My First Few Hours With Dying Light

My First Few Hours With Dying Light

I wasn't sure what to expect from Dying Light, a new open-world zombie game from a studio known for making the regrettable open-world zombie series Dead Island. Imagine my pleasant surprise, then, when I discovered some cool ideas during my first five hours with the game. Maybe you can teach an old zombie new tricks.

Maybe. I'm still not sure yet. Dying Light improves aspects of Dead Island's zombie-centric gameplay by adding parkour-style movement into the mix along with other promising features. It doesn't do as much to repair other parts of the Dead Island template that really needed fixing, though. So while I've enjoyed my first few hours with Techland's latest zombie romp, I remain wary about what's going to come next.

There's A Story. It Doesn't Seem Very Good.

My First Few Hours With Dying Light

Dying Light is a post-apocalyptic zombie game. There are a lot of those already, so games that are firmly entrenched in the genre don't have to try very hard to establish a premise for their zombie-killing action. At first blush, I'd say that it's safe to put Dying Light in the group that doesn't try very hard. The game takes place in Harran, a city in Turkey that's been put under quarantine due to a virus that turned most of the population into undead flesh-hungry monsters. You're cast as a man named Kyle Crane, an undercover operative who's been dropped into the region to pursue a secret objective.

I'm not entirely sure what Crane's mission is yet, but a few key plot points have already started to emerge. There's a relatively ragtag group of survivors and resistance-style fighters you meet at the outset of the game. You help them complete standard zombie apocalypse tasks: gathering supplies, finding medicine, fortifying defenses around the city. Then there's a military despot type guy named Rais "Kadir" Sulaiman who's on uneasy terms with the first group. So...bickering factions, plus the whole secret agent thing. And the zombies, of course, who don't get along with anybody but themselves.

In other words: Dying Light is peak zombie apocalypse in a thoroughly routine sense. All of Crane's relationships are purely functional ones that exist as reasons to give the player stuff to do. Narrative conflicts operate on the impersonal level of an abstract political struggle riddled with conspiracy theory logic about viruses, spies, and secret weapons. The game hasn't tried to tug at my heartstrings like, say, The Last of Us did with its zombie fiction. I don't really expect it to either.

It Feels A Lot Like Dead Island

My First Few Hours With Dying Light

People who played either of Techland's Dead Island games will find Dying Light very similar. It seems like a sequel. The main difference between Dying Light and the two Dead Islands so far is that the former sticks you with a single character, rather than letting you choose between a few different ones.

I haven't gotten any guns yet, but melee combat is identical to its predecessors. I always liked Dead Island's tense moments of hand-to-hand (or, more accurately, metal-pipe-to-rotting-stump-of-an-arm) combat, so I think it's a good thing that Techland sampled from its past work so liberally. There's a stamina bar that limits the number of times you can hit a zombie in short succession, and it's punishingly small at the beginning of the game. The first time I encountered a cluster of zombies after setting foot outside one of Harran's "safe zones," I tried to take out the whole group in one go. Things didn't go according to plan:

Damn. For a secret agent, Crane's not in very good shape! After whacking one zombie a few times, he'd need a moment to catch his breath. And a few seconds of Crane gasping heavily was all his zombies foes needed to start chomping on the poor guy. I quickly realised that meeting most of Dying Light's challenges head-on wasn't the best way to go. Better to find another way around the undead, which leads to my favourite part of the new game so far.

The Parkour Is Really Cool

My First Few Hours With Dying Light

One of the main novelties that Dying Light offers to distinguish itself from Dead Island is the type of movement Crane has available to him. He can perform a number of acrobatic feats while travelling around Harran: jumping between rooftops, climbing up and around buildings, or just running and sliding with athletic grace.

Like Dead Island, Dying Light has a levelling system for its myriad zombie-killing and traversal abilities, so the game's parkour stuff is established as a new, third skill tree you can develop. See here:

My First Few Hours With Dying Light

I've only unlocked two additional movement abilities, so I expect the game to keep evolving as I gain access to more of Crane's moves. So far, though, I've been pleasantly surprised by how much they add to Dying Light's gameplay. The parkour isn't as distinctive as the unique traversal mechanics in last year's Sunset Overdrive, but it still manages to liven up zombie-centric gameplay that would otherwise be unremarkable at this point.

Parkour works similarly to the way it does in games like Assassin's Creed or Shadow of Mordor. This introduces a healthy dose of platforming mechanics that I've normally associated with third-person games, but work impressively well with Dying Light's other first-person actions.

My First Few Hours With Dying Light

Whenever you see a surface that looks like it could be scalable, it probably is. I really mean that, too, which is important to emphasise. Unlike Far Cry 4, a similar open-world first-person game that came out last year, Dying Light's platforming-type movement isn't portioned off to specific sections of cliff faces that you're actually allowed to climb. You actually can climb on pretty much anything once you get the game's jumping-and-grabbing system down. The relative openness of Dying Light's parkour system can make for some sloppily animated moments, like that jump shown above that doesn't quite connect the way it's supposed to. By the same token, however, this means that Harran is a free enough space that you can actually make your own mistakes — which is always my favourite part of open-world games. Starting out in the parkour tutorial, for instance, I took a clumsy fall:

My First Few Hours With Dying Light

It was the first of many.

I've spent a lot of time scrambling up walls or climbing on top of cars to avoid deadly packs of zombies. Pragmatically, it's nice to be able to make a quick exit like this. But Dying Light's parkour does more than just that. It makes navigating Harran's dense, vertiginous urban infrastructure refreshingly intriguing. So while the game's setting is mostly uninspired zombie fare so far, it's still proving a fun place to move around in.

Nighttime Mostly Adds A Stealth Mode (So Far)

My First Few Hours With Dying Light

Dying Light's other major gameplay conceit is a day-night cycle on which the city of Harran operates. During the day, things are more traditional and Dead Island-like. Zombies of various shapes and sizes wander around the open-world and attack you if you get too close to them.

Once night falls, things take a turn for the scary. A new crop of formidable super-zombies shows up to patrol the streets. Every time I've gotten within biting distance of one they have made short work of me, so I do my best to avoid them when I have to go out at night for a mission. There are still normal zombies wandering around too, mind you. Nighttime Harran just has an extra layer of bad guys laid down on top of everything else. These bad guys are particularly gross, too. Just look at this one, who I managed to get a snapshot of while he was doing his best Predator impression for a second before eating my face:

My First Few Hours With Dying Light

The game's mini-map marks Harran's super-zombies with vision cones, so evading them works similarly to a stealth game. There's even a short window of opportunity to slink back into the shadows after one notices you. If you don't escape in time, the monsters go into alert, which reminds me of GTA V's cop chases except with zombies instead of police: all the bad guys in the immediate area attack you, and the best way to survive is to run to the closest safe house. You can also outfit your flashlight with a UV light that damages the nocturnal foes, but this has only helped stall them to date. So far, Dying Light has been much more about flight than fight, and that's how I like it.

There's A Lot Of Stuff, And That Might Not Be A Good Thing

My First Few Hours With Dying Light

I've had a great time trying to survive in Harran over the course of my first few hours with Dying Light. But I can also tell that there's a lot more to come. And I mean a lot. Techland claims that the game offers more than 50 hours of gameplay. Looking ahead to the prospect of spending another 45 hours inside of Harran is more than a little daunting. I don't mean that as a compliment. Not yet, at least.

The beginnings were my favourite parts of Dead Island and its sequel, because they were the most interesting sections of the games. You start out with a limited repertoire of skills and weapons available to you, the scarcity of which makes fighting or fleeing from a seemingly endless sea of zombies challenging. Since it was challenging, it was also genuinely frightening — as any a zombie confrontation should be.

The problem with Dead Island and Riptide is what came next: after you'd leveled up enough of your skills and acquired enough weapons, making it through the endless sea of zombies became less of a challenge. Since they weren't able to offer new challenges in turn, the invigorating "fight or flight" dynamic in each game was replaced by hours and hours of bland, repetitive zombie-killing. "Endless" became less of a statement of hyperbolic fear, and more one of profound boredom. These games were deeply in love with their own content to such a degree that they lost sight of its value for the experience at hand. Which was a damn shame, because Dead Island always felt like one of those games that came so close to getting things right. If only the developers had learned to better edit their own work and excise the regrettable bloat.

I have no idea if Dying Light will end up falling into the same trap as Dead Island did. But I've already picked up on enough similarities between the two to see that, at the very least, it runs the risk of doing so.

I'll continue to play and report on Dying Light in the coming days. I plan to have a full review, including impressions of the game's multiplayer modes, sometime in the next few weeks.


    i played Dead Island Riptide, i actually really enjoyed it. if this is like Riptide with extra features, id be happy to give it a go.

      It's Dead Island on steroids, meets Mirrors Edge. It's friggin awesome. Loving every moment so far. Sure the zombie types we're seen in *every other game* so far, and it's as original as a third rate horror, but that's not the point, it's FUN, so much FUN!

    Well.. I personally love the game, the zombie's don't level up with you like in Dead Island and as such, you will eventually just destroy lower class zombie's without effort, the game is designed in a way to continually provide new challenges, not just slowly raise the zombie's hp and damage to maintain parity and that keeps it fairly fresh.

    There is a lot of variation in the ability unlocks, and the weapons system while reminiscent of Dead Island is far enough apart that you need to continually find, create and use new weapons. The combat remains visceral and engaging and sometimes you begin a fight and realise you've got no choice but to make a quick escape or split the group and attempt to pick them off in a a more efficient manner. Weapons aren't overpowered and guns haven't been plentiful which has helped maintain the challenge and fight or flight decision making.

    The quests have been a little to and fro, fetch quests, but I think that's largely earlier on when you need to learn more of the mechanics, learn some new abilities and familiarise yourself with the environment, opponents and mobility.

    All in all, I did enjoy Dead Island, but this game stands in it's own right and doesn't need the comparisons, it has the best of Dead Island and the rest of Dying Light. I would recommend and thought I'd offer an alternative opinion to others.

    Also, totally down to answer questions for others or do co-op with anyone who is running the PC version.

    Last edited 29/01/15 11:32 am

      Does it suffer from the same stutter issue and frame rate issue as the old dead island? Saw quite a few topics out there saying that it does.

      How is your PC handling it and does it require some file modifying to make it run smooth?

        There were some teething issues and the developers have mentioned they will be optimising with a patch in a week or so. They are already seeking info from users on their setup's and steamDB lists a patch for 50mb incoming.

        That said, I had no issues after resetting horizontal field of view to normal (90 default is more than enough for play), and dropping shadows to medium (no discernible difference). Also you can adjust your view distance which has given up to 20 fps to some users.

        I have no issues and maintain 55-70 FPS in outside areas with everything else at max.

        For reference my rig is:
        i5 4590
        GTX 970 G1
        8 GB Ram
        Samsung 850 Pro SSD

        Last edited 29/01/15 12:00 pm

          Im running mostly the same, but a 660ti, Im on max everything but textures are on medium, I'm getting around 45-50 fps and it's almost smooth as butter just a tiny bit of stuttering here and there. Can't wait for the patch.

            @weresmurf - If you're intersted in co-op let me know, looking for some people to try out co-op with.

          Sounds like it seems to be quite alright. I'll probably be picking it up then.

          I have
          SLI GTX 670 (2GB cards T_T)
          8GB RAM

          I'll probably have to tone down the texture for the lack of VRAM I have.

          Btw what resolution are you running at? Native 1080/1440p or DSR higher resolution?

            I'm running at 1920x1080 as limited by my monitor.

        Well I have a 3770k 4.5, 16gb ram, ssd, and a 780 classified, and with it maxed at 1080p it fluctuates from 100-55fps but its the view distance maxed that will kill anyone's rig. This game only uses one core of your cpu so amd cpu's are gonna run worse because of there weaker single core performance. Plus this game loves overclocked cpu's the faster the better. I have my game locked at 60fps and it seems pretty smooth but unlocked it's everywhere.

      Hey mate, what's the pc version like? Any bugs? Is it crossfire/sli enabled? Is it better with a gamepad or keyboard and mouse?

      Sorry about all the questions!

        PC version great so far, loving it and loving the customisation and mod potential people have already been discovering in the files, I myself have only modded the film grain effect off. I love keyboard and mouse but the game is fully compatible with a controller so I suppose it's just personal preference.

          Thanks mate sounds like a fairly decent port. Will have to check it out!

            I was reading somewhere that ts not a port as such, the DEVs actually wanted the PC version to have its own legs to stand on so they focused on making it good.

        SLI gtx 770's here.

        It has some stutter at FULL high specs, but i changed shadows to medium and that seems to have fixed that for the most part.
        There is a weird mouse lag without Vsync enabled, but thats pretty standard.
        Odd bug where a world event NPC was in the ground and i couldn't interact/collect my reward.

        Otherwise runs and looks amazing.

          Thanks mate I've got an r9 295x2 and there's nothing worse than having to turn one gpu off cos crossfire is not implemented properly!

      I only had time to skim this article, but does the game have a co-op mode like Dead Island?

        Indeed full 4 player co-op is available for the campaign, there is also 'Be the zombie' multiplayer mode which is 4 players co-op against 1 hunter zombie played by another 5th player.

      I'm up for some co-op. add me on steam wamo

    Dead Island regrettable?

    You're doing games wrong. Sure, it might not have been for everyone, but in so far as fun and atmosphere, Dead Island excelled.

    It amazes me how a game put so many people offside by producing an amazing trailer, which effectively is an ad. This ad conveyed perfectly the tone of the game yet people felt it was somehow misrepresenting the final product. I'm not sure what people expected, but methinks you should probably start thinking and stop being led.

      Are we talking about the same trailer? The trailer I saw implied an emotional, presumably character-driven game where you cared about the other denizens of the world. The final game (which I did actually enjoy btw) was nothing like that.

      Dead Island was / is awesome. Sure, it got a little repetitive eventually, but it's the first game I've played in a loooong time that I actually got around to finishing (a few weeks ago ... must have taken almost 3 years because I think I got it before my kids were born, and they'll be three next month - ah the joy of having twins - no gaming time !). I say this as someone who owns Red Dead Redemption, GTA IV and Max Payne 3 among others ... all excellent games in their own right. (GTA V I'm still playing so can't lump into either 'finished' or 'unfinished' status).

    It sounds like a gimped up version of Dead Island. I heard the game still suffers from the same graphical issue from Dead Island on PC, mainly the stuttering due to the the game still run on the same engine.

    Last edited 29/01/15 11:44 am

    I really, really enjoyed Dead Island on PS3 - Yannick, what did you find so 'regrettable' about it? EDIT: just read the last paragraph of the article... :)

    I'm looking forward to Dying Light. A lot.

    Last edited 29/01/15 11:49 am

    I liked Dead Island. I didn't see the hype trailer for it so didn't have any expectation for it, but I had fun in a FPS where you predominantly use melee weapons (at least I did). The crafting system was also great to see instead of 'here's a pistol, here's a shotgun, here's a rocket launcher'. I'll definitely be getting this

    I'd really love to be able to play this but it's still not out yet on the Xbox One. I have it pre-loaded and everything.

    Pretty fun so far... If you liked Dead Island, you'll like this. Really this could have easily been badged Dead Island 2.

    Graphics not all that impressive, but gameplay is fun. Starts of a bit slow, the prologue (tutorial) seemed to take ages for me to just get out and start exploring the world, but now i'm out and about and getting new abilities, things are picking up.

    Im gonna get the digital copy for xbox one, I want to co-op it...looks like fun

    Game is sooooo good, but I find it to be quite unstable. Game runs like silk 99% of the time at max settings on my decent computer, but heaven forbid I be hit by a toxic grenade; that fps drop is so real.

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