Fans of first-person parkour/zombie action haven’t had long to get excited for Dying Light, with the game announced only weeks before E3 2013. Now the latest open world game from Techland – the studio behind Dead Island – has been given its time in the spotlight, and put it to good use.
After seeing the campaign in action and tried out some fast-paced survival acrobatics for ourselves, we can say that Dying Light won’t need any luck when it comes to attracting excitement. Especially for those hoping to enjoy the free-running spectacle on next-gen systems.
The screenshots released previously promised a stunning and highly detailed tropical city, and the game doesn’t disappoint.. Shown on a PC “built to next-gen specs” the leap in quality is impossible to miss; from fully animated foliage to incredibly smooth movement even at rapid speed. The fidelity of the environment is put center stage, keeping interface elements and the on-screen HUD to a minimum, and if the Xbox One and PS4 versions of the game even come close to the demo rig, then players will be more than pleased.
The location and cause of the ‘infection’ isn’t being discussed, but surviving in the ruins of the tropical city will require outside help. Following the exploits of an unnamed male protagonist – and his accomplice Jade, heard via radio – the player is dropped into a quarantine zone swimming with undead enemies. Surviving until rescue arrives means stealth, suspicion, and some serious proficience in parkour.
Both the demo and playable portions of the game centered on the all-important supply drops, parachuted into the quarantine zone via airplane. Once the supply crates land, the race is on to reach them before they are poached by other human survivors who may or may not be friendly (usually not). Once the supply drop’s telltale smoke rises into the sky, the only thing that matters is getting to the medicine, weapons and ammunition contained within however the player chooses – on the ground, on rooftops, or any combination of the two.
Along the way, randomly generated encounters will crop up to keep fans of open world immersion busy. The pair of encounters seen in our time with the game both centered on aiding trapped civilians, and focused mainly on finding pathways to get into barricaded or crumbling buildings. Given the player’s ability to leap from one ledge to another and climb telephone poles as easily as a ladder, they didn’t pose too much of a challenge. Saving the day means rewards in the form of money or other resources, so taking out the required enemies may be worth it.
To be clear, the infected in Dying Light aren’t exactly zombies in the traditional sense; the standard hordes of rotting zombies aren’t dumb or slow (they can quickly overpower even the quick-footed protagonist), but they’re much easier to deal with than the Virals – humans out for blood, but still possessing their normal strength and speed.
Where the standard infected can be quickly dodged, or dismantled with blades or melee weapons, the Virals are a different story. Once they get the scent of a fresh meal, nothing will throw them off of it. Luckily the parkour leaping can be used to instantly gain distance and grant a second to form a strategy; for instance, luring them to a nearby ledge before redirecting or kicking them to their death.
As was the case with Dead Island, the crafting of unique weaponry will be a chance for players to create some truly memorable carnage. That being said, the standard offerings are not to be overlooked. Refined hit detection means injuries will form precisely where a blade made contact, and heavier weapons like sledgehammers and baseball bats deliver especially punishing impacts.
But even if dispatching wave after wave of zombies is always entertaining, there are times when the safest course of action is to avoid them completely, and leap directly over them to safety, if necessary; especially if dusk is approaching. Because as difficult as it may be to survive the days in the quarantine zone, the nights are even deadlier.
Once dusk falls (after a warning alarm has gone off) the only priority is making it safely to a nearby safehouse. The darkness triggers a change in the mindless stumbling hordes of zombies, making them faster, more aggressive, and not to be trifled with. But even the Viral are upstaged by the real horror of Dying Light‘s nightfall: the Volatiles.
It is these grotesque creatures – seen in the first E3 trailer and multiple screenshots – that mean certain death for the player, and are to be avoided at all costs. Not that infection is a concern – the developers on hand explained that zombie bites mean little to the protagonist – since the player’s character is already infected. How that works into the larger plot remains to be seen, but it does grant him some unique abilities once the light has failed.
The ‘Pulse’ ability lets players send out a wave of perception into the darkest corners of the environment, waiting to see if a patrolling Volatile is detected, bouncing the wave back. It’s an intriguing design choice, and one that helps raise the tension when a blood red pulse confirms that one of the enemies is approaching. Once detected, all bets are off, and a quick getaway is the only course of action.
Fleeing at flank speed through the narrow streets and rooftops of the environment is a thrill in itself (and sure to give sensitive gamers bouts of motion sickness), but the ability to glance over your shoulder at your pursuers – in super slow motion – make it clear that Techland is out to terrify.
From this first showing, the potential is there to succeed. And in an open world as visually impressive and traversable as it appears to be, Dying Light may bring something genuinely new to the genre of zombie/horror/action titles. Given how popular zombies have proven to be at E3 and elsewhere, that’s something we welcome.
Dying Light will be released in 2014 for the Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4 and PC. Stay tuned to Game Rant for more on the new games and hardware on display at E3 2013.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.