At last year's E3, Warner Bros. gave attendees their first look at Dying Light, a new first person zombie survival title from Techland, the developers of Dead Island. It may not have been the most original presentation, but what Techland was doing with Dying Light to make it stand out had us intrigued.
Now, a full year later, we caught up with Dying Light at E3 2014 to find out how that initially intriguing concept had evolved. This time around, Techland had the game in a playable state that more closely resembled the finished product, and that better highlighted the game's dynamic day/night system.
Unfortunately, that initial promise of Dying Light appears to have worn off quite a bit since we last saw it. Gone is the fluidity of movement and the unique combat system, traded for more traditional mechanics. Similarly, that day/night system that was supposed to strike fear into players with stronger and faster zombie enemy types only seemed to heighten how much work the parkour-esque traversal mechanics still need.
The demo itself focused on a single mission where the player is trying to secure a radio tower for use as a safe house. First they make their way up to the tower via the rooftops - jumping, swinging, and sliding their way through dozens of ramshackle buildings, all the while bashing in the heads of unsuspecting undead, before eventually reaching their location. Upon arrival, however, the player discovers the site is overrun by one of Dying Light's human factions, whose military arsenal is too much for the player.
Rather than fight tooth and nail, the player chooses to flee the scene and wait until nighttime, when a special zombie type comes out that's quicker and more deadly. Now, the player can visit the tower without fear of faction occupation, but getting there becomes a lot more challenging and stealth-focused. Running into these nighttime zombies is ill-advised, and the game encourages the player to keep out of their sight and smell lines as much as possible. Luckily, the main character has access to an extra-sensory awareness ability (think The Last of Us) that lets them chart a path back to the tower that isn't littered with deadly zombies.
After unlocking the tower, the demo then moved forward to a later portion in the game where the player has been able to bump up their stats and boost their arsenal. Instead of crude weapons like a baseball bat or a crowbar, the player's weapon selection now includes handcrafted weapons like a lightning-charged axe and a spiked bat. The player also has access to new abilities and gadgets now, like a grappling hook for faster traversal. Once again, the sequence asked us to get from point A to point B, only this time there were more creative weapons to mess around with.
From a strict gameplay perspective, Dying Light plays like a somewhat more polished version of Dead Island. Melee combat offers either a light or a heavy attack, and the weapon selection is eerily familiar to Techland's prior game. That being said, the power of next-gen systems does allow the developers to better account for weapon strikes, but at the end of the day the combat still has a very familiar feel to it.
Traversal, however, seems to have degraded quite a bit since last we saw it. Before, the parkour movement in Dying Light appeared to be as fluid as Mirror's Edge, but now it was a clunky mess. Granted, what we were playing was still in an alpha state, but the game's use of the right shoulder button to trigger and hold grabs resulted in far too many failed attempts at free running. A couple times, in fact, we struggled to figure out which parts of the environment were for climbing and which were just for show. Overall, the traversal didn't live up to expectations, and led to frustration more than anything else. It also brought down some of the game's other, more unique elements.
Dying Light's big selling point when first announced was the nighttime, which featured the looming threat of stronger zombies, but because those portions put the spotlight on the game's clunky traversal they lost a lot of their luster. We had hoped for freedom of movement, but instead were left desperately trying to fight against the game's inconsistent grab mechanic.
Packaged together, what we saw of Dying Light did little to boost our enthusiasm for the game; in fact, our hands-on demo did quite the opposite. Admittedly, the game still looks extremely slick on next-gen and PC, and the level of detail to the melee hits is superb, but we suspect this is a game that "shows" better than it plays. Last year, Dying Light appeared to be everything we wanted the original Dead Island to be — a fast, free-flowing first person melee combat title with varying degrees of zombie threat. Since that time, however, the game's focus has devolved into something that doesn't feel all that different from Dead Island: yet another title that failed to live up to expectations. There were a lot of great surprises coming out of E3 2014, but unfortunately Dying Light was one of its bigger disappointments.
Has your opinion of Dying Light changed since the game's initial unveiling? How did you hope the game would set itself apart from Dead Island?
Dying Light releases February 2015 for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.
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