Let me start by saying that Steve-O and I love us some zombies. One of the few things we love more than zombies is gratuitous zombie gore in an open-world environment. The Dead Island games are favorites of ours. I didn’t really follow the drama between Techland and Deep Silver, but when I saw that Techland was releasing what I took to be a Dead Island game with free-run mechanics thrown in, I thought, “What could go wrong?”
The answer is, unsurprisingly, the free running mechanics. I came to the game fresh off of Assassins Creed: Unity, so adjusting to the different button assignments took some getting used to. On the PS4, R1 is jump/grab, while running requires clicking in the L-stick. Weird combination. Not very intuitive if you ask me. Plus it is in first person, which was a little adjustment. I really liked it after I got used to it; it adds a whole new element to parkour that I never really considered before. Climbing structures takes some extra thought and consideration when you can’t see outside of your character’s POV. But, and there’s always a but, the free-running is even less predictable than most other games of this genre out there. I keep coming back to these games because I keep thinking, “Surely, one of these developers is going to figure it out and get rid of all the kinks.” Not sure why I do this to myself. I mean, hell, Ubisoft has done how many AC games and they still manage to flub it up?
I mentioned in my AC:Unity review how previous AC games had the parkour system basically dumbed down to “Hold down R1 and pray he goes where you want him to.” After the parkour in Dying Light, I promise never to complain about dumbed down parkour again. In Dying Light, you have to screw with clicking in an analog stick to make him run on top of pressing a separate button to grab onto things, never knowing whether he will continue to sprint after landing or not. He’ll also refuse to grab a ledge for no reason, causing you to plummet to your death and sometimes respawn halfway across the map (that has no fast travel during your first play through), only to grab it just fine the second, third, or fourth attempt. Damned if we could figure it out. Chances are you’ll die more to fall deaths than zombies.
The agility challenges can be immensely frustrating if you decide to take them on. I’m okay with optional challenges that require you to explore different paths until you memorize the correct one to use. But I’m NOT okay with having to cross my fingers in hopes that the game responds to the buttons I’m pushing, and relying on the uncertainty that he’ll keep sprinting when he lands. The main story doesn’t require precise parkour skills. Until, that is, the last half hour or so of the game. We came to the conclusion that the developers don’t want you to pick up and play the game again. Because after dying repeatedly thanks to all the aforementioned causes, your desire to play the game again will fall faster than a zombie that just took a katana to the throat.
The other major gripe we had was with the piss poor shooting controls. Click in the right stick to look down a scope? WTF? There’s a reason no other games do that… because it’s dumb! We flat out didn’t bother with the shooting challenges because it wasn’t worth having to pop a blood pressure pill. The guns in this game are painful to use. We only used them when we were fighting other humans and basically didn’t have a choice. The good news is once you get OP enough, you can usually get away with running up to a group of 3 guys and killing them via your favorite melee weapon. When fighting hordes of zombies, pulling out a gun really isn’t worth attracting more of them when you can rely on your fun melee weapons, molotovs, or grenades. After Steve-O suffered through the terrible parkour section while approaching the final boss fight, we joked that next we’d be expected to participate in a terrible shoot off because the developers seemed to have a hard on with accentuating the worst parts of the game at its conclusion.
We were wrong, but not thankfully so. Instead, we were treated to a bizarre (albeit, short) sequence of quicktime events. FOR A FINAL BOSS FIGHT! In a game that has NO quicktime events at all!! The closest Dying Light has to QTEs is when you have to mash X to open doors or panels. That’s it. Then its like, the developers had absolutely ZERO good ideas for how to pull off a a fun, engaging final boss fight against a human. The conversation must’ve went something like:
“Well. The player has been using melee the entire game. Let’s do something different.”
“How about a shoot off?”
“But the shooting sucks in this game.”
“Got a point. How about they fight through waves of zombies and soldiers to get to him?”
“But they’ve been doing that the whole game….”
“I know! Let’s make them suffer through half an hour of demanding free-running that our game can’t support. And they can’t use the grappling hook, because that’d be like, cheating or something, and it’d be way too quick if they didn’t keep reloading due to cheap deaths.”
“Okay… but what about the final boss fight?”
“Oh yeah. Uhh… Quicktime events. Isn’t that, like, all the rage now?”
Indeed. QTEs ARE all the rage. But only because it’s like the go-to solution for developers with writer’s block! Can’t think of a meaningful way to engage the player but want to pretend they’re “playing” and not just watching a movie? Put in QTEs! This simply cannot be justified in Dying Light. It came out of nowhere and was extremely disappointing, further souring our final night with this game.
This is all a shame, because it really overshadows the fun we had with it. Dying Light started off with so much promise. It was like the Dead Island game I’d been waiting for. In terms of the battle system, I preferred being able to use whatever type of weapon I wanted, unlike Dead Island where each character specializes in one type or another. I realize having different characters to play through the game as adds replayability, but I don’t care because I rarely have time to replay games, no matter how much I like or don’t like them.
The 3 skill trees were also brilliant. Basically, you gain experience to Power, Agility or Survival, depending on your actions, and each levels separately. No juggling which tree to spend a skill point on when you level. You gain agility experience while climbing and leaping across buildings, power while slaying enemies, and survival while doing quests and surviving (shock!) the night.
The risk/reward system for exploring the city at night was a great feature. When night is approaching, you’re given a warning to seek out shelter, which you can do by going to a safe zone and sleeping the night away. But if you’re more curious (or just a masochist), you can brave the darkness. Going about your business at night rewards you with DOUBLE the agility and power experience! That’s right, DOUBLE. And when dawn finally arrives, you get a chunk of Survival experience points. The amount depends on how many times you died.
What’s so bad about wandering around at night, you ask? Well, besides relying on only your flashlight or a special potion to be able to see, these adorable undead roam around:
Say hello to my little friend.
They’re called Volatiles. Near the beginning of the game, they are truly a nightmare. Its the only time this game starts to feel like a survival horror game. They’re basically unkillable until you are substantially leveled and get at least a shotgun. When a Volatile has you in their sights, it begins a tense chase sequence that will either end in death (and a loss of survival exp.) or a crap-ton of agility experience if you play your cards right. Needless to say, we became denizens of the night to earn experience quicker. The lure of extra experience, and actually being fearful of death, kept us coming back until we were maxed out.
Another aspect that I know can be make or break for some people is weapon durability. Yes, it is in this game. Weapons degrade as you use them, and each has a certain number of repairs. The higher tier the weapon, the more repairs you can give it. There is also an unlockable skill that will sporadically give you free repairs on weapons. A must have, in my opinion. I didn’t really have an issue with it; we never ran out of melee weapons. And we killed a lot of zombies. More frustrating to us were the negative repercussions of modifying weapons. Like Dead Island, you can add fun effects to the weapons. We have fire, toxic, and electric effects to add to weapons. Watch a zombie puke itself dead, run around on fire, or be zapped to death is all in good fun at first, until you realize that going anywhere near it will damage you as well. Which doesn’t bode well if you’re backed against a wall or in a corner and chopping them apart as a group runs at you. Or if you want to loot the bodies in a timely fashion, because you have to wait out the effect before looting the corpse without taking damage.
Dying Light’s story is painfully cliche. And the sad part is, it tries to be all serious, so it doesn’t have the laugh factor that the Dead Island games have. Instead of poking fun at itself, which is almost the only thing the worn-out zombie apocalypse genre has going for itself anymore, the game churns out almost every cliche in the book with a straight face. From “This evil company doesn’t want to find a CURE, they want to WEAPONIZE the virus!” (Surprise!) to “There’s a maniacal lunatic taking advantage of the chaos!” (Bigger surprise!) to my favorite, “We have to go save the only hot chick left who doesn’t eat brains for breakfast!”
If there’s ever a zombie apocalypse, I hope I still have access to my eye shadow…
To make matters worse, the meat of the game turns you into everyone’s errand boy. This is something else that drives me crazy. It’s like, to add more gameplay hours to make us feel like we’re “Getting our money’s worth,” every sandbox game throws in dozens of repetitive, boring fetch quests. I can’t quite pinpoint why, but it was really getting to me about halfway through this game. Every single NPC would say, “Yeah, sure, but first do this and this and this for me. Then I’ll tell you/give you whatever it is you want.” Eye-rollingly predictable. I guess 20 hours in I felt like we’d experienced everything the game had to offer. One good thing I will say about the side quests is how they developed into chain quests, affecting future events in the game.
I’m sure this goes without saying nowadays, but the game has its fair share of glitches. Humans with guns will shoot you through walls. Zombies will hit or grab you through them as well. Some other bizarre things happened as well, usually giving us something to chuckle about.
I can see this game being more fun while playing online co-op. Co-op always makes bad story and repetitive quests less painful. I mean, yes, the gratifying decapitation of multiple zombies with the swing of a hatchet does help lessen the blow, but even that only carried me for so long before the game started feeling stale. Looking back at our experience, I’ll say that Dying Light adds hours of gratifying zombie gore at the expense of being repetitive and frustrating at times. Which makes it Dead Island. Except not humorous.