Dying Light Falls Just Short of Ambitions

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Dying Light. WBIE

I recently wrote about how every modern survival horror game owes a debt to Resident Evil and how I hoped that the genre would resurrect itself in a way that does honor to the great Capcom series instead of just repeating its tropes and clichés. I posited that perhaps Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment's Dying Light would be the answer to our horror-loving prayers. It’s not.

Don’t get me wrong: Dying Light is not a horrible game. There are some great ideas here and there within it. It reminds one of what they loved about many survival horror games, especially the Dead Island games and even a bit of Left 4 Dead. However, it’s impossible to deny that there are some downright broken elements of Dying Light; some parts of the game that were seriously underdeveloped and have left it as frustrating as it is fun. The combat can be inconsistent, the depth of field in terms of visuals can be problematic, and the parkour-style mechanics will drive you crazy. I spent an inordinate amount of time just trying to figure out how to climb one pole to jump to another pole. There’s nothing scarier than frustrated boredom.

A NEW TWIST ON THE END OF THE WORLD

That’s harsh, and a little unfair. As I said, there are some really fun set pieces and ideas within Dying Light—it’s getting through them and from one to another that can be frustrating. As with SO many games nowadays (damn you, Fallout), Dying Light takes place after civilization has crumbled, turning most of the Earth’s inhabitants into brain-eating zombies, who only get stronger after the sun goes down. Dying Light is about surviving more than killing. You will run more than you will fight. You will spend a remarkable amount of time looking for parts to craft weapons, traps, medkits, even firecrackers. It is a game about finding the tools you need to stay alive.

Naturally, that makes it an ambitious game, and my loyal readers will know how much I value ambition in a game’s development. While this title undeniably shares DNA with Dead Island, it’s not as tongue-in-cheek as those games; not as cartoonish or over-the-top. The danger feels real. The adrenaline when you realize you’re going to have to run and jump and climb as fast as you can gets your heart racing. And, in those moments, Dying Light shines.

NOTHING SCARES ME LIKE FAULTY MECHANICS

The problems come in between those moments. The awkward transitions when you jump to a ledge, the frustratingly inconsistent mechanics of both combat and movement. One minute, you’re hitting a zombie with an upgraded lead pipe square in the head and it’s barely even registering. The next, you’re swiping the undead with a wood plank and he’s going down. There’s an inconsistency to the melee combat that’s minorly annoying, but it’s nothing compared to the running/jumping/sprinting aspects of the game, which feel glitchy at times. How far you can jump, how high, how quickly—it’s inconsistent. And inconsistency in those departments for a game that relies on them to work can be quickly aggravating. I found myself too often pulled out of the narrative simply by trying to figure what the game wanted me to do next and how to do it. Don’t get me wrong. I like puzzle-solving. But there’s a difference between figuring out something in character and figuring the right button configuration to do something that should be simple.

You’ll too often do the latter in Dying Light.

And yet, as frustrating as this game can be, it’s still worth a look for diehard fans of the zombie and survival horror genre. We still long for that next Resident Evil, that next Silent HillDying Light is not the “next big thing” but it contains the foundation that someone could build on to create that influential masterwork. It’s a start. Let’s see where it goes.

Disclaimer: WBIE provided a review copy of this game.