Dying Light E3 Hands-On: Old Dog, New Tricks
Dead Island is infamous for its deceptiveness. While it had a trailer that everyone loved to no end, the game itself was a lackluster combination of zombie slashing and RPG mechanics. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t particularly notable either. It was, in a word, weak.
Techland seems to want to rectify their past failures, and Dying Light is their vehicle to attempt to do so. It’s very reminiscent of Dead Island, but with less focus on the RPG elements. Instead, it tries to make the core open-world gameplay the focus. The result is a much more enjoyable game, replete with the best parts of Dead Island.
Dying Light follows a runner; a nimble, parkour-using courier used by survivors within a city quarantine to gather supplies and rescue other people. The demo I was shown had him seeking out another team sent to set explosives on a zombie nest, as the former team dropped out of communication rather abruptly. It was a surprisingly open world for an E3 demo; my guide kept directing me to the next objective he wanted me to see, but it wasn’t as linear as other demo on the floor.
The combat focus in Dying Light was, much like Dead Island, very melee focused. Chopping off or breaking arms, legs, or heads is still a core part of the experience, and weapon degradation is still in. One of the more interesting moves that you can perform when in melee range is a throw/push. It gets you right up against the zombie as you push their head towards where you want them to go, and is a great way to move past walkers without killing them. Alternatively, you can use it to throw zombies around instead, such as off ledges. Weapons found will still have RPG-style prefixes and bonuses, but I didn’t see any specifics about them in the demo.
There are guns, but they are a bit different. Guns now bring runners – half-human, half-infected crazed monsters – to your location. Runners, unlike normal zombies, are not hindered by the environment, and will happily tear you a new one should you alert them. This makes firearms more of a situational choice even if you have ammo, whereas Dead Island primarily controlled their use through ammo scarcity.
The biggest difference between Dying Light and Dead Island is the inclusion of parkour, and it makes all the difference. As a runner, you can mantle, climb, wallrun, balance, and perform all sorts of other parkour moves as you run around the environment. It does wonders to make Dying Light feel fluid and fun, and that’s what kept me from dismissing it. If the joy of running around an environment can be maintained as well in the full game as it is in the demo, Techland will have a hit on their hands.
A few open-world missions and such were shown off. The first was a survivor rescue. These are as simple as “kill the zombies attacking a random person.” As you rescue survivors like this, you gain reputation with them and your esteem as a runner grows larger. However, what reputation does for you was not mentioned; the director kept quiet on what exactly survivors in camp do for the player.
The second, and more interesting, of the two missions was a supply drop mission. This mission drops a crate in a random place which must then be found and looted. It’s usually on top of a building, which forces you to use parkour to reach it. It wasn’t shown off in the demo, but the game’s director mentioned that supply drops are timed: the longer you take to reach a drop, the less stuff it has. If you get there almost immediately, you get a full kit of gear. If you take a bit of time, but not too much, stuff might be missing or bandits might be in the process of looting the chest. If you take an extreme amount of time, the drop will be completely empty, forcing you to look for supplies elsewhere. It’s a cool concept, so here’s hoping Dying Light can pull it off well.
After the daytime section, I was treated to the night phase of the game. Nighttime is when the undead come out of their nests, and they all become the fast, tough running zombies seen when you fire a gun during the day. Your goal (usually; the director mentioned other nighttime goals related to missions) is to make it back to a safe zone without dying, as you will continually be assaulted by zombies along the way. You have a flashlight and some decoys to aid in the sprint to safety, but they are limited. It’s an interesting change, and forces the player to consider where they are and what time it is as they go about their daily business. In that respect, it smacks of Minecraft or Don’t Starve: night is the killer of the foolhardy adventurer.
There were a number of questions, however, with unsatisfactory answers. There will be multiple regions, but the types of regions weren’t mentioned. Crafting was said to be more modular and customizable than Dead Island, but no specifics were mentioned. Levels and skills are still in, but the only skills mentioned were parkour related (like wallruns).
Despite lingering doubts, Dying Light was a surprisingly engaging experience. It took the Dead Island formula of killing and looting zombies and turned it into a game about urban exploration. If handled correctly, Dying Light could be the game that Dead Island seemed to promise us.