Dying Light is the next in a horde of zombie games, all of which shuffling towards us with arms outstretched, only it's not our brains they're moaning for, but rather our wallets.
Dying Light is the third zombie-themed action game from Techland, the previous two being set on Dead Islands. This time out the setting is a quarantined city, and rather than a band of tourists and hospitality types, you’re a kind of mercenary attempting to not only survive the chaos but also save the world. This narrative conceit gives Dying Light's writers the thin justification they need to send you on some rather dubious missions, while also linking together unlikely characters archetypes and interactions.
The open world Walking Dead-alike setting is further fiddled with by a day-night cycle and you'll want to avoid being caught out at night - at least initially as this is when the zombies are less docile and when more dangerous strains stalk the streets. However, once you’ve got the gist of the game, and have the weapons, skills, and experience you need, you’ll find that the night is where all of the action is.
That action can be augmented at a moment's notice too, with drop-in, drop-out multiplayer that lets you explore alone or with pals as the mood (and the availability of pals) strikes you. Better yet is the Dark Souls-like invasion option, in which super powerful human-controlled zombies (“Be the Zombie” mode) can really tear up a group of human players.
The skills you unlock - spread across trees that span the familiar “utility”, “agility”, and “power” tropes that should be familiar to anyone who has ever played a game before - start off bland but do eventually allow your character to develop some serious ability, leaps and bounds (quite literally, depending on your selections) ahead of how you start the game.
Unfortunately, what sounds like a good combination of features on paper quickly falls flat, thanks primarily to cookie-cutter gameplay and an insipid cast of characters you'll struggle to form any emotional attachment to.
The crafting, for instance, fails to build on what we’ve already seen in games like The Last of Us, opting instead to be predictable and rote. Even the designers appear to silently acknowledge the meaninglessness of it all by allowing you to buy the core consumable items (pre-constructed) for less than the cost of the materials. Yawn.
The city itself boasts an interesting layout but it's constructed with a truly mundane set of copy-and-paste buildings. Most don’t have an internal method to access second and third stories, and if you do climb up something tall, you’ll frequently find yourself stranded with no way down short of sacrificing a huge chunk of health.
After a long, long time, you eventually gain access to a much more interesting part of town, but it’s hard to imagine many sticking it out this long, which is a shame. It’s not up to the standard of InFamous: Second Son, but Old Town is certainly better to look at than the piles of derelict shacks and lean-to hovels that make up the first half of the game.
Traversing the environment, while technically feature rich (you can climb up onto most surfaces - even at speed), suffers from clunky implementation. You frequently fall from walls, miss a jump, feel tenuously perched where you shouldn’t, or anchored to a perch where you shouldn't. These awkward interactions - which will be familiar to fans of Dead Island - extends to picking things up or searching items on the ground, two activities you’ll need to engage in frequently throughout your time in zombie-land.
That said, there’s nothing particularly bad about the game; there’s just not much good about it. It’s a very thin an watery experience that’s not helped one iota by the boring visuals that pop-in far too much.
If the idea of running full speed through a city festering with zombies appeals, and you're patient enough to tolerate fetch quests and a forgetful cast, you could do much worse than Dying Light. The problem is it's very hard to do much, much better.