Dying Light: The zombies may be off the Island

Techland really does love its gore. For the studio's in-all-but-name sequel to 2011’s Dead Island, zombies might pose a greater threat than ever by crowding streets in new-gen numbers and turning especially deadly at night, but they’ll still break like gooey piñatas if you whack them. “The new engine really allows us to go crazy with detail,” says Dying Light’s lead game designer Maciej Binkowski, grinning.

“You can feel every hit, you can rip meat off the bone. There’s a voice at the back of my head that says that’s kind of insane, but at the same time it’s just awesome isn't it? You can cut pretty much every single limb, the head, the forearm, the leg. So yeah, we like gore.” Careful, though. Merely breaking a leg (a Mortal Kombat-style internal view accompanies fractures) won’t stop zombies crawling after you, so aim for the brain.

For all it’s gleeful carnage, Techland is keen to mark a tonal difference from Dead Island. “It was over the top and goofy, and we loved it, but it’s time for something new,” Binkowski says.“We don’t want to be a hack-and-slash title, we want to be actionsurvival. We want you to have certain choices.” Choices such as whether to fight or run. With ten times as many zombies on screen, it’s sometimes better to simply go around. That’s the reason for stylish new parkour skills.

Jump around
As Kyle Crane, a man who’s found his way into a quarantined European city weeks after the outbreak, you can clamber up sheer walls, bound across roofs and hop over ledges. “The degree of freedom that we’re giving players is really unprecedented in first-person games,” says Binkowski. “We don’t want this to be a gimmick, we didn't do it for the sake of it… it’s a tool for survival.” Environments have been built with freerunning in mind. Although largely based around a fictional city, the unnamed urban hub recalls Turkey’s unique clashing of East and West and contains multiple distinct districts, from slums and sewers to tourist areas featuring cafes and restaurants, to a financial centre where tall banks and buildings stretch to the sky.
We played a 20-minute stretch in a Brazilian-inspired favela, the flat tin roofs and sharp changes in elevation perfectly built for Crane’s presumably massive quads. But even the thickest leg muscles won’t help much against nightcrawlers: agile zombies that come out at night and pursue you like freerunning Terminators. Then there’s the onset of new zombie types, which force you to think tactically about how to escape. Hazmat zombies carry propane tanks on their backs which a stiff punt can blow up. Traps are useful, too. There are light traps that blind whoever’s giving chase, electric gates that slam shut behind you, cars you can blow up, and spiked walls to impale large groups.

House of pain
Of course, it’s not all fighting and running. Small pockets of survivors litter each area, and they provide opportunities to quest, buy and sell items, and craft ridiculous weapons such as electric machetes and axes that set foes on fire. And let’s not forget firearms, ranging from meagre pistols to devastating shotguns. Use them wisely, though, because loud noises attract crowds.

We played one quest in our demo that involved clearing out an area so that survivors could settle. After killing a number of undead around a power station on a cliff, a huge miniboss type called the Goon emerges. Eight-foot tall and angry, it takes a good number of sickle swings to send him down ready for a head stomp. Then it’s a matter of closing the gate and turning the power back on. The combat feels a touch flimsy, especially the gunplay, but at least there’s less focus on fighting due to
your more mobile character. If Techland abstains from the fetch quests that plagued Dead Island and gives us characters to care about, Dying Light will shine.

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