Recently, the folks at Techland released a patch for their year 5 year old game, Dying Light. This is an open-world, action-RPG parkour zombie game. You play as a Kyle Crane, a very generic, entirely forgettable lead who sounds like but isn’t Troy Baker. In this city that is definitely not Turkey, a mysterious virus turned people into zombies.
Kyle, an alleged highly trained operative, parachutes in and immediately gets spotted by local goons, bitten by a zombie and causes a random, innocent person to die. Not the best start. You wake up days later in what will be your main safe hub as you navigate the very large map. From there you tackle various missions to solve, mitigate and combat the viral outbreak.
The main story is quite underwhelming and boring, having to do with identifying a wanna-be Far Cry villain and get a file. But it’s the individual missions, main and sub, that are excellent, enthralling and constantly keep you on your toes. What’s also remarkable is that Techland has, since day one, produced patches and updates, for free.
I find myself constantly drawn back to Dying Light: it’s a great mixture of horror and black humour, it scratches the grinding itch of watching a character slowly improve. It’s often very well written, the characters memorable even if they look very dated today. The combat is some of the best melee I’ve encountered, where you craft weapons that seem to come from the mindset of an even more violent Kevin McAllister.
The game has a day-night cycle, which is essential to play: at night, the impossible to kill Volatiles come out. Unlike the other zombies, who amble around en masse, Volatiles are limber, faster than you, genuinely terrifying and can kill you almost instantly. They can also see in the dark. There’s nothing like being caught between two Volatiles, waiting to see if you can make a run for it, only to trip over your own feet, cause a noise then have the entire horde coming down on you. When this happens, you can hear Crane’s breath change, panic enters his voice and you will clutch that controller with white-knuckled ferocity.
First-person horror is nothing new, but one where you parkour everywhere is something very unique. This means the added element of environmental puzzles, as you attempt to navigate areas without falling to your death. The controls are intuitive, however, so it’s quite rare to completely mess up and for the game to feel unfair in this regard. You also get into a motion of movement, where you are leaping, landing, jumping, scrambling that serves no doubt to emulate the thrill of actual parkour and free-running artists.
As I said, what remains constantly engaging are the individual missions. One sees you being instructed by a pair off twins who are snarky, dismissive geniuses. They tell you to fetch something in a warehouse. When you get there, not only is it filled with zombies but fellow human scavengers who are none too pleased to see you. In addition, you will be trapped in a cramped room with a giant zombie wielding a giant hammer.
Another mission sees you turning on various valves: in the final stage, you cause a large explosion which draws the attention of meaner, faster zombies who were once also runners. So you have to navigate flames to turn on other valves, while dealing with a lurching horde and screaming runners.
Yet another sees you searching for a missing child, only to end up fighting a man who has used the zombie apocalypse to kidnap vulnerable people and keep them in his basement. It’s… disturbing.
All of these basically ended in an intense, difficult fight or puzzle that emerges from an ordinary side-mission. Nothing feels repeated and some side-missions play into bigger plot points – characters make a return or upset the lives of those around them, without you realising. It’s a smart way to make the world seem alive, by having stories talk to one another, even if at most it’s just a nod and a wink.
Dying Light has plenty of content, with moment to moment gameplay that is constantly refreshing, exciting and interesting. It’s also made by a team that clearly is proud of what they’ve made and respects the community.
And with the sequel coming up, and the game’s low price, I urge you to give it a try.