I played several runs of the Dying Light demo at rAge, the first time doing the laid-out objective of securing a new location as a rookie runner against the undead hordes that have overrun the city, the several other times just exploring the barrios and getting a feel for what was on offer. The demo was set in the day, so unfortunately I was unable to shed light (haw haw) on its vaunted day/nigth cycle and the change this wrought on the overall play experience.
Firstly, your character controls incredibly well. My experience seems to be at odds with others who have written about Dying Light‘s controls, but I found them responsive at all times, and I alternated between playing with both the Xbox One controller and the mouse/keyboard combo; the ability to run, climb, jump and slide my way up and through the various nooks and crannies of the city was immensely satisfying, in the way that a good run in Mirror’s Edge felt. The upgrade system will allow you to further augment your character’s moveset in several ways, either adding new moves or buffing existing ones. Which is just as well, as the city is dense and detailed, and I found several paths throughout my many playthroughs which left me excited to explore.
The environment is far from a static backdrop, and observant players will gain the most benefit out it; in several instances, I learnt that I could use it to my advantage in a combat situation. In one memorable exchange, I grabbed a zombie and flung him behind me — a move that’s usually used to create an opening — but instead impaled him on a discarded spiked fence leaning against the wall behind me.
I found myself quite seamlessly shifting between movement and combat, which relies on a mixture of traps, weaponry and general cunning. Weapons consist of a mix unarmed, melee and ranged weaponry and moves, all which have that weighted, imprecise feel to them that seems to be a Techland staple. I won’t say that it wasn’t enjoyable to use a electrically-charged axe to slice zombies clean in two, but have to wonder if the number of weapons and the ability to create custom ones will deliver extensive variety or result in continual iteration of a few core weapon-types.
Zombie types seem to have taken some cues from Left 4 Dead 2, with a spitter-type lobbing green slime your way and hulking zombies who would knock you of your feet if they got a good shot in. There wasn’t much variety in the demo, so we’ll have to see if there are other enemy types that change the gameplay up.
I found I was able to escape even the most dire situations by climbing up a wall and going on, so hopefully there’ll be some countering factor that shakes this up a bit. Apparently, the night makes enemies far more aggressive, requiring more use of the stealth mechanic which I largely ignored during my play short of testing it out in one or two specific circumstances.
A similar concern exists for the side quests. During the demo, you see a cargo plane drop a care package, so I promptly decided to ignore my main objective and go check it out. When I got there, a couple of masked survivors had rocked up first. Interestingly, when I engaged them, they fought only as necessary to protect the drop; when I broke off, they continued to watch me but maintain their positions, which was at odds with an earlier run where several gang-members attacked me directly in the streets. There were one or two instances where I located a survivor needing my help fending off a zombie, which rewarded me with money or components. Hopefully, the types of activities and their role in the greater world will be weaved in with more finesse than in Dead Island.
Overall, I think Techland are on to a winner here: it’s got a lot of their staple designs and themes, but implemented with a degree of experience that corrects and improves upon rather than simply copies their work from Dead Island. Dying Light could turn out to be Techland’s brightest flame yet.