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Developers: Techland
Publishers: Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment
Plot: A soldier parachutes into a closed off zombie-infested city, Harran, to track down a stolen document and try to help a Tower block full of survivors.

Why couldn’t Dying Light have been made five years ago?

dying-light-blade

Dying Light’s strength and downfall is that it is essentially Dead Island, but more importantly, Dead Island done right. As my review of Dead Island stated, we loved the idea of Dead Island more than we actually liked the actual product. An open world zombie game with a skill tree that let you mould your own playable character – Skyrim with the undead. However, Dead Island was always frustratingly imperfect, riddled with flaws and dumb plot holes. Riptide was even worse. For the third entry into the open world zombie franchise, Techland wiped the slate clean and started again. Dying Light might resemble Dead Island, but acts as its own series. You play an undercover government agent sent to help survivors in a walled off city, while secretly hunting down a stolen document, suspected to have been stolen by a ruthless gang leader. The gameplay’s major differences come in two packages. The first is free-running, which, while not as intricate as Mirror’s Edge, still adds a dynamic to the game. There is a bigger emphasis on running from the zombies, rather than trying to kill them all, your stamina tragically short-lived and your weapons a few assaults away from being broken. I have never been a fan of first person free-running in games, as they rarely hit the mark as well as pitched, but there is something fun about making that perfectly executed jump to get away from the snarling Infected around you. The other major difference between this and Dead Island is the nightfall angle. When night falls, more dangerous zombies emerge, the terrifying and deadly Volatiles. They are tough to fight, converge at the smallest noise and their screams are the stuff of pure nightmares. Fighting is not an option, running is hit-and-miss at the best of times, and the one option you are truly given when out at night, away from a safe-house, is to just not be seen. It adds a meatier side of the franchise that Dead Island’s hit-and-hope approach lacks.

These fresh changes keep Dying Light running along nicely for a long while. However, after a while, it gets old quick. The sad thing is that, to a point, it isn’t even Dying Light’s fault. It just simply is Dead Island all over again. You are given a world to play with and it is packed full of side-missions and bonus collectibles, that all amount to ‘fetch quests’, sadly rote for a game that promises so much dynamic initially. At least the characters have been fleshed out more than the pathetic stereotypes of Dead Island. Dead Island has a Middle-Eastern feel to it, the cast largely of Arabic origin, which adds this exotic feel to the game. However, as you throw yourself into the game, it just feels like something you have played before – especially with the ‘unlock safe house’ addition to the game, ripped right from Farcry. The similarities are even clearer when you start meeting the various zombies in the game. Dead Island always was guilty of stealing its Infected from Left For Dead, but the variety was just enough to make it forgivable. We have the poisonous spitting zombie, the zombie that charges, the running zombie… That trick worked with Dead Island, but Dying Light tries to use this trick again. They throw in some obligatory changes to the monsters visually, but their purpose is painfully similar to Techland’s other Infected. They want to remake Dead Island, but stick too close to the formula, almost as if they are planning on sweeping their failed first offering under the rug. However, as you are trying to see Dying Light as its own product, the arrival of yet another exploding zombie drags you right back to Techland’s messy origins. It seems unfair to review a game, while comparing it to another game, but the connections are just impossible not to make.

Why is there a photo of my cat in almost every room of the safe house? Is Ruby some sort of Harran demi-god???

Why is there a photo of my cat in almost every room of the safe house? Is Ruby some sort of Harran demi-god???

But for those who have never played Dead Island, Dying Light could be the perfect release. As I said, it is Dead Island done right with actual horror aspects and a smoother style. It helps that the graphics are next-gen worthy, so you can see every bit of rotting flesh on the lumbering enemies coming for you. It’s not all plain sailing for the uninitiated though. Solving the main flaws of Dead Island does throw light on the smaller problems with Techland’s formula. Again, the fetch quest are repetitive and stops you from summoning up the resolve to even try the side missions. They might sound interesting (tracking down a suspected witch, taking out mysterious saboteurs), but they all end up coming across as the same kind of level. In fact, even the main quests seem to rely on the world, rather than the story. The game becomes a set of objective markers on the other side of the map and the difficulty comes from crossing the zombie infested world, rather than the actual problem waiting for you on the other end. In many ways, Dying Light’s story is strangely not reliant on the zombies. The main nemesis here is Rais, a psychotic leader of a group of survivors that prey on the other colonies in the city, muscling their way to the supply drops and selling them to the other survivors (why is money still relevant in this infested city?!!). Your character has to steal a document from him without the other survivors realising he is actually a government agent (who aren’t best loved by the abandoned citizens of Harran). The zombies feature very little in this adventure, merely the backdrop to this story, rather than the narrative crux. I guess it isn’t a problem in itself, but it does make a detached style to the story, almost as if the campaign was an after-thought once the world was created. But these flaws cannot take away from a very enjoyable game that suggests that Techland are, more or less, in control of their open world zombie genre.

Final Verdict: This is the best Techland product yet, although it borrows too heavily from its other games, robbing Dying Light of a crucial originality factor.

Three Stars

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