Techland might've been in danger of becoming a one-trick pony. At first take, the Polish studio's upcoming game Dying Light doesn’t seem to have strayed far from the formula of its most well-known game, Dead Island. Announced around a month before E3, Dying Light’s familiarity is undeniable. But at E3 2013, Gameplanet saw firsthand how Techland intends to take Dead Island’s first-person, cooperative RPG formula, flesh it out and create something quite unique in the process.

Our demonstrator advises at the beginning of this session that what we’re watching is running on a high-end PC with specs comparable to that of the PlayStation 4. Utilising the proprietary Chrome Engine 6, it’s an admittedly striking game that, unsurprisingly, looks like a natural next-gen evolution of Dead Island. Tonally, however, Dying Light is a much more serious and more frightening affair. It takes place in a run-down, quarantined, coastal city where survivors hunt for supplies during the day while avoiding the shambling undead that populate the streets. However, our demonstrator explains that as night falls, “you are the hunted ones.”

E3: Dying Light preview

As the demo begins, the player sees two supply crates dropped from a passing plane. Naturally, the first objective is to procure these supplies, and a waypoint appears on-screen. Dialogue between the main character and a woman speaking via radio implies that the player needs to get to the supplies before other parties can claim them.

It’s at this stage that the first substantial differentiator from Techland’s work on Dead Island makes itself apparent; core to Dying Light’s gameplay is a first-person parkour experience not entirely unlike Mirror’s Edge. It’s a simple element that adds layers to the gameplay, allowing players to access more of the environment than in Dying Light’s spiritual precursor. En route to the waypoint, the main character is exceptionally mobile and nimble, hopping over and scrambling up structures and objects; it seems the best approach is often to avoid the infected altogether with what our demonstrator describes as “free-running movement” rather than taking to the ground and risking combat.

E3: Dying Light preview
E3: Dying Light preview
E3: Dying Light preview

That’s not to say that there’s no combat, of course. But unlike other games in this vein, it’s not necessarily the focus here. “This isn’t a game about just fighting off the infected,” begins the demonstrator, adding that it’s more about “finding different strategies for taking them down and getting away.” At one point, the player distracts a large horde of zombies by throwing a sparkler-like device, and we’re told that avoiding groups of zombies altogether is often necessary.

Occasionally, though, players inevitably find themselves with no choice but to engage in combat. As in Dead Island, only melee weapons are available in the game’s early stages, and players can craft items together to make more powerful variants. For instance, the demonstrator showed off a familiar electrified machete. It seems there are plenty of acrobatic offensive maneuvers at the player’s disposal also; at one stage, the player landed a dropkick on a single zombie, impaling it on a set of spikes protruding from a fence.

An action RPG at heart, Dying Light features randomly generated side quests that players may choose to ignore if they wish. In this instance, on his way to the first supply drop, our character hears some distant crying. Investigating the noise takes our demonstrator into a building where a young, traumatised girl, hides in a wardrobe, clutching her teddy bear. She’s untrusting of the player and insists on being left alone. The radio support advises that she’ll head to that location later to retrieve the child, and the player redirects his attention to the supply drop.

When he gets there shortly afterwards, there’s trouble: heavily armed and well-armored mercenaries got there first. Their firearms aimed at the player, they instruct him to leave in no uncertain terms. Outnumbered and outgunned, he obliges, cursing the loss of the precious supplies.

After reaching the second supply drop, the final major gameplay element shown to press that day is revealed: real-time day and night cycles. Once night falls, the most powerful form of infected – the Volatile – leave their hideout to hunt any humans unlucky enough to find themselves out in the open. It seems the main character has misjudged the length of his supply run, and a genuine sense of fear and panic sets in. Like the player, the Volatile are exceptionally agile, and they’ll give chase upon spotting a human being.

E3: Dying Light preview
E3: Dying Light preview

The night cycle vastly and immediately changes the dynamic of Dying Light. First it becomes a matter of sneaking, of desperately trying to avoid the attention of these incredibly powerful creatures. When spotted, the action switches a frantic and adrenaline-pumping chase scenario, the player forced to free-run back to the safe house as quickly as possible. At certain points during this chase sequence, the player’s head pivots 180 degrees to check on the pursuing creatures; it was unclear whether this was automated or player controlled. The demo ends with the player caught and struck down by a Volatile, the screen switching to black as its screeching maw draws in for the kill.

The demonstration was brief, but it effectively communicated Techland’s vision: Dying Light is an exciting evolution of the promising gameplay that Dead Island never quite realised. Its focus on horror elements, heightened freedom of movement and an interesting day/night mechanic makes for an instantly more appealing proposition with substantially more depth.

Dying Light will release on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on an as-yet unspecified date in 2014.