As a big-time zombie fan, I am always on the hunt for anything in the genre to catch my attention. Techland’s Dying Light did that back in 2015, and despite its issues, it was a fun zombie-slaying experience combined with cool parkour. It was certainly better than Dead Island that the developers released a few years before, and it was able to elevate a lot of those core ideas with some fresh takes to separate the two IPs. The Platinum Edition is an expensive package for a six-year-old game that bundles all of the DLC and base game into one place. It maintains the same issues as before, but if you keep an eye out for a discount, then it will be worth it for gamers who love chopping up the undead.
Story – Flavorless and not filling
Zombies flood the city of Harran, and Kyle Crane (Roger Craig Smith) is in the middle of it as a hired man for the Global Relief Effort, a sketchy humanitarian organization. A file was stolen, which contains damning information on the GRE, so it is Kyle’s job to get it. He finds himself caring for the locals and figures out his employer has a hidden agenda to gain from the virus rather than cure it. It is the typical story of betrayal and never trusting shading organizations.
The writing is not too bad; while the narrative is generic, it does not do anything that offensive. It has high stakes that continue to get higher as you progress through the story.
The main issue I took was that I could not care for a single character. Crane is a typical naive protagonist who cannot figure out why his boss is making him do certain things until someone has to spell it out to him. Having to repeat conversations with the GRE who tell him to do something, he complains and then does it because he knows there is no other way.
The other characters don’t help either. The fellow survivors are forgettable and, at best, serve themselves useful by moving the plot along. The only memorable one is Rais (Jim Pirri), but I am not saying that as a positive. He is written to be evil for the sake of being evil. Sure, he has a plan with the file that the GRE wants, but it still does not make him sympathetic or interesting. Killing his own men to show how crazy he is, but I found him less intimidating and more cartoony on how his actions were too over the top. He even has some Andrew Ryan moments from Bioshock by talking about how your character is a follower who does not make his own choices, but it is less philosophical and dumber and on the nose.
The acting is pretty abysmal. Full of actors who either over and under deliver their lines with too much emotion or none at all. Then there are the plethora of terrible accents, with some people doing completely different accents that don’t fit what other actors are aiming for as citizens of Harran. Smith does an okay job with some pretty powerful moments, but at times sounds pretty apathetic. Then there is Pirri, who sticks the landing by committing to the insane antagonist.
Gameplay – Double the Meat, Please
The core of Dying Light is based on its satisfying melee combat and addicting parkour, which it nails.
Set between the Slums and Old Town areas, the map has so much to offer as I went around running and climbing around the rooftops of its plethora of buildings. It got even better once I got a rhythm down as I built up my speed jumping from one roof to another, jumping off the heads of zombies to get to high points, and using my handy grappling hook to shoot myself up like Spider-Man.
Slicing and bashing the undead was a blast through the hours I set into this infected city. Most weapons feel distinguishable, especially in different classes like a hammer vs. a knife. Whether I was breaking bone and splitting skulls open with a bat or cleaning decapitating zombies, it was so satisfying and endless fun.
Weapons don’t last forever as there are a set number of times you can repair it then it is broken forever. Thankfully, the upgrade system can help the durability while making a difference in the power and handling. To go further, I could fabricate a modification to make a flaming sword or an electric pipe. It is a long list of things I can do to make my arsenal deadlier. It is intuitive and gratifying as I can take anything, whether it was a household item like a kitchen knife or something created for carnage like an assault rifle, I can elevate it to the next level as I destroyed everything in sight.
Speaking of assault rifles, guns can range between those ARs, pistols, shotguns, and SMGs. It had a lot less variety than the melee types, but I was surprised by the kick and sound design that made it fun to shoot. I still avoided it as it was infinitely less enjoyable, but for a game centering on chopping and smashing, it is a nice change of pace when I want to sit back and mow down hordes of flesh-eating monsters.
Throwables are another nice touch, which can be found or crafted like modifications. Firecrackers to distract enemies, throwing stars and knives to do damage, and plenty of other destructive toys. It really saved me when I was in trouble, but even better, pairing it with my collection of weapons made me feel like a zombie-slaying pro.
Zombies in Dying Light follow the typical archetypes like tanks (Demolishers), fat boys ready to blow (Bombers), and then the walkers and runners, along with plenty of others. The twist is that they are sensitive to UV light, especially the nocturnal creatures like the Volatiles. It helps give a fresh take; after all, it is so saturated with all of these species of zombies throughout games like Left 4 Dead, The Last of Us, and State of Decay. It has a nice variation to spice things up as I have spent so much of my time killing.
The enemies I did hate fighting were the humans. They were often pretty boring and generic and often turning the game from its standout premise into another action game. The ones with guns were a bit too overpowered, too, as they would wipe out my health almost immediately. I can’t think of anything in the genre that has nailed human foes as the infected are always more gratifying putting into the ground rather than the living.
When dying, I would lose experience in one skill tree, Survivor (we will get to talking about those perks later), and I would spawn at the nearest safe zone. It was a gamble as depending on where I died; I could spawn quite far away as some zones are not placed very conveniently. It was even worse during certain missions where it was not designed to spawn me at the scene of the story objective; instead, I had to walk back just to talk to someone or do something else for progress.
In an open world survival experience, you need to loot for your supplies. Finding gear and supplies is always a treat as Techland strikes a great balance for scavenging. I felt I had to really search for something good, but I did not go long to find anything. There are not a ton of empty crates and buildings like DayZ or similar games. It makes it even easier with the Sense ability, a mechanic tied to the core game where you get to see markers for anything interactable, like good loot.
Shopkeepers and quartermasters, people in safe zones who have free stuff, are another way to get gear. I found the weapons offered were usually not worth it until I leveled up a lot more, but this was how I survived getting supplies. I easily gained a lot of money; that way, I can buy medkits and crafting material. I appreciate opening the door for another way that was not just scrounging around for scraps.
A small mechanic that has found itself in so many others in the genre is the pick locking system. It is straight out of Bethesda’s take on it with Fallout and Elder Scrolls. I have seen other attempt something different, but this is the ultimate way to pick locks, and I am so happy that the Polish studio followed in the right footsteps.
Another way I could have survived was by using traps scattered throughout the map. UV lights are good for nighttime, but I found the spikes that were littered throughout the streets being the best. It is hard to beat kicking zombies into spikes and seeing them get stuck.
The premise relies on the night as it brings out new brands of the undead and ups the overall difficulty. It is thrilling running out to do a mission or simply to grab supplies. The longer I survive out there, the more of an experience boost I would receive. It is a smart way to incentivize on going out when the moon is out, and the dead are hungrier.
As an open world game, Dying Light is less striking. Side activities like clearing safe zones from infected, saving random humans, or doing challenges like running through checkpoints or killing X number of zombies before the timer runs out are generic optional things to do that don’t carry weight. I got an experience boost or got a new place to rest in safe areas, but I rarely did it as I could invest my time completing side or main objectives. It does nothing sinful, but others do it far better.
The other side of the coin is the RPG elements. While I did not care for the story being told, the side missions were a lot more enjoyable. Getting small stories from survivors with interesting tasks was much more rewarding and interesting. Thankfully, there is plenty to go around as it is jam-packed with content.
Continuing on the stronger side of Techland’s second go at a zombie game are the perks, which are set up in three trees: Survivor (crafting and items), Power (combat), and Agility (movement and parkour). Unlocking more of the skills offer boosts and new abilities that make a huge difference in the gameplay. I found the parkour and combat especially improved, even though I already found it to be great.
Collectibles are a hit or a miss with me for any game, and oh boy, notes and statues bring me nothing. Notes have some stories from people who lived through these horrors, but since the writing is not great in the first place, I tended to ignore them after a while. Meanwhile, the statues can not be viewed in a menu to have a closer look. Before picking it up, I got to see them, but they were quite uninteresting, so I stopped collecting after some time.
I know this is dumb, but in a first-person game with a ton of outfits, I simply love it. I know it only would work in multiplayer, but I liked changing my clothes. I was a Viking through most of my playthrough, then turned into a sheriff. Fun fact, my first time playing when it was released, I was a ninja with my friends. A ninja, zombie killing squad. It was awesome.
There are two modes in multiplayer, one PvP and one co-op. Both bring a lot to the table, especially the PvP, which is a huge game-changer.
You can either become a zombie, a special infected that can lunge to high areas and has a tentacle that works like a more efficient grappling hook that is hunting the other player, or you are the other player who is trying to destroy nests across the area. While the undead gamer has the advantage, it somewhat evens the playing field with the extra lives it provides for the human. Regardless, it is a creative way to spice things up.
Co-op is open for most of the game; although certain points are closed off for story purposes, almost the entire world is open for you and your friends to jump around and slay flesh-eating monsters. It is a blast with a group and the ultimate way to play as it made me forget so many of the issues I was facing with the overall experience.
Community maps are a blast. I had some unique and memorable playthroughs of people’s creations—everything from a space-themed obstacle course to an amusement park ride. Techland, seriously, go hire these people as they are brilliant.
DLC Harran Prison
The Harran Prison is a map full of living and undead hostiles. Go through as fast as possible, and the better your time, the better the loot. It is challenging and rewarding. While I was underequipped during my time with it, as I had no idea what I was getting into, I have had the urge to go back armed with more health kits and ammo to do better.
The DLC across the board went above my expectations. I went into the Bozak thinking it was a classic horde mode as it was described, but it was so much more. A Saw-like setup where you have a bomb strapped to you by a madman who is making you do challenges. Kill X amount of zombies before time runs out, disable bombs, or race the clock for checkpoints are some of the things I had to do. Not the most creative, but it was a fun and difficult game that tested all of my abilities. If only I played it in co-op as it suggested because it is really hard.
DLC Quarantine Zones
Two quarantine zones can be found, Three Moons restaurant and Holy Year Tunnel, which are closed off due to the infection. You go in to collect crates and fight anything inside. It is the lowest of the additional content by being too generic and unmemorable.
A medieval twist on Dying Light, with some subtle Doom vibes (or maybe that part was just me). Go through a dungeon to find keys to a larger gateway as you slice through zombies and skeletons. Introducing some spell-casting creatures and undead warriors, Hellraid brought a lot to the table that was engaging the first time around. As I continued, it started to get a little stale, but I still liked it for its aesthetic.
Even better, I got rewarded with coins where I could purchase weapons from Hellraid to bring into the base game or other DLCs. I became overpowered in the best way possible as the swords I got myself were doing more damage than anything I found during my time working on this review.
DLC The Following
The major expansion adds a new gameplay mechanic, story, and map. While flawed, I still enjoyed my time with a better narrative and some fun driving from The Following.
Kyle Crane finds himself out in the country where he has heard a group of people are immune. He must gain their trust to learn their secrets. It is a much more exciting and intriguing narrative than the run-of-the-mill one that was told with the GRE and Rais. It even had a more satisfying conclusion that was more interesting than QTEs.
Gaining trust required me to do side missions before progressing through the primaries. It was more tedious than interesting, and my interest started to sway away from the mystery early on. Thankfully, once it picks up, then it sticks to that pacing.
The biggest difference was with the introduction of a car. The buggy could be driven throughout most of the map. It needed to be taken care of like the weapons, so new parts, upgrades, and fuel were needed to maintain it. It was my companion through this new adventure, and I liked it. It was surprising how good it felt with its sturdiness and weight while speeding around the countryside. I had one gripe.
It leaned too much into driving as the map was a wide-open environment perfect to cruise through bodies of monsters, but it lacked much parkour, which is a core part of the entire premise of Dying Light. Focusing on driving left it in the dust, and I missed having interesting buildings to climb, rather than little village homes that required only one jump to get on the roof.
Graphics and Audio – Some bizarre choices were made
Realistic-looking games tend to age quite poorly. To my surprise, most of the time, things looked quite good. On the highest settings, a few textures could use some work, but overall my eyes were not burning at the sight of poorly aged graphics. It is far from beautiful, but it looked decent enough to not distract me.
What did distract me and did make Dying Light look ugly were all of the different effects that went overboard. Lens flares blinded me constantly; it was like a J.J. Abrams movie. Then water and poisons would blur the screen and make it muddy. Anything done to obscure my vision was abundant and pointless.
While I found the level design to be excellent as it enhanced the gameplay greatly, but for aesthetics, it did not. I found the Slums, Old Town, and the new country-centered map from The Following were all uninteresting. It lacked any character by missing any memorable landmarks. There are plenty of apocalyptic games in the genre that deliver a personality to the ruins of a city, yet this misses the mark.
The open world genre should never give high expectations for animations; not everyone is Rockstar with impressive feats like Red Dead Redemption 2. That said, it was mostly decently done, a solid passing grade for Techland. Zombie animations were by far the best with the way they moved or reacted to me hitting them in various places. Humans would sometimes overdo it on gesturing, or their eyes would act weirdly by rolling halfway to the back of their head, but most of the time, the people of Harran seemed like actual people and not possessed demons with their eyes fluttering inside of their skulls.
The sound design impressed me. I did not remember how I liked it before, but it came back to me as I played. Hearing the roars of the infected echo through the streets, the gruesome sounds of flesh being chopped or stomped, and the different materials that I would land on with the various thumps and clangs.
The music, however, I don’t know what the composer was on. It never fit any scenario or the tone that was set. It was not a cohesive soundscape that fits in terms of setting or style. I heard unenergetic rock songs, bizarre country tunes, and a ton of electronic music that did not make me want to dance at all. It was all over the place and an utter mess.
Dying Light Platinum Edition was reviewed on PC, and a code was provided by Stride PR.