The most enjoyable game with both parkour and zombies that I have ever played.

Dying Light has been out for a while now by the time you read this review. Why the lengthy delay between release and when this review is going up? Well, I like to ensure that I take my time with open world titles. It seems only fair that I try not to rush through a game that can take 50 or more hours to complete. I also like to give a bit of time for some launch issues to be ironed out and to see what the immediate post-launch patch support will be like for the game.

With a few weeks having come and gone and a few patches already out now, I think it's safe to say that Dying Light is one of the most enjoyable zombie based games I've played in quite some time. The game certainly ups the ante a bit by tossing in some solid parkour movement mechanics, four player co-op, and optional, but fun, competitive multiplayer. All of these elements blend in nicely with a more mature narrative when compared to other games in the genre. Don't get me wrong here; Dying Light isn't super serious all the time. There are still a few "whacky" moments, but I'll get back to that in just a moment.

For those not in the know, Dying Light is a first-person game that finds you smack dab in the middle of a zombie outbreak. Without giving away too much, I will say that you meet a typical cast of characters that range from the potential love interest to the insane and evil. There are a few moments of surprise, but still a few plot twists and turns that you can see coming a mile away at times. Perhaps the more interesting bits of narrative come not from the main story or even the tons of sidequests that you can choose to engage with, but rather from the chance encounters with NPCs scattered throughout the area. These encounters serve to add a bit of a human element to the events going on and serve only to provide a small reprieve from killing and jumping as you listen to these stories. As with most things in this game, these are all optional but they are a very nice touch.

From the get-go, the game quickly acquaints you with the core mechanics of free running and parkour. Don't expect to be a master of the art from the very start though. As you carry out more parkour moves, you will gain experience that can then be used to level up your abilities. Some of the many upgrades include being able to sprint for longer distances or propel yourself up and over zombies. The fighting and general survival skills are leveled up in much the same way, except that instead of leveling up when you perform parkour moves you level those two skill trees up by fighting or completing objectives respectively. This particular skill upgrade system isn't unique to Dying Light but it does work quite nicely here. It's nice to be able to choose which aspect of character progression you want to prioritize.

Gone is the movement and directional-based combat system of Dying Light. In its place is a more streamlined combat system that that still incorporates locational damage. Combat is quite rewarding even in the early stages. The zombies are very satisfying to kill with any number of melee weapons. Limbs and other body parts can be hacked off with enough force or with the right equipment. Blood sprays across the environment after solid hits. You can even take out chunks of their head or torso, exposing the rotting innards to the world. I did find the guns a bit cumbersome to use in comparison. I often found that trying to aim down a gun's sights after reloading resulted in a small delay. It wouldn't be much of an issue if it weren't for the fact that most of the living foes you go against need to be taken out with guns if you want to survive and not burn through your med kits. I will note that it was a nice touch seeing some of the human enemies decide to run away instead of engaging with me if they saw I had a pistol or assault rifle. You don't see that sort of behavior too often in games and it was nice to see it here.

Fortunately, most of the enemies you will face throughout the game are of the dead and bitey kind. The zombies start off as slow, stupid, and shambling. As the game progresses, zombies that are more aggressive are introduced typically through main story progression. Soon you will find yourself running from (or fighting) zombies that are fast and enraged, typically stirred up by loud noises. You have other zombies that can spit harmful stomach juices on you from afar. You have zombies that explode if shot or if they get too close to you. Those are wonderful because they can also attract legions of the fast zombies mentioned prior. Those are just a few of the "normal" enemy types you'll encounter at all hours of the day in Dying Light. However, it's at night when things are kicked up a few extra notches. At night, these super fast and very aggressive zombies come out to play. You have a few options when going against them, especially at the start of the game: Run or hide. Sure, you can always just die but that's not going to accomplish much. The zombies that come out at night are fast, agile, can climb, and can pack a mean punch. Either seek the shelter of a safe house and wait until morning, or stealth past these foes that have Metal Gear Solid-esque vision cones. Your nocturnal excursions will pay off if you survive thanks to bonuses given to any abilities you make use of. It's a nice risk/reward tradeoff and as with many other systems in the game, it's also completely optional.

As you develop your skills, the combat and movement become fluid as you blend one in with the other as you explore your environment, and you will be doing plenty of exploring. Supplies must be found in order to upgrade equipment or even as a part of various side missions. While it's not too cumbersome of a mechanic, having to stop to pick up individual items in an area often breaks the game's pace up a bit too much for my liking. It is, however, unavoidable if you want to construct some of the game's stronger and more outlandish weapons. Simply implementing a means of picking up all objects within a small radius around your character would have worked wonders.

While it does share a crafting mechanic with its spiritual successor, Dead Island, the types of items you can craft are more rooted in reality. The same can be said about the story. Dying Light takes a very mature approach to most of the game, which makes their more "zany" type situations feel all that more out of place. It's a bit odd to go through a situation where an NPC dies and everyone reacts poorly to it and then the next minute have your character drop kicking zombies or cutting them in half with the "EXPCalibur" sword you pulled from a rock. The mood and tone just never really finds a solid foothold, which can often make the overall story feel a bit ham-fisted.

If you're feeling extra saucy, it could be time to take on the game's "Be a Zombie" mode. This mode allows you to play as a super-fast and ultra-aggressive special zombie. Even better, you are going against up to four others that are playing as the human survivors. The zombie has a few tricks up his sleeve from the start including a Spider-Man like tendril that can shoot out and allow you to move rapidly across the landscape. That same appendage can also be used to fling yourself down upon an unsuspecting foe for a quick and brutal death. The survivors aren't hopeless though. They bring to the party any items they have acquired in the normal course of gameplay from the story. That means they can sense you with their powerful "survivor sense" ability or stop you dead in your tracks with their UV lamps, which can give them an upper hand many times. Fortunately, and I'm glad I eventually found this out, the skills for the zombie can be upgraded in much the same way as a survivor can upgrade their abilities. The better you perform, the faster you can unlock new abilities that will let you even the playing field. Just keep in mind that the survivors really do have things going for them at the start as they do outnumber you four to one and their survivor sense is, without question, far too powerful a tool. This is honestly an incredibly fun mode that you should play at least once with some other pals that own the game.

The game ran quite well on my aging machine (i5-2500K, 8GB RAM, GTX 770) at 1080p. A rock solid 60fps was not attainable on maximum settings (everything enabled or at max unless noted below) but it seemed to perform between 30 and 60, usually on the upper half of that without much issue. Keep in mind that most of my time was spent prior to a few of the patches being released, which may have included more performance gains for those playing on the PC. It's also important to note that the biggest factor affecting framerate was the view distance. I saw no real discernable visual differences between the highest setting and around 75%. The default, around 50%, proved to be a nice balance between a good view distance and performance. Lower settings drastically improved framerate at the cost of more detailed objects in the distance. I kept my setting a touch below 50% and had no real complaints. There are also a few other graphical options that I disabled purely based on personal preference that may also help with framerate. These include the Nvidia branded depth of field and motion blur. I typically don't much care for these in my games. I did keep in-game antialiasing enabled since disabling it made the foliage look particularly nasty.

The game does feature chromatic aberration, a graphical "feature" that I largely detest in most games that use it. However, this may be the first game outside of Alien: Isolation
- The story cannot decide if it wants to be super serious or lighthearted.
- The inventory management and menu navigation is still a bit of a nightmare. It doesn't feel as though it is especially suited for anything other than a controller. Even a simple "auto sort" ability would be welcome at this point.
- Looting the environment and foes is time consuming, even with a few upgrades that speed the process up a bit.
- I ran into a small delay trying to aim or fire guns after reloading.
- The "survivor sense" ability in Be the Zombie is far too powerful, allowing the survivors to know where their hunter is even when it's not making any sound or moving. Make it something that works based on motion or sound and it might even the playing field a bit in the early game.
- NOT AN ACTUAL NEGATIVE: You won't be able to get it out of your head that the main character has the same voice actor as Chris Redfield from the recent Resident Evil titles (5, 6, Revelations). Yeah, there was a lot of mental cross-over between these two zombie/infected based franchises after I discovered that!
Related Information
Title: Dying Light
Platforms: PC, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One (Reviewed on PC)
ESRB Rating: M for Mature 17+ for Blood, Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language
Dying Light was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes from Techland and WBIE.