Dying Light: these zombies don't always shamble

It’s dangerously easy to forget that Dying Light is a horror game. By day, it’s a simple, unapologetic demonstration of the joys of piloting a first person camera, with explosions of gore to punctuate the parkour. True, the game’s run down equatorial city is undeniably overpopulated with zombies, but they’re more a pleasing contrast to your own agility than a serious threat.

Like the survivor in every zombie film who’s secretly out to get everybody killed, Dying Light’s co-op tries to pit allies against each other with shared assignments that are generated in response to the area or main objective, such as a race to the exit or a competition to kill x number of zombies the quickest. These aren’t forced on you, as all players must agree to participate, but they are quite addictive, and one payoff is that you have to think harder about the weapons and tactics at your disposal.

The arsenal is formidable, and very customizable: among other toys are cleavers with incinerator attachments, electric hammers that can be swung in 360 degree arcs, throwing knives for on the fly limb removal and spiked bats, in addition to boring old pistols and shotguns. Stir these together with environmental traps such as spiked fences, and you’ve got a game that wants you to kill playfully rather than just plentifully. 

But then comes the night. Dying Light is aptly titled: sundown changes the rhythm and tone of the game completely, like switching from the George A Romero canon to 28 Days Later. Garden variety zombies become faster, tougher and more aggressive, a red-eyed horde nipping at your ankles. The hit you take to visibility means you can’t fling yourself as deftly and confidently over the terrain for fear of fetching up in a tight spot with nowhere to climb to, although there’s still the minimap
to help you navigate. And then, just like that, you’re invaded with no way out.
It’s like switching from the George A Romero canon to 28 Days Later
 The star of  Dying Light ’s competitive multiplayer is the Night Hunter, an elite player controlled zombie that moves and fights a little like the Hunter from  Left 4 Dead . It’s able to leap right over buildings and glide around using its tendrils, covering huge distances in a fraction of the time a human would.

If a Hunter grabs hold of you, you’re giblets on toast. The creature is straightforward enough to defeat you sear it with an ultraviolet torch to interrupt its attacks, then hack it to pieces but it’ll revive endlessly until all of its spawning eggs are destroyed. In most co-op sessions, this leads to the formation of a grim pact. One or two players will agree to play bait. The others will set about splattering the eggs, which are randomly distributed in nooks and crannies around the open world.

Playing bait is by far the less pleasant job. The Hunter’s terrible bellowing means you’ll hear it from miles away, but where the eventual attack will come from is trickier to fathom. A ‘sense’ ability flags up the creature’s rough direction with a gout of sickly light, but this grows less and less useful with proximity with any luck, you’ll singe the Hunter as it pounces and buy yourself a few seconds in which to flee.

Battling the Hunter represents a degree of frenzy the rest of the game might struggle to supply, in love as it is with freedom of motion. After the carefree parkour of solo play, it’s brilliantly horrible to discover that you aren’t, in fact, the fleetest, nimblest killer this world has to offer.

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