In Dylan Thomas’ poem, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”, there is a line that is repeated throughout: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light“. It is a reference that death is inevitable, that loss is innumerable, and in the world in which Dying Light exists, this too is the reality.
The opening of Dying Light places you into the parachute of Kyle Crane, who descends onto the city of Harran. Crane is a contractor for the GRE (Global Relief Effort), looking to recover a file that could make things far worse than the zombie outbreak that has taken over already. And it’s clear from the outset that everything is going to kill you, both the zombies and a nearby faction that doesn’t take a liking to newcomers.
After being rescued from certain death, Crane is brought to “The Tower”, a refuge for many humans both healthy and ill, just trying to survive their new, forsaken world. It is there you become the most versatile and agile errand boy to ever grace a video game screen. You eventually meet Rais, the one you’re looking for. And he is a bad guy because he does bad things to people, and he is always doing these things whenever you are looking at him. Dying Light is always clear to make a point of how evil he is every chance it gets.
Once you get your hands on your first melee weapon, Dying Light sets this impression that all weapons suck, and break easily. And they do, for good reason. Each weapon has limited repairs, and you’ll never be allowed to get attached to them. But before parting, you can dismantle that weapon so that its parts can go to something else to create, like an organ donation. Until you spend more time learning the combat, finding blueprints to enhance weapons, and exploring the world, it feels overwhelming when it takes so many hits and exhausting your stamina just to kill one zombie. Luckily your kick does not use up any stamina, and is a great way of creating space between you and your enemy until it recovers.
The act of killing zombies is mindless as one would expect, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun so long as you experiment with utilizing blueprints that have different elemental abilities and using explosive throwing stars to create variation. Brutalizing humans to death though, is harsh. It’s very much a kill or be killed scenario, but yet the remorse is there. There are even some zombies that are recently turned that speak broken phrases as they attack you, and it’s downright disturbing to have to put them down.
The day and night cycle of Dying Light is like two games in one. The first of which is the melee-focused, parkour-navigating (a la Mirror’s Edge), zombie killing simulator – in first-person. The second, is still that same thing, but now plays almost like a horror game in which stealth takes the primary focus during this time. It is here where points are doubled, effectively a lightning round, daring you to stay out after dark for as long as possible.
It’s a stark contrast when you feel so powerful in the daytime, but at night, you feel feeble and overwhelmed when the stronger, more agile zombies are out. These special infected, known as volatiles can seek you out, and have vision cones that will be alerted to your presence on sound alone, and thankfully not to the light beaming from your flashlight. Dying Light is generous to you by making it so you never run out of juice for your flashlight, and without that, you couldn’t see more than an inch in front of your face – it’s pitch black. Once the sun begins to rise, you have survived the night and earn a massive amount of points for surviving.
The aforementioned agility that Crane possesses, makes it easy for him to navigate through horizontality as well as verticality of Harran’s urban landscape. In combat, it is perfectly acceptable to run, either away or up and out of line of sight with a gaggle of zombies.
Over time, Crane will accrue agility points for his climbing efforts. Once the specified threshold is breached, he can spend skill points that makes him run faster, longer and even dropkick zombies off ledges. The other side of the coin is the combat points, that are earned from multi-kills, weapon kills, and environmental kills. Upgrades earned allow for bone-breaking slides into shins for maximum damage to mobility on the one who receives the hit. These two experience bars are always on-screen, and always ticking up. There is a third skill tree, the survivor. This is the overall rank of Crane, and is earned by completing missions or objectives. Should you die, the penalty of death is a loss of survivor points. This can set you back if you were close to leveling up. Without a difficulty selection, this can be heartbreaking at times.
Most of the missions take place outside, in open areas allowing for them to be tackled in any way you choose. But for the ones that go indoors, are incredibly tense, especially when battling the human opponents who can gang up on you. And you’re usually backed into a corner, fighting for your very survival, trying to avoid losing points.
You don’t have to do this alone, for you and three others can work together to take down the zombie horde and work missions together, setting traps and executing zombies in spectacular fashion.
For reasons unexplained, you can use your “survivor sense”, an ability that pulses the environment and highlights objects to interact with or shows how far away from a waypoint or objective you are. It’s useful when you need it to be, and that’s how it should be.
Thankfully, the second half of Dying Light is more impressive than the first, a rarity in most cases. You get introduced to the grappling hook, and it instantly becomes playing through the eyes of Rico Rodriguez from Just Cause 2 almost. You also get to traverse “Old Town”, the more beautiful and historic part of Harran that is so fun to look at and navigate through.
Lack of fast travel is infuriating for just getting to your destination, because sometimes I just wanted to get to my objective. Sometimes I just didn’t want to kill zombies. But along the way, you can work on combat, grab air drops, save survivors or die – the worst part of it all. There is fast travel between the two parts of the city, but are hidden with hanging posters in specific parts of each town that do ease this, but it’s very possible to miss. Many will be frustrated at the mere thought of having to backtrack so far to complete a lucrative side mission, as I was until I found the shortcut.
The “Be The Zombie” mode was made free for everyone instead of just pre-order DLC, and it is a great way to harass friends or strangers in their games. As the zombie has a separate progression, there’s powers to unlock to further prevent your friends from surviving the night. But sadly it is just a distraction and not a super meaningful mode, especially when they are so many people trying to be the zombie in other people’s games, and only so many people’s games have the setting to allow invaders.
It is at this point I can’t finish this without mentioning the amazing synthesized soundtrack, that’s infused with Middle Eastern influences. Dying Light does not have any true period of time to go by, and it seemingly could take place in the 80s that the music so naturally accompanies. It can be comparable to John Carpenter scores of the 80s. The themes presented evoked feelings of isolation and despair. Off into the distance, there are other cities, thriving with fully lit buildings, but only a fraction of them are this way in Harran. You are so close yet so far from normal civilization, and the music is appropriately sentimental towards you, and makes this one of the best synth soundtracks not revolving around a music game.
Dying Light is the Dead Island game Techland always wanted to make. As a result, it is a gritty, more serious take than the previous games they’ve developed. Because of this, it is better than what has come before, but not without its faults and foibles such as repetitive mission structure and fetch quests. Dying Light is a fun excursion into the open-world with crafted melee weapons of destruction that I only wish we had gotten sooner.
A Steam code was provided by the publisher for review purposes