While I wouldn’t say that I am as big of fan of the zombie genre as some people, I am at least a little intrigued by every zombie video game that comes out. The idea of being able to take down a bunch of zombies is oddly satisfying. With the number of zombie games that get released though, the quality of the games can differ quite significantly. Originally released in 2015 Dying Light is generally considered one of the best zombie games released in recent years. I had never checked out the game for some reason though, but with the sequel coming out later this year I thought it was a good time to finally check it out. Dying Light may not be quite perfect, but it is arguably the best zombie game that I have ever played.
In Dying Light you play as Kyle Crane. The Middle Eastern city of Harran has been hit by a viral outbreak which has turned most of the citizens into zombie-like creatures. The GRE has been helping the few remaining survivors with supply airdrops. The GRE has sent in Kyle to find a former political leader of Harran who has come into possession of a sensitive GRE document that puts the organization in danger. As he explores the devastated city he begins to learn that everything might not be as the general population was told. Will Kyle be able to retrieve the document or will he decide that it is more important to try to help the remaining survivors in their fight against the infected?
While this is a gross oversimplification of the gameplay, at its core Dying Light is an open world first person zombie survival game. Basically you are dropped off in an a mostly abandoned city that is filled with zombies that want to kill you. The game is broken down into a number of missions which include story and side missions.
To survive you will need to move around the city to gather resources and complete the missions. As the streets are filled with zombies there are two main approaches that you can take in order get around. First there is the direct approach. The game is filled with tons of different types of weapons and you can even create some of your own by crafting them with the resources you find around the city. A majority of the weapons are melee, but you will occasionally find ranged weapons. Weapons are not indestructible though as they will break after a number of uses. Melee combat is pretty much what you would expect as you hit enemies with your weapons while trying to avoid taking damage yourself. There are a number of different types of zombies which have to be dealt with in different ways.
Your other main option is to take a more stealthy approach. This is where the platforming and parkour element comes into the game. All of the buildings in the game can be climbed along with much of the environment. If you run towards a building and press the jump button you will grab onto the nearest ledge or climbable surface that you can reach. As most of the types of zombies aren’t particularly mobile, you can traverse the city through the rooftops avoiding most conflict entirely.
The upgrade system in Dying Light rewards you for how you approach the game. You will gain combat experience when you attack enemies, and you will gain parkour experience by running, jumping and climbing. When you gain levels you will unlock additional abilities which should help make survival in the game easier. Additionally you will gain survival experience from completing missions and doing other things around the city.
That is basically an overview of Dying Light’s gameplay even though that only touches the surface as there are a number of other mechanics that I didn’t really get into. As a fan of zombie games and the high praise the game has received, I had pretty high expectations heading into the game. Yet I was still pleasantly surprised by the game. I have played a number of different zombie games and Dying Light is honestly in the discussion for the best zombie game that I have ever played. I think the game succeeds for a couple of different reasons.
First the game actually does a really good job of making it feel like you are actually in a city that has been overrun with zombies. A large majority of the buildings are abandoned and zombies can be found everywhere. You are easily more powerful than the zombies and you can get away from most of them just by climbing objects/buildings. The zombies clearly outnumber you though. You can easily overpower a couple zombies, but you don’t want to get surrounded or you can be overwhelmed quickly. The game can be quite violent as there is a lot of gore. For a game that is around six years old at this point, the graphics still hold up quite well.
The next thing I liked about the game was the dichotomy it creates between playing aggressively or passively. The game sometimes forces you into combat or parkour sections, but most of the time you can choose which one you would prefer. The game reinforces this by giving you upgrades based on actually performing the associated actions. If you mostly avoid combat you will get access to abilities that help your speed or give you quick attacks to get away from zombies. A more melee combat focused fighter will get more types of attacks which will allow you to fight off more zombies. Most zombie games just give you a bunch of zombies to kill and leaves it at that. This emphasis on avoiding zombies altogether makes the game feel more realistic as sometimes it is better to avoid conflict entirely.
This brings me to the last and easily the biggest reason why Dying Light succeeds. The gameplay is just really satisfying. The combat is not a whole lot different than your typical action game, but it is still really fun. Unless you get a good shot or have a really powerful weapon, it usually takes several blows to kill most zombies. The game does a good job making you feel powerful while still having to worry about how the zombies outnumber you. The thing that surprised me the most though was the parkour elements. There are times where it looks like you should be able to climb something that you can’t, but I was impressed with how flexible the parkour elements were. You can run though a lot of the city from rooftop to rooftop without having to worry about zombies at all. The parkour is just really satisfying as you can climb almost everything which is sometimes key when you are getting surrounded by zombies. Basically if you are looking for an open world zombie game, Dying Light is going to give you what you are looking for.
Heading into Dying Light I was a little hesitant for one main reason. I am kind of a coward when it comes horror so I was curious to see how scary the game would be. For the most part I wouldn’t say that the game is particularly scary. Most of the time it is your typical action zombie game where you are just killing or avoiding all of the zombies that stand in your way. There are occasional jump scares mostly when a zombie you didn’t see grabs you, but this is not that bad. Things take a drastic turn when night approaches though. The game has a day and night cycle and I will say that the night sections can be quite intense especially since you can’t see very far and the zombies are considerably more powerful. While I wasn’t a huge fan of these elements of the game, I will say that they are quite effective at what they are trying to do. One mission early in the game forces you to go out at night and I ended up running blindly through the night trying to reach the nearest safe zone being chased by a number of zombies. The game is actually smart by significantly rewarding you with experience boosts for going out at night. I still preferred to avoid them when possible which created a sense of dread when night was approaching as I had to race to the closest safe zone.
Dying Light is a fantastic game, but it is not quite perfect.
Probably the biggest issue I had with the game is with the durability of the weapons. I totally get why the game utilizes durability. First it makes the game more realistic as your weapons would obviously break after extended use. It also forces you to scrounge the area looking for more weapons. The problem is that the weapons seem to break too quickly where I was hesitant to use my best weapons because I was afraid that they would break and become unusable. I also didn’t want to invest too much into buying new weapons or crafting additions to weapons as I thought they would be lost too quickly to make it worth it. This gets better as you advance in the game as you can get upgrades that improve durability and how many times you can fix a weapon. I just wish weapons lasted longer or at least could be fixed more often as I ended up having to salvage so many weapons that I wished I could have kept using.
Really the only other issue with the game is that it doesn’t feature a whole lot of new mechanics. It has a few tweaks here and there, but I didn’t really notice any major mechanics that I had never seen before. In a lot of ways the game plays like your typical first person open world action game. If you are looking for a game that is going to bring a lot of unique mechanics to the genre, you probably won’t get it from Dying Light. Normally this would be a bigger issue for me as I generally prefer when games try to do something unique. This isn’t a big deal though as the game takes well established mechanics and crafts them into a highly enjoyable experience where you won’t really care that it might not be the most original game.
Generally I like to give a general length for a video game as I think it is helpful to let potential players know how much content they can expect out of the game. I can’t give you a definitive length for Dying Light Platinum Edition. One I haven’t finished everything that the game has to offer. Two the game just offers players a ton of content to explore. The platinum edition includes all of the DLC released for the game after its initial launch. Some of the content is better than others, but there is a lot to do in the game. Outside of completing the missions you could also just spend time exploring the city or killing zombies for the fun of it. If the game’s concept intrigues you at all, you will easily get your money’s worth out of Dying Light Platinum Edition.
With how well received Dying Light was along with the intriguing open world zombie premise, I had pretty high expectations for the game before playing it. I think the game actually found a way to surpass my expectations. I will admit that the gameplay as a whole may not be the most original as it borrows a lot of elements from other open world games. The game succeeds though because it finds the perfect way of combining them together into really satisfying gameplay. The combat can be violent but it is really satisfying. The parkour is surprisingly robust and fun as well. The world is quite engaging where it truly feels like you are stuck in a city overrun with zombies. I do wish the weapons didn’t break as often as they do, but otherwise there isn’t much to complain about. I really enjoyed my time with Dying Light and I can’t wait for the release of Dying Light 2 later this year.
My recommendation for Dying Light is pretty simple. If you hate open world games or don’t care for the zombie genre, Dying Light probably won’t be for you. If the premise interests you at all though, I would highly recommend picking up Dying Light Platinum Edition.
Buy Dying Light online: Digital (PlayStation 4/5, Steam, Xbox One/Series X|S), Physical (PC – PC, PlayStation 4 –Standard Edition, Anniversary Edition, Enhanced Edition, Xbox One – Standard Edition, Anniversary Edition, Enhanced Edition)
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Techland for the review copy of Dying Light Platinum Edition used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.