We love Zombies
From Resident Evil to The Last Of Us to Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead, it seems that over the last few years you can’t swing a baseball bat covered in barbed wire without hitting a zombie game of some sort, with even franchises like Red Dead Redemption and Call of Duty throwing their hat in the ring when it comes to zombie action. It’s safe to say we love zombies.
Unfortunately the zombie genre runs the same risk as any other in becoming over saturated and as expected not every entry has been a success. Resident Evil purists will be well aware of the missteps their beloved franchise has taken and even Konami attempted to create a zombie survival game with their big IP Metal Gear Solid in Metal Gear Survive which was met with eye rolls across the board.
Amongst these long list of zombie games released in the last ten years there is one that I’m here to say you absolutely should play (if you haven’t already). Of course I’m referring to Dying Light.
It’s time to look back on why this 2015 game was such a cult phenomenon and has been keeping a steady player base even now, nearly 5 years later.
We Need To Go Back To The Island
No, not the island from ‘Lost’ but rather I’m referring to Techland’s first Zombie slasher game ‘Dead Island’. In 2011 Techland created and released this game under the publisher Deep Silver. The game was released to generally lukewarm reviews and sold around 5 million copies. There was plenty of potential in the game, with a massive open world, a focus on melee combat, a main quest line and side quests a plenty. However everyone generally agreed it didn’t live up to it’s promise.
After 2011 Techland and Deep Silver decided to go their separate ways, with Deep Silver looking for a new developer to continue their Dead Island Franchise with a sequel, and Techland interested in creating their own zombie game. This would eventually be known as Dying Light. Techland were able to expand on the mechanics they introduced in Dead Island as well as completely overhaul others (Parkour!).
To date, Deep Silver have had Dead Island 2 in development hell – having gone through 2 different developers who now no longer work on the game and no release date in sight.
Now to the game itself, Dying Light was released in January of 2015 to generally positive reviews and went straight to number 1 in the US Software Sales Chart, beating heavy weight household names at that time such as GTA V and Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Now let’s remember that Dying Light is a horror game and horror games generally under perform compared to other more popular genres (Not everyone likes horror it seems!) and so for the game to do this well upon release was an achievement in itself.
So what does Dying Light do so well that nearly 5 years later it still has a huge player base of 10,000 – 15,000 people a day on different platforms? Well, like any good game I believe it’s a mixture of different factors that Techland implemented so well.
Graphics aren’t everything, this is true. But when you’re playing an open world game it certainly helps to impress your player base with a game engine that doesn’t constantly pop and have the draw distance of your grandmother’s poor eyesight. When you first enter the fictional Middle Eastern city of Harran you will immediately notice how good the lighting is. Techland wanted the countdown to sunset to be a slow and tense one. You better finish that mission you’re doing before the sun fully sets and you hear the screams of the hostile and fast zombies that come crawling out of their caves and tunnels. The world looks great and turning a beautiful dusk into a countdown for your life was a stroke of genius by Techland. During the daytime the world boasts a fantastic look and you rarely notice assets repeating themselves.
I will not spoil the details of the main storyline within this article incase there are any new players inspired to pick up a controller and give it a whirl. However what I will say is that whilst the main storyline of Dying Light could be criticised for being a little generic and by the numbers (2 survivor camps at war, shady government cover up etc etc) the side quests/missions you are given or will often stumble upon are fantastic. Yes, there are fetch quests but these are limited and usually lead onto something else unexpected. You may find a recording or a letter addressed to someone which makes you investigate an area, only to discover there’s something more sinister going on. These side missions will normally reward you with experience points (survivor points) or new gear, which is always good to get that dopamine hit!
Which brings us on to perhaps the main reason that so many people had and are still having fun playing this particular zombie horror game. The game mechanics.
Never before has a game in first person made the feeling of performing parkour moves from building to building effortlessly feel so good. Mirror’s Edge way back on the PS3 / Xbox 360 era definietly pioneered this mechanic however Techland have mastered it here in their game. You can use the environment to your advantage, and sometimes if you don’t quite make the jump you’re attempting, then you’ll pay the price. Your skills improve as you unlock more Parkour moves which can be used against enemies as well as to travel around safely. The crafting system in the game is a simple gaming cycle of collect scrap – upgrade items – repair item. However limiting the amount of times you can repair your favourite weapon forces you to constantly be creative and on the look out for the next melee weapon of choice.
There are skill trees to help you unlock more advanced options when it comes to crafting, parkour and surviving. The combat itself is fun and inventive with fire, electricity and blunt force all having different effects on the Zombies. There are guns in the game however you’re generally discouraged from using them due to the noise attracting more hordes of Z.
Techland also released a ton of DLC post game, many of which were free additions to the game in forms of updates. Their paid DLC was a brand new map which was bigger than the original game, a brand new storyline set after completion of the main game and new game mechanics such as new weapon types and vehicles (Running over zombies!). There was also a custom map mode in which players could design and publish their own Dying Light maps as Parkour or Zombie challenges for the community to take part in.
The game itself boasted an impressive and fluid multiplayer system in which you could make your game ‘Public’ and be joined by another player of similar level and ability who was also at the same point of the storyline as you and therefor you could tackle difficult boss battles together, or just explore the immersive city of Harran and share gear. Fans of such games like the Monster Hunter series will be familiar with this type of RPG multiplayer system.
There are countless smaller features which I haven’t covered and if you’re a first time player you will have a blast discovering them for yourself. Sometimes if you go back to a game which is 5 years old and play it, you feel those 5 years. With Dying Light it’s like playing a game released in the last year or so. Still classes above it’s rivals in the zombie genre.
No Better Time To Play This Classic
Techland have released a 26 minute gameplay video last week showing you a bunch of new features and game mechanics you can expect in their upcoming sequel, Dying Light 2, due to be released in early 2020. There is no better time to dust off the first game or if you’re a first time player – discover it for the first time!
For more information on the upcoming sequel check out Techlands website here.
If you enjoyed this article, our other reviews can be found here.