PAX Prime: Dying Light Hands-On Preview
Zombie games have been beaten to death over the years, especially with the growing success of The Walking Dead and the numerous games, movies, and comics based on the subject matter. But that hasn't deterred Techland, the studio behind the Dead Island franchise. It has decided to once again create a new zombie IP under the name Dying Light. A survival-horror game based in the city of Harran, that pits you against a swarm of the walking dead as you try to maneuver around using rooftops and fences in new and interesting ways.
The most substantial addition Dying Light adds to the genre has to be its use of free-running (parkour), granting players the ability to hop and climb almost anything in sight. Starting the demo, it took a number of tries to get a full understanding of how the controls were laid out. Once I had accepted my first mission to check out a few traps that were strewn about the city, I quickly adjusted as to not become zombie chow.
Running around the city, you get a good sense of what things you can reach and how to move from area to area without having to stop and think, everything became quite intuitive. The simple act of climbing a fence from the ground, showed that the developers did not want push the player into situations without giving them some form of an option, as instead of hopping over a fence, you climbed and sat at the top. This could sound like a trivial feature or decision, but the ability to look before leaping prevented me from being hurdled into a crowd of zombies on more than a few occasions. As wonderful as some of the ability to move around the environment seemed to be for the demo, the controls still felt slightly stiff and I wish it could replicate the complexity of something like Mirror's Edge.
As if dealing with zombies wasn't bad enough, Dying Light uses a day and night cycle that is dynamically driven, meaning you need to plan out how far you venture out or you risk getting stuck out at night. Besides simply losing the ability to see that well, the undead that roam around the streets can become infuriated at night, meaning that once you are spotted, you better be prepared to run.
My experience running through the city of Harran at night started with a developer telling me that if night fell while I was out, it was only a matter of time before I would go down. So, being caught across the city fixing one of the last traps as the sun fell, I figured out a general direction to run and didn't stop. Running past crowds of zombies, and climbing up to rooftops, I set off a few traps such as flood lights that disoriented any zombie caught in the area. Eventually, I made it to the right part of town but took a wrong turn and was quickly told by a developer who had become so immersed in my playthrough that he was trying to not yell that I was going the wrong way.
Finding the correct path, I heard the words 'oh god' from my audience member, as we both saw a mob of zombies between myself and the only exit available. Quickly, I ran through a hallway, stabbed a zombie in the head with my axe without as much as a stutter in my step, moved to the other side of the building and got on top. This had moved the crowd of zombies over to the entrance I had taken, and left me enough room to jump down and run to safety.
Survival-horror games are not going to be in short supply anytime soon, but Dying Light looks like it has found a way to bring a bit more tension, while giving players more options. This is a game zombie fans should keep an eye out for once it releases in 2014 for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.