white guy number too many is send by a peace keeping agency to find Kadir “Rais” Sulaiman – who is bad shit crazy I should note – and kick his ass to find a special document with a possible cure for the zombie virus. Sadly enough, within seconds of touching the ground you get the living shit beat out of you and are saved by two lovely survivors (of which one gets his face eaten off). At the end your rescue, you fall unconscious and are taken away.

After waking up you find yourself in a lovely tower where, when waking up a bunch of kids call you a zombie. You get instructed to meet with the leader and get a couple of tutorial missions. After these small missions the world opens up and you are free to explore the whole world of Dying light with only your skill as the limit.
The story did sort off remind of that of FarCry 3. You are an outsider, forced to join a conflict that has little to do with you. Both are white males who start to adapt and get accustomed to their new environment. Both deal with a sociopath that are part of the local culture and are by far the most interesting character in the game. They also both end with an anti-climactic quick-time event.

Part II; The gameplay
Now we are getting to the bad ass part of the game. The main focus of the gameplay really lies in the movement over the map. Your character can run over rooftops and climb almost anything that within his reach through parkour. Almost every ledge can be reached by the player at some point in the game. When you first start the game the free running mechanic might be a bit difficult. I myself Dropt at a minimum of 80% of all buildings, and that was on a good day. But after a while of playing you’ll get in a state of trance while running over the rooftops and you will feel like you’re a ninja.

The combat mechanics also make a lot use of the movement system. You need to hit your enemy fast and manage to get out of his range as quickly as possible. Basically you’ll have to hit and run the whole time. Because of this it would be easy to think that the combat could get rather boring and stale after a certain period of time has passed. But on the contrary, the amount of skill needed to defeat certain special enemies keeps the combat challenging. Combat is divided into three mechanics, close combat, firearm and Throwable. With close combat you make use of pipes, knifes, picks, hammers and swords. Each of these melee weapon types really play differently and require different playstyles to use. Knifes are fast but weaker, hammers and picks are strong but slow, swords have an average amount of speed and power and pipes have decent power but break faster. There a three types of firearms presented to the player, Pistols, rifles and shot guns. Pistols are the weakest but keep the players speed constant. Rifles are the fastest weapon but make the player slower in his movement. Lastly there are shot guns, who are brute powerhouses and deal enormous amounts of damage towards the enemy. The last mechanic are the throwable weapons. These range from ninja stars, to grenades and even your own melee weapon.

The game also sports a small crafting system. You can make a lot of amazing weapons and useful items, but over time it’s just easier to buy all the equipment. There are little shops spread across the map and they sell most consumables for a reasonable price, wich makes the whole crafting pointless in late game. The same is true for weapon upgrades. In the beginning of the game they don’t really serve much of a purpose because many weapons will be replaced fast, and in late game it’s easier to buy new gear instead of upgrading it. These two systems show great potential and are really fleshed out. It’s a little saddening how little use these mechanics have been to me.

A mechanic that works rather well was the leveling system. Kyle has three levels that can increase by preforming specific actions. Once you gained a level in a skill you unlock a skill point for that that skill tree. The first is the Survivor level. This level is raised by doing quests, rescuing NPCs and securing air supply drops. The perks you unlick in the survivor skill tree are all based on crafting, barter and to make your life less miserable. The second is the strength level, your combat skill. It basically means how good you are at making zombie potato salad. This skill is increased by making sure the dead stay dead and dismembering them occasionally. Every hit, every kill and every evasion gives you xp that increases your level. Last but not least, your agility level. In other words, how good you are at the ninja moves. This skill tree has, in my opinion, some of the most important perks you can have. I spend most of my time grinding for this level by running around for hours at an end. It does help that the movement is so much fun that is doesn’t feel like grinding at all.

Part III; Enemies
A very important part of every zombie game are of course the zombies. Luckily for you – and not so for Kyle – there are lots of squishy zombies you can shop into smaller zombies. There are a reasonable amount of different zombie types, like one that spits acid or one that charges right at you with brute force. The variety and the speed they are introduced provides a nice difficulty curve that gives the player the chance to experiment with the changes. One small gripe I have with the zombies, is that there is little to no variety in how they look. The main zombies have around 10 different textures and the special zombies have only one. This is only a small problem, but it breaks the emersion if playing for a longer time.

The second type of enemies poor Kyle has to deal with are Rais his lovely psychotic goons. These enemies will try to chop your nobs off at any moment they get. At the start these are your main threat during daytime, and they can be pretty difficult to beat. They can parry your attacks with melee weapons, hide from gunfire and even throw knifes themselves. This challenges the player to think around their protection, but you will soon realize that the hit and run strategy works just as fine against the goons as the zombies. The only difference is that you require more patience to beat them.

The last enemy of importance is Rais himself and he functions as the antagonist of the game. This guy clearly has taken ‘how to be interesting evil’ classes from Vaas and probably had borderline passable grades. You can see how much the dev team wanted Rais to be interesting. Rais is a complete sociopath, gives long philosophical speeches about being a man and free will. He talks about how the player is a puppet, chaos and even (miss interpreting) the concept of entropy.

Part IV; The World
The city of Harran is just so bloody gorgeous. The level designers have taken great effort to make the city have its own character. The slums are a great starting place to introduce the parkour mechanics and the Old Town is great environment to put your skills to the test. No square mile feels the same in this game and the dev team really deserves a gold star for this.
One thing this game does correct as well is making you scared of the dark. The night time in the game is our horror, even when you are a max level zombie slayer. During the night a special variant among the zombies that are extra strong and hard to kill. This variant is present from the start of the game and are the strongest of all. Those basterds will haunt my dreams for weeks to come.

The city is also filled with side quests that help you gain experience and sometimes interesting items. A lot of houses are also accessible to the player to plunder till his heart’s content. With many collectibles like notes, statues and flags there is always incentive to go exploring, even at night. These elements, combined with all the random events like survivors in need or supply air drops make the city of Harran a location to come back to.

Part V; Sound and visuals
On the highest setting the game looks decent. It’s not the best game looking game I’ve ever seen and the texture quality differs from being amazing to 2001. The best textures are those of specific buildings, NPCs and the zombies. Sadly a lot of textures among the NPCs and zombies are reused constantly, for the exception of a handful of important characters.

The ambient sounds in game are really great. Zombies sound like murder machines and the special variants sound truly horrifying. It all fits the tone perfect and gives a good illusion of being trapped in a city where 90% of the population wants to eat your face off.
The voices are decent and feel like real people. It’s just too bad I can’t take any of them too serious because everybody has some form of funny accent. It helps give each player their own personality but it makes it too easy to make dumb jokes.

The soundtrack of the game fits the tone rather well, but it’s not really stimulating when you are parkouring like a boss over the roof tops. At times like that I mostly put on my own music – I recommend Deep House – to make the experience feel more bad ass.

Part VI; Problems
No game is perfect and this one is no exception. I already stated that the zombies look all to similar and how that can break the game during long playing sessions. It does help that the few textures there are, do look grotesquely beautiful. Maybe the art team was so proud of its work on these few zombies that they wanted it to be the only versions available.

The story is also rather boring. It just didn’t hold my attention and Rais just isn’t that interesting. Also the ending is just a good example of games trying to much to be movies and feels like anti-climax. The achievement for completing the game is even called ‘Bittersweet’.

One bug that really did break the game for me, was that at random all interactivity was gone. I couldn’t open any chests, pick up any items or use my weapons. This happened four time where it really hindered my enjoyment to the point of aggravation, and two of these moments are during ‘boss’ battles. The only solution is to exit the game and restart it and that really screws you over in your progress.

The last huge problem this game had for me, was the optimization. I have a reasonable computer that can handle most games at full resolution with medium-high settings. Sadly enough I had to play this game in terrible resolution (720p on 1080 screen) and still put the game on medium to low settings. And even then I would have awful frame drops to 10fps. As someone who has experience with how hard it can be to program a game and seeing how they made a game this big in only two years can I understand that optimization will be a bit wonky at the start. But the state it’s in now really needs to be patched up.

Part VII; Verdict
I already said I love this game, but I also have some problems with the game and it really needs some patching. The main reason I love this game is for its controls and those feel amazing. Techland really poured their heart and soul into the game, but it’s just doesn’t hold up all the time. I do really recommend you pick up this game, because where else can you feel like a zombie slaying ninja!

My final score is: 7/10