Gamescom 2013: Dying Light Hands-On Preview - Night Fever
Written Saturday, September 07, 2013 By Lee AbrahamsView author's profile
I died ingloriously in a bush, zombies presumably chomping on my brain. Such was my introduction to Dying Light, the latest game from Techland who, you may recall, made those 'kind of alright but not quite as awesome as you’d have hoped' Dead Island games. Still with the chance to step it up on next-generation consoles Dying Light represents the ideal opportunity to put right those past missteps with a much more tightly wrought story. Or at least that’s the plan.
Going hands-on with the current build gave us the opportunity to experience the game's most obvious major upgrade: the free-running control scheme. One of the really grating things about Dead Island was the fact that it was all too easy to get stuck in the midst of a zombie horde with no way out, and your puny jumping abilities would shame a rock. This time around the world is your oyster, the developers wanting you to see the area around you as a potential playground for your amusement. At the touch of a button you can leap over obstacles, clamber up poles, zoom over zip wires and launch yourself across rooftops. If you get surrounded you can hoist yourself onto a nearby roof and make good your escape or quickly slide under a ramshackle fence to get a breather.
It actually works really well, with fluid movement and minimal fuss, and gives the whole game an element of exploration and ingenuity that Dead Island sorely lacked. You can also cleverly leap over zombies themselves, which prevents those frustrating ‘trapped in a corner’ moments that used to be so prevalent in Techland's previous zombie outing. Being able to leap from building to building makes getting around a lot easier - and a lot more fun - plus you can take your time to get the lay of the land. Our assigned goal in our brief time with the game was to reactivate some nearby traps to help out a group of survivors. As we hustled through an infested city we could happily avoid the zombie hordes or just drop down to ground level and lay into them as we pleased. The on-screen map highlighted our objectives, and potential foes, so we could scoot around with impunity.
The game also looks significantly better and the frame-rate issues and bizarre glitches that afflicted Dead Island and its sequel are nowhere to be seen here. It’s still early days of course, but the ruined city we strolled through (well, legged it through really) was full of detail and our zombie foes look infinitely (un)appealing. In fact, the only down side were some of the NPC character models which still looked pretty wooden and clunky if truth be told. Still the game is a true fully open-world, rather than the set locations of Dead Island, and your climbing skills mean that you can negotiate every building you come across. It’s certainly a vast step up in scope and one that means as long as you can see a location then you can head towards it to explore. Side quests pop up on your map and you are free to do them as and when you choose, though always at the risk of losing out to other survivors.
It seems like the voice work also seems to have taken a step forward and is no longer full of the terrible dialogue and juvenile comments that littered every conversation you had in Dead Island. It seems that the story is a bit more serious this time around, which will hopefully make for a more compelling experience.
Talking of the story, Techland was keen to add more choice and branching elements to how the game pans out (though sadly there will only be one ending). So now you might hear a cry for help and it’s up to you whether you investigate or not. If you do you could help out a small child and arrange for her rescue, in turn leading to benefits later on. However, that will mean mercenaries get to the air drop you were heading towards before you do. Leave the girl and you might get to ransack the supplies first. So the idea is to give players much more freedom and have new objectives that pop up on the fly for a less linear experience. We only got a small taster really, but it would certainly make a change from the regulation 'just go from A to B'-style missions.
The one thing that does seem to have stayed surprisingly to Dead Island similar is the combat. Yet again the emphasis is firmly on melee, with the usual array of inanimate objects littered around the landscape with which to batter your undead foes. A handy wrench can be used to club them to their knees and then you can charge up more powerful strikes to finish them off. You can also set up and trigger traps around the area, so electrocuting zombies or detonating explosives, as well as using a range of lures to simply move them out of your way are all viable options. We seemed to have an infinite supply of such zombie bait, but whether that will be the case in the final game remains to be seen. Plus, no doubt guns will show up at some point too, and it will be interesting to see if they have been made a bit more useful this time around.
The real ace in the hole though is the organic day/night cycle. Zombies now take on a whole new approach when darkness creeps across the land and if you want to stay alive it would be wise to stay out of their way. At night players are advised to dodge past zombies with stealth, using their senses to detect nearby shambling drones and then ducking out of sight. If you do get spotted then expect to be chased down by a horde of red eyed monsters, hungry for flesh. The glowing eyes and ramped up abilities create a whole new atmosphere, and as we rushed to escape from countless foes it became apparent that nowhere was safe. Now zombies will leap up onto rooftops after you and sprint down to the streets to tear your face off. It’s heart pounding stuff and a far cry from the more sedate approach of Techland's previous efforts.
The only qualm here would be the fact that, at night, the zombies seem almost too powerful. Meaning that any post-bedtime forays may well all end up the same way, namely with you dead. Sure you can just respawn and try again, but Dead Island actually got frustratingly harder the more you levelled up as zombies could down you in one or two hits, and the same issue may just happen again here. Time will tell, and the team were quick to say that they had balanced the abilities well enough to allow you to hold your own, so fingers crossed that’s still the case. Obviously we only got a five minute burst through the night time nightmare and, despite those reservations, it was certainly an adrenaline rush.
There is plenty to admire here and the addition of parkour is a perfect complement to the range of missions and combat that the game offers, plus it makes the controls a lot more user-friendly and prevents many an aggravating death. Yet again you will be able to explore the whole game with up to four friends in co-op, and there will be a range of unique missions and quests specific to squads of buddies, though Techland wasn’t ready to reveal any specifics. Still the thought of clambering across the skyline with a group of pals is certainly an appealing one.
For those interested in getting the game on your current machine, you can relax, as the full range of content and abilities will be available regardless or which version you buy. Though obviously you can expect the next-gen versions to look significantly better, have more zombies on screen, and so on. Techland was also keen to stress that working on both generations hasn’t led to anything being cast aside or left out, so hopefully this will be the culmination of their efforts on the last two Dead Island games, especially after the major disappointment that was Riptide.
Dying Light has really only added a few new ideas to the mix, but already it feels like a fresh new direction. The mix of parkour and increasingly aggressive zombies means that each encounter is a fight for your life, or a daring escape up, over and under anything in your path. The open-world approach, mixed with missions that now seem to bear both short and long term consequences, are also a welcome change from the stale old formula. In truth it seems like Techland has attempted to address almost every criticism aimed at their last two zombie games and then some. And while we may still have a few questions that need answering, Dying Light is looking like it might be one to watch.
Expect to leg it from glowing eyed beasties when Dying Light shows up on Xbox 360 and Xbox One sometime in 2014.