Parkour May Seriously Improve Dying Light’s Zombie Killing

There’s a reason so many games choose to incorporate the free running parkour movement of titles such as Mirror’s Edge, Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time — it makes just getting around the game world enjoyable.

It’s what makes people remember titles like last generation’s Spider-Man 2: The Game so fondly. It’s not like the movie adaptation of the film was a particularly great game, but it made fluid movement around a huge New York fun, and just being able to enjoy existing in a game space can take a title a long way.

Dying Light, then, at least understands this about free running. Dead Island developer Techland has taken much of the formula of its original open world zombie game — craftable weapons, tons of running undead, and intense fights — and reworked the way players get around the world to add a serious amount of freedom. And despite myself and my relative dislike for Dead Island, I find myself with fairly high hopes for Dying Light.

At E3 2014, I had my first chance to play Dying Light, and several elements were appealing straight away. First and foremost, the game’s parkour system is highly intuitive. The right bumper on the Xbox One controller I used basically controlled all catching of ledges and jumping, such that it makes scaling buildings extremely easy. Just about everything is climbable, Techland developers told me — I was able to pull myself up the side of a stone bridge from a nearby canal, for example, using the uneven bricks as handholds.

There’s an emphasis on traversal that really opens up Dying Light in a way that Dead Island always felt lacking. Getting around the world in that zombie game was always a pain, and given its incredible size and the number of busywork activities packed into it, travel could make Dead Island rather dull. Dying Light, on the other hand, turns every trip to a safehouse or an objective into a puzzle of its own; there are zombies between here and there, and you need to find the best path that will allow you to accomplish your goals without being eaten.

The game also does progression in a way that rewards players for their attention to movement. Rather than awarding points earned by leveling up, RPG-style, as in Dead Island, Dying Light increases players’ strength based on the actions they take. The more you climb, the better you become at climbing. The more you fight, the stronger a fighter you become.

It’s something of an Elder Scrolls-like system. Combat in the demo I played hews close to Techland’s original standard in Dead Island, consisting of lots of melee weapons and a few firearms with limited ammo. You can cleave off limbs and set enemies on fire with your various weapons, all of which can be crafted in the world in order to make newer, more ridiculous ones. But zombies offer much more resistance in battle, and tend to be grabbier and bitier than in other zombie games. That means that while you’ll get good at fighting, you’re going to want to skip battles as often as you get into them. It also means you’ll think twice about firing that gun into a crowd of enemies for fear of drawing more toward the sound.

Leveling up your parkour and fighting abilities lets you unlock new additional capabilities, like a slide move or a charged-up attack. In general, it makes getting around and fighting feel important and meaningful as you’re doing it, and the game rewards you naturally to make you better at each activity — as if you were getting stronger and becoming a better survivor over time.

But mostly, what’s interesting about Dying Light right now is that getting Techland seems to be making getting around at least as important as combat, and probably even more fulfilling. Especially in moments like the game’s night cycle, where more powerful zombie versions hunt players and stealth is required for survival, the parkour system adds a great deal more strategic thinking to how players approach the game. Where Dead Island suffered in travel by often requiring players to pick their paths in ways that would let them avoid tedious and dangerous battles, Dying Light is putting the emphasis on requiring that kind of forethought because its open world is potentially a tougher place to be.

In my preview of Dying Light, avoiding zombies was at least as fun as fighting them, and that’s an idea many games with this sort of setting and attitude don’t really achieve well. Some of the best moments of Dead Island are the harrowing escapes from the undead hordes, but Dying Light’s emphasis on them could make it a lot more engaging long-term.

If we have to revisit the zombie apocalypse for yet another time, at least giving players new ways to think about approaching its ever-present dangers could freshen things up a bit. With so many different takes on the same undead monsters, Dying Light might stand on its own by making the journey, rather than the dismemberment, the worthier part.

You can keep up to date with all the E3 news over on our E3 channel.

Phil Hornshaw is senior editor at GameFront. Read more of his work here, and follow him and GameFront on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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