Gaming History 101

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Dying Light Review

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Wait, what?  A modern review?!? Yes, it’s true, we will from time to time be reviewing new games.  It’s not because we got review copies, because we didn’t in this case, and it’s not because we’re changing focus from retro gaming either.  We just wanted an outlet to write reviews on the modern games that we play and frankly, some of the games that were releasing when GH101 started might now be considered retro.  Keep in mind that the site, articles, podcast, and videos will remain focused largely on retro gaming.  

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Zombies.  Of all the enemy types out there I’m pretty sick of zombies, but if a game can be compelling enough in its gameplay, I guess I don’t care what the enemy type is.  Parkour.  Now you’re talking, I love parkour.  Not since 2007’s Mirror’s Edge has a game even attempted true first person parkour and despite that title nailing the feel, it did so in very confined linear paths.  Dying Light attempts to blend the gameplay that developer Techland premiered in the Dead Island series with a day/night cycle that drastically changes gameplay and basing the whole traversal system on parkour, and it nails it.  That’s not to say that Dying Light is a perfect game by any means, because the story, side missions, and combat leave much to be desired, but there’s no denying that this world is great to run around in.

dl_01The story opens in Harran, a fictional city in Turkey that just so happens to be based off an actual city in Turkey with the same name (I dunno), and a viral outbreak that creates zombies and has caused the city to be quarantined.  You play as Kyle Crane, a secret operative dropped in to seek out Kadir Suleiman, better known as Rais to his people, a political figure that has incriminating files against the agency Crane works for and has been using them to blackmail a ticket out.  As soon as you are dropped down several important figures are introduced including the tactile and beautiful Jade Aldemir and Amir Ghoreyshi, who I can’t say much about because he is attacked and killed by zombies moments after you meet him.  This pair finds you after you drop in, get attacked by the bandits that loot the city, and a subsequent rush of infected get involved.  You are bitten, Amir sacrifices himself in a no-win situation, and Jade assists you in getting back to the central skyscraper where many of the humanitarians reside known as “The Tower”.  From there you are allowed to roam about, either playing through campaign missions or side quests in the typical open world mission-based formula we’ve seen since Grand Theft Auto.

dl_02While it’s a somewhat interesting premise, the main draw of the game comes from running around and interacting with the living and the undead in Harran.  In the beginning, Crane feels ridiculously under-powered and every enemy you deal with, zombie that notices you, and ledge you come upon will be a complicated task.  It’s daunting to be sure and at first I didn’t know if I would have the chops to complete the game, but I loved Mirror’s Edge so much that I was determined to find the fun in the only other title with similar gameplay.  Given that you are leveling up three different tiers simultaneously – character, agility, and combat – knocking out that first group of campaign missions is probably the best strategy as it will have you jumping around the rooftops to get acquainted with the parkour system, battling smaller batches of isolated infected to assist in learning the clunky melee system, and getting your character large batches of XP to level up and get a handful of special abilities at your disposal.  While there are some side missions, The Tower is riddled with nothing more than long winded fetch quests for a quantity of arbitrary items or going to places and trying to get items you don’t have available to you yet.  This is a problem I see with many open world games and it’s no more appreciated or excusable here; if you’re going to do side missions and introduce them early we had better be able to complete them.  These early campaign missions also allow you to get acquainted with the map of the city, which is essential because there’s no fast travel in the game.  While I get what the developers were going for by omitting fast travel – and for a 30-50 percent of the game it’s a welcome limitation – by the time you’ve completed the story missions for the first map and you’re cleaning up random side quests, this is a tedious curse.  Oh yeah, and as I hinted there’s a second map, but much like other games that throw you a second map about two-thirds of the way into a game, you won’t be there long and the developers gave you little to do there once the story is done.  This is a shame because I found the second map to be a breath of fresh air after spending more than 20 hours in the first map and tactical ways of handling situations could have been possible thanks to the new landscape.  Like the side missions, this is an unfortunate misuse of resources made available.

dl_03As I said, that won’t matter to you for the first half of the game because you’re going to be having so much fun with the freeing parkour system that you won’t be able to get enough of running around the city.  All jumping is tethered to the RB or R1 button (depending on your platform of choice), which was off-putting at first but I found myself adapting to within a small period of time.  Once you get past that initial hurdle the sky is quite literally the limit to the crazy stunt-like antics that Crane can do and you’ll find yourself pushing his abilities time and time again.  There’s little risk to attempting these feats anyway, mostly like in Assassin’s Creed you’ll make a stupid leap from too high and plummet to your death, but you may also just see the screen flash to red and hear that crunching sound of broken bones instead.  All high drops have some sort of soft spot to land on like water, garbage bags, or dumpsters but I always found it difficult to spot until it’s too late or too far from the wall you leap off of to matter unless you’re aiming for them.  In contrast to the great parkour system is the clumsy at best melee combat system that I felt no more confident with at the end of the game than I did mere hours from the beginning.  Given various factors like size, weight, your combat skills, and most likely a handful of other arbitrary variables, connecting weapons with the infected is a more difficult task than you would think.  I never played Dead Island and apparently this is the updated and improved version of that combat, but whatever mess that game had I can’t imagine how you would view this as positive.  Granted, the moves you get for upgrading your agility and the crazy damage that later weapons do make it less annoying, but there’s still a great deal of frustration to be found when you take a on a lone zombie for fun and end up getting eaten alive.  There are guns in the game, and even a few instances where you have no choice but to use them, however with the way they draw infected and the low amount of ammo it’s best to leave them with the bandits.  On the other hand, you are able to craft various items like med kits and elemental throwing weapons like stars that are a lot of fun to use and don’t make so much noise.  Firecrackers are also a great way to get any infected to pay attention to something else as is the later ability to blend in with them.  It’s not completely balanced, but after unlocking a good portion of the abilities, traversal and missions in the game become a breeze.  I also have no idea why your character gets winded by running, jumping, or fighting because there appears to be no major gameplay factor other than temporarily stifling progress that this mechanic serves.

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Dying Light, as the name implies, revolves around a distinct day and night cycle that completely changes the way you play the game.  During the day there are merely infected hanging about, plenty of ways to escape, and more than enough light to effectively light your way.  Sure, there are some fast infected (the newly transformed) that get a bit annoying and when tasked with a simple item to grab or door to open the infinitely respawning infected can be a pain, but danger is always avoided by a rooftop escape or frantic cliff jump.  On the other hand the night is a place you want to exercise extreme caution and probably shouldn’t even try for the first third of the game.  New types of enemies emerge that can detect your movement, run in packs, and can kill you quickly if a group finds you.  The world is caked in darkness making your only ability to see being a flashlight or random light posts, all of which will get the infected’s attention and eventually lead to your discovery by the stronger enemy types only the night brings.  You can fight back with a light trap here or ultraviolet flare there, but it’s all just a temporary setback for enemies that in the end will kill you if they know where you are.  Only a few missions are required at night and of those there’s only like one or two in the main campaign, but nonetheless there’s a risk/reward dichotomy that exists with better items, mission rewards, and experience scores doubling that make the night a worthwhile time to be out and about.  I wish they had done more with it, though, because like a few other factors in this game the night is almost always able to be skipped and few will feel the reward outweighs the risk involved.  Still, a good stealth mission at night can keep your heart pumping and put a smile on your face when you earn thousands of points for sneaking out undetected.

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Dying Light joins many other games that have come out in the last few years to present great gameplay elements, not to mention gorgeous graphics, but waste them on giving you mostly uninteresting things to do.  This is best demonstrated by the multiplayer, which provides addicting and unique co-op challenges that are far too few in addition to the pathetic competitive Become the Zombie mode that I couldn’t stand for more than half an hour.  Death has almost no consequence, but without a good variance of save zones and fast travel the game may not be enjoyable had you lost much upon each of your many deaths throughout the campaign.  You’ll spend plenty of time with Dying Light, but mostly to perform menial tasks or repetitious campaign missions that only add meaningful plot points as part of cutscenes or canned animations.  When the game does try to switch things up, it’s almost always without value in that you’re doing things like running unarmed from gunfire through an expansive area where only one path allows you to escape alive or you have to use specific weapons or guns to overcome the challenge.  That said, if you’ve been waiting for the next step that Mirror’s Edge started so many years ago and want a game that will give you both freedom of movement and a longer time in the world, Dying Light is exactly what you have been waiting for.  Techland made a great world and some great mechanics, if only they could have figured out how to guide the actual tasks in a better direction.

Final Score: 3 out of 5   (review policy)

Dying Light is available on Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Linux for an MSRP of $59.99.  It took the reviewer approximately 28 hours to complete the main campaign and most of the side missions, with an additional three hours spent exploring the post game and participating in the multiplayer activities.  This game was reviewed on PC with maximum settings and a review copy was not provided.  

Written by Fred Rojas

March 11, 2015 at 4:43 pm

One Response

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  1. you know ill admit it I’m the guy that still doesn’t mind Zombie games. I played Dying light years ago at Eurogamer and kinda dug it got the T-shirt (literally). I still need to play through the Dead Island games which I found surprisingly enjoyable alone, so think i’ll be ok with this. Won’t be picking up anytime soon, by the time I go next gen this will probably be half off and I’ll grab it. Great review

    The Jamster (@jamalais)

    March 16, 2015 at 5:23 am


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