Dying Light finds itself in an odd position. With its last-gen version recently cancelled, and developer Techland touting a renewed focus on fluidity and polish, the parkour-‘em-up’s future feels slightly unclear. We recently went hands on with the title at PAX Australia, and – after being ushered into a dimly lit room, handed a slightly greasy controller, and then dropped into middle of the game’s open world – came away pleasantly surprised, but not totally sold.
The city we found ourselves in was densely populated, and the threat of undead domination seemed to lurk behind every corner. Admittedly, we didn’t have time to explore every cranny of the emaciated metropolis, but from what we could tell, it seemed fairly vast. What’s more, even playing in the sweaty confines of a video game convention booth, the title’s setting had an undeniably thick atmosphere.
Half way through our demo, the calm summer skies quickly turned into a violently raging storm. While it was obvious that this event was scripted – we could see the same tumultuous tempest tearing up our fellow attendee’s demos – it was still a neat example of the game’s dynamic weather system. If nothing else, this mechanic should provide some graphical variety.
Unfortunately, the mission that we played was disappointingly vanilla. We were instructed to find and secure an outpost, which essentially amounted to making our way across the city, while avoiding plagues of lumbering enemies. When we finally did arrive at our destination, we squared off against a slightly larger and tougher foe. However, we were fresh out of ammo at this point, so opted to quickly slip into the outpost, closing the door behind us.
As with the developer’s previous outings, the combat didn’t feel particularly precise. But this lack of nuance was easy to ignore, as the battles were both suitably visceral, and also aided by a diverse and absurd selection of weapons. Indeed, regardless of how many zombie games flood the market, there is still something uniquely satisfying about madly swinging a baseball bat at a swarm of slowly shuffling corpses.
But ostensibly the most important – and certainly the most heavily advertised – aspect of Techland’s latest is its free-running parkour system. This mechanic allows you to climb on just about every surface imaginable by simply pressing and holding the jump button. We often found ourselves surrounded by a swathe of the undead, so quickly climbing up a nearby building to buy some time was a useful and satisfying tool. What’s more, freely bounding around the title’s open world made the slightly bland mission we were undertaking feel a lot more interesting. It’s an intriguing wrinkle in the game’s otherwise relatively safe formula, and one that goes a long way in differentiating it from the competition.
Ultimately, our brief time with Dying Light left us brimming with cautious optimism. There’s certainly a lot of potential here – with the open world, atmosphere, and parkour all showing promise – but we still have some reservations. In particular, the mission structure feels a little undercooked, and the combat could probably do with some tightening. To the surprise of absolutely no one, then, this is much more Dead Island than The Last of Us.
Are you lacing up your Nike Airs in preparation for Dying Light, or are you done with the undead? Run away in the comments section below.