Dying Light: Beware of the dark

If ever there was textbook definition required for an oversaturated entertainment premise, the zombie apocalypse would be it. As a culture we’re obsessed with our re-animated dead and no matter the medium or the genre, zombies have found a way to sneak their adorable rotting hearts into it. We’ve had them walk, run, crawl and shamble, animated by magic, by viruses, by tech gadgets and even by funguses. They’ve appeared in games that run the gamut from sci-fi through to drama, and from platformers to shooters. We’ve become so accustomed to the idea of decaying resurrected humans that they’ve simply lost their power to terrify, and the one genre to which they truly belong, horror, has suffered for it. There is a developer though that seems to have at least the intention of restoring zombies to their proper status as monsters in the dark, and for those who yearn for the dread inspired by the walking dead, Techland is hoping that Dying Light will offer up all the fear you can handle.


While the Polish studio may not be a big player in the industry, Techland certainly has some credentials behind its name, having been the creative force behind the Call of Juarez games and, more importantly, 2011’s Dead Island and its expansion, Riptide. For those that never played the title, Dead Island was a first-person zombie bash-fest which saw players take up the role of one of four survivors on a decimated tropical island battling to escape an undead epidemic. It was a game that didn’t seek to break the mould so much as extend it, offering gamers countless hours of cathartic cranium smashing, weirdly stiff character animations and a par-for-the-course plot that served only to provide a convenient excuse to change locations. It was a diamond in the rough, pleasingly devoid of any weighty issues beyond which weapon would result in the biggest blood splatter, and it was much the same for Riptide. It was not however a horror title, and while moments of panic could certainly creep in, Dead Island was ultimately a game which allowed players to relax and enjoy splattering a few heads. It’s been just over three years though since the game hit the shelves, and now Techland is looking to take ramp things up a notch.

At first glance, Dying Light may appear to be more a sequel to Dead Island than a separate game in its own right, though the developers are quick to insist this is not the case. Once again players will find themselves in a fictional location, this time Harran, Turkey, which is under quarantine due to zombies having overrun the city. The game will not offer a choice of protagonists this time round though, instead allowing gamers the chance to step into the role of an undercover agent named Kyle Crane. Techland have promised that Dying Light will deliver a “thrilling story, complete more than a hundred side-quests”, though exact information on the plot remains scant at best. To be honest, this particular brand of horror isn’t best known for exquisite story-crafting (Dead Island included), so any effort to up the bar is a welcome one.

Dying Light aims to distinguish itself from its predecessor in more than just narrative though. While the game will still remain open-world, with almost the entire city explorable from the get-go, Dying Light has ventured into realms of free-running, offering players the ability to scale almost any building and engage in “parkour-style movement” as you clamber and leap to get from point A to B. Given its first-person perspective this should result in gameplay that has more in common with Mirror’s Edge than Assassin’s Creed, and the trailers seem to back this up, with Kyle being significantly less graceful in his navigation (and the rules of physics more permanent) than in Ubisoft’s offerings.

There is more to Dying Light than just its movement mechanics however, and this will lie with the game’s implementation of its day and night cycle. While the sun shines, zombies will typical represent standard fare; slow-shuffling creatures whose only real threat lies in numbers, and who can be easily by-passed thanks to the verticality the title is offering. By night though Dying Light promises to transform itself into a true horror title, unleashing enemies that are stronger, more aggressive and at least somewhat intelligent. While it’s impossible to state now whether it will truly deliver on its desire to terrify, what has been shown so far certainly seems to inspire fear. Survival will be the name of the game here, as these monsters will have the ability to rip you to shreds, and your only refuge will be the breaking light of dawn. It’s a dramatic shift in theme and tone compared to Dead Island, and could truly differentiate the title from zombie games in general.

Techland is not throwing the baby out with the bathwater though, and many of the core features that made its first zombie title so popular will be returning. Expect to see a decidedly heavy focus on melee combat (mainly in the daytime), with the hordes still being clobbered and dismembered with any likely tool that comes to hand. To supplement this crafting will once again feature, with players able to modify weapons to suit their needs and style. Likewise, the RPG system will offer a diverse range of abilities falling into three general categories, all built with an eye towards allowing you to better survive undead predation. Finally, beyond the expected four player co-op, Dying Light is moving with the times and will implement “asymmetrical multiplayer”, allowing players to take control of a Night Hunter and invade other people’s games. The Night Hunter will include its own levelling system, growing from a fairly weak zombie to a true monster.The constant threat of invasion at night can only but added to the games horror elements, and while the idea might be somewhat derivative, this sounds like a truly fantastic implementation of the concept.

Dying Light is ultimately a game that appears to be bit of a paradox, attempting to distance itself from its roots yet at the same time still incorporating many elements that made Dead Island a cult hit. Yet despite that there definitely seems to be enough on offer to get gamers excited at the prospect of once again plunging into a zombie infested world. While it’s impossible to say with certainty before the game is actually released, Dying Light looks to be a far more polished and ambitious experience, and one that seeks to return zombies to their proper status as enemies to be feared.

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