Most of you have probably never heard of a “Sundown Town,” so let me tell you that for a certain group of people it is not a nice place to be. As the name implies, if you are in that town when the Sun goes down, you may never see it rise again. If that piques your interest, please remember that the internet and Google are your friends. Now I want to turn your attention to the fictional city of Harran. The best way to describe Harran would be the example of walking down the street on a really hot day and then walking into a department store with really good A/C. just from that step in the door you feel the difference and it’s like hot meets cold. Harran is where Eastern, more traditional culture meets Western modern culture. On one side of the street you have grocery stores, a bar and even a video store (I didn’t say they were super modern) while on the other side you see a historical landmarks and older, stone houses. Harran is the type of place where tourists literally lose themselves in the beauty of it all. This is further compounded by the fact that right at the end of 2014, Harran hosted the Global Athletic Games. Everything was supposed to be fantastic; regular citizens would become rich and the wealthy of Harran were to become like kings. That was the promise the government of Harran told its people. That was Harran at the end of 2014. . . but we are a month into 2015 now.
Things in Harran have changed. Remember what I had said about sundown towns; Harran is no longer a safe place during the day. When night falls, it does not matter who you are, odds that you will see the Sun again are slim to none.
WICKED CITY The 2014 Global Athletic Games brought many things to the city of Harran: tourism, revenue and all the recognition and prestige that comes from hosting such an event. It also brought something totally unexpected in the form of a mutated strain of the Rabies virus. Similar to the regular form of Rabies we are used to, this virus affects the brain of the victim and leads to death. Unfortunately, in Dying Light, the virus does not stop there. There are four stages to the infection that ultimately lead to something unrecognizable as ever being human. These stages produce monstrosities as follows:
- BREAKTHROUGH – Early stages of the infection that leads to aggression toward the uninfected. May also increase muscle mass resulting in inhuman strength. Virals and Goons are examples of this phase.
- TRANSMISSION – Fully infected; hunger for human flesh. Slow by day, but nocturnal adrenaline bursts are common – do not provoke at night. Biters and Gastanks are examples of this phase
- FAILED BREAKTHROUGH – An evolutionary dead-end in the progression of the virus. Creates abnormal changes in the victim that affect size and ability. Demolishers, Toads, Bombers, Bolters and Screamers are examples of this phase.
- Ascension – Everything you could have called “human” is gone. Changes in bone structure lead to horrifying mutations. All forms are powerful nocturnal predators. Volatile and the Night Hunter are examples of this final phase.
The only thing that slows the virus from ravaging pre-breakthrough victims is a medicine called Antizin, and it is understandably in short supply in the now walled-off city of Harran. Antizin is air dropped daily by the G.R.E. (Global Relief Effort) which your character, Kyle Crane, is a member of. His mission is to find the man holding the key to potentially curing the virus. From the beginning, the mission does not go well and things get progressively worse as time is running out for everyone.
WHY WON’T YOU DIE? I am not going to sit here and compare Dying Light to the first two Dead Island games. Long before the game released, I compared Dying Light to the upcoming Dead Island 2 so you can check that out here if interested. What I will say is that Dead Island faithful will be able to ease into this game better as much of the elements of Dying Light are similar. The controls are something to get used to, as jumping and swinging your weapon are assigned to shoulder buttons. early on, your weapons will take a while to dispatch the undead, but as you get stronger you will eventually begin to decapitate and bisect your enemies. With the added element of parkour, your body is also a weapon. You will learn to baseball slide, dropkick and even snap the necks of your foes. Without spoiling, I am even happy to say that Dying Light allows you to employ methods seen in more popular tales of “mobile corpses.” The learning curve is light in terms of controlling Crane and Techland did a very good job of making the tutorials not feel like a chore. Just moving about the massive game world awards you experience in your agility stat so you quickly learn how to control yourself before things get tough. Even when things get dicey (night time), you are ready for it because of all of the training you barely realized that you were receiving. The first time I was confronted by Volatile, I was scared out of my mind and ran blindly into the night. You literally cannot see anything if the Moon is not shining or if there are no light or fires around yet I was still able to navigate and climb buildings to escape those things. Fear often is the best teacher and Dying Light enforces that rule to the extreme. When you are not running for your life, you should be looting everything in site, filling your pack with as much as you can. Creating weapons, ammunition, lockpicks and med kits on the fly is the only way to survive in Harran. Once you get the basics down, you will start feeling like a badass and even the Volatile and the Night Hunter won’t stand a chance!
PRETTY UGLY Techland was originally developing Dying Light for both current and last-generation consoles, along with the PC. I am glad that the decision was made to only develop for current gen and PC in the end because it reflects in the quality of the final product. Dying Light is not going to win any beauty pageants; there are better looking games out there. The graphics are still very nice and particular work was put into character design. What really shines though are the environmental elements of the game and the visual effects. I always talk about water. Techland’s Chrome Engine 6 definitely needed to be dedicated to a current generation game and the water effects prove it. From the rain to the bubbles in the water when you submerge, water looks beautiful in this dismal city. Even when you encounter a volatile, their skin appears to be wet (do not want to know with what) in contrast to the standard dry and decaying zombies. Wind is “visible” as you can see ash flying around from the constant fires and the palm trees sway. Your all too important flashlight makes for some beautiful lighting effects in certain areas and even the terrifying darkness has its charm. Having escaped to a safe house, I recall hearing a Volatile screeching at me. My mini map told me that it was directly ahead of me but I could see nothing. I turned on my flashlight and it was surely there. I had one of those Looney Tunes moments where you are in the dark, turn on the light to reveal a monster and then just turn it back off and run in terror. Dying Light is not the first game to employ a day and night cycle, but it is one of if not the first where things are so drastically different. During the day, you can move about freely. Even though there are zombies everywhere you can always scale a building to escape. At night, you are scared to move and even more afraid to stand still because the Volatile are not only out there, they are actively searching for you. Secure your safe zones early because you will need them once the day/night cycle begins (after the first few story missions). You will learn the true meaning of “Good Night, Good Luck” when you play this game.
SOMETHING EVIL’S LURKIN’ IN THE DARK Dying Light offers players two different multiplayer options. The first is standard fare where you and up to three of your friends can proceed through the story mode and the game will randomly throw challenges at you to spice things up. For example, if you have to go to a certain location, the game may ask if you want to turn that into a race where the winner gets a bonus. Or if you enter an area densely populated with the undead, the person that slays the most wins and gets a bonus. Techland stayed true to the roots of their matchmaking system; Dying Light will pair you up with other players who have similar story progress and skill progression. Of course you can simply team up with your friends which may make things less even. Things get really interesting when you decide to stop working together and compete against one another. The main menu offers a second mode of play called Be the Zombie. When you choose this, you can literally invade another player’s game and attack them and anyone that has teamed up with them. The goal for the zombie known as the Night Hunter is to kill all of the humans and exhaust their respawns before they can destroy the nests that Volatile spawn from. Be careful with your online settings because just as easily as you can invade the games of others, you can also be invaded. Be the Zombie does not interfere with your story progress. While it takes place in Harran, it is a completely separate game of kill or be killed. How you alter your game settings determines whether or not you have to deal with eight year olds controlling a zombie screaming into your headset. It was originally thought that the mode would only allow for random match ups but you can set it so that you only play with and/or against your friends. I know that is a big sigh of relief for a lot of gamers. Personally, I think that it was a great move on Techland’s part making this mode available to all Dying Light players from launch. The abilities you get as a runner are amazingly fun to mess around with. There is no one that can tell me that they would not dropkick a zombie right now if they could. Controlling the Night Hunter however, is something along the lines of fantastic. Tendrils allow you to zip across the map and the strength and agility of this thing is off the scale compared to the human opponents. I have not had that much fun against human opponents since I home run punched a guy off the hospital tower as a Tank in Left 4 Dead. Be the Zombie is very simple, but also very satisfying. It is another way make sure the guys playing as humans stay scared of the dark.
I wanted to avoid mentioning Dead Island as much as possible while reviewing Dying Light. If you have even touched the former game you will recognize its influence on the latter. It is true that Dying Light was originally being designed as a Dead Island sequel, but if it were going to follow the patterns of the previous games then I am glad that idea did not come to fruition. This game is so much more than its predecessors and that is not to down a series that I personally got a lot of enjoyment out of. Dying Light is literally the next generation of Techland’s zombie apocalypse games. Their games for previous consoles and PC featured expansive open worlds yet managed to still be restrictive. The difference in the amount of freedom that Dying Light gives you is (pun intended) the difference between night and day. Early in development, the creators said that in Harran, if you can see it, you can go there. and they were not kidding. If you cannot get to a certain area, you probably need to either upgrade your skills or progress further in the story. The game lets you decide how you want to do things for the most part and it is very easy to exploit the rules of game to your advantage. For example, there is a mission that requires you to do the last part at night; you cannot complete it during the day. I was not too keen on running halfway across the map in the dark while Volatile hunt me down. So I went there just before sunset and did it right when night fell. They say that the safe houses are the only place you can rest easily at night. This is not true either as you can make your own hideout in a few places. You just feel a little uneasy sitting in the dark is all. If I had to sum it up, I would say that Dying Light, in terms of gameplay, is like playing Dead Island with the exploratory freedom of Grand Theft auto V. It even has somewhat more freedom than that game because you can go into most of the buildings. The parkour makes just running around ridiculously fun, even at night when you find yourself afraid to move. Whether you choose PS4, Xbox One or PC, this is the first game of 2015 that you must play. Run, jump, zip line, dive and swim into Dying Light; you will not regret it. Just be careful, because when the sun sets, it is literally Thriller night out there. Good night, and good luck!