This is not a review. As is the case with virtually all other publications, we only got access to Dying Light this week – around the same time as its North American launch. To be honest, it hasn't exactly been the smoothest release for Techland's undead-'em-up, with retail copies inexplicably being delayed in non-American territories for an entire month – and the digital version going AWOL on the European PlayStation Store. These distribution issues aside, though, has the Warner Bros published title managed to buck late 2014's trend, and launch in a playable state?
We're not ready to deliver a definitive verdict, but after several hours of play, we can safely conclude that this isn't a technical mess – not just yet, anyway. That's actually quite a feat for the Polish studio at the helm, as its portfolio doesn't exactly inspire confidence. This author was forced to wipe clean several hours of Dead Island progress when his save got corrupted several years ago, and the less said about Call of Juarez: The Cartel's embarrassing performance on the PlayStation 3, the better. The consistently inconsistent studio has clearly put its A-team on this project, then.
That's not to say that it's not without problems, however, even at this early stage. The voice acting, as has become customary for the company, is beyond abysmal, with featureless characters spouting barely incomprehensible dialogue at you given any opportunity. You essentially assume the role of an archetypal tough guy, who's been sent undercover to recover a document from the infected city of Harran. It's a location brimming with South American flavours, from shabby slums through to fallen favelas, and it's subsequently got lots of character – more than the core cast, at least.
As the gruff everyman, it doesn't take long for you to be put to use, and it won't be many hours into the game before you have a quest log as long as your bitten arm – you're infected, of course. There's a hub area packed with non-playable characters that you can explore, and it's in here that you'll be picking up most of your missions, as well as buying and trading items like weapons and medical supplies. There are definitely Far Cry, Fallout, and even Dead Island overtones, as you pick up blueprints to forge new items – and go in search of obscure objects to supercharge your armaments.
As you progress, you'll encounter other densely populated areas just like the aforementioned. However, it's the wide expanses outside of them that you need to worry about, and, of course, you'll be going out into the field to gather supplies and act as a general dogsbody. Fortunately, this gives you an excuse to partake in the game's primary gameplay loop, which centres on parkour. Climbing is mapped to the R1 button, which feels strange at first, but it's actually an inspired decision, because it keeps your fingers on both of the sticks.
And you need this extra layer of control, because when you're sprinting, the game moves very fast. Holding the jump button and pointing the camera in the direction of a ledge will enable you to climb, and the world has been thoughtfully designed with lots of different rooftop routes in mind. This is the quickest way to travel, as you'll mostly find yourself impeded by zombies on the ground. These aren't particularly strong, but as your weapons are fragile, you'll likely want to stay out of their way. This becomes even truer at night time, when they significantly increase in strength.
One thing that the game does really well is make you dread the dark. It's not a particularly scary title, but it makes a big deal of the setting sun, and when you're stranded in the shadows of the evening, you'll find yourself pretty powerless. Fortunately, there are safe houses littered all across the world, and sprinting to these is a real rush. Like a racing game, there's a dedicated 'look behind' button, and this is really useful when you're being pursued; it also looks pretty darn cool, as it temporarily slows down time.
Combat is based upon melee attacks, but it's already clear from our hands-on time that you're going to be able to get creative with these. The world is littered with explosives, spikes, and more – and you earn more points if you come up with some crazy kill combos. It's a bit like Bulletstorm in the sense that you can organically chain different manoeuvres; kick a corpse into a gas canister, crack him around the skull with a pipe, jump backwards, let the explosion push his body into an electric fence, and enjoy the chaos – it's very much designed around 'water cooler' moments.
Speaking of points, you have three different experience bars: Survivor, Agility, and Power. As you engage each of these, you'll unlock skill points, which can be used to enhance your abilities. Even after a few hours with the game, we don't feel quite as 'cool' as the trailers have shown, but we are starting to unlock abilities like slides and dodges now, so we're hoping that there's going to be a good sense of progression throughout the entire campaign. For a game that's all about acrobatics, though, we can't help but feel a little underpowered right now.
Of course, you're probably still wondering: is Dying Light worth buying? Well, it's too early to say from our perspective, so if you're unsure, we'd recommend waiting for our full review. The parkour is fun, and the day/night dynamic is a really clever hook. This is important, though, as even early on, we get the sense that the story's going to be a predictable mess, complete with shady organisations, pantomime villains, and actors that aren't quite sure which country they're supposed to be from. Still, if all you want to do is climb buildings and hit corpses with a wrench – well, this may be for you.
Have you picked up Dying Light yet, and what are your impressions? Are you waiting for more reviews before making up your mind? Sidestep the dark in the comments section below.