By Ian BooneLoad File cuts through the hype and censure to examine the steamy innards of new video game releases. This week, Ian will take apart Dying Light to see what makes it moan. Looking for something romantic? Someone eats a heart in here somewhere.

ONE NIGHT IN HARRAN MAKES A HARD MAN CRUMBLE

Urban free-running and zombie terror have finally come together in a dream sandwich I never knew I wanted. Dying Light provides a passable simulation of survival in a foreign no-man’s land teeming with the hungry dead. It might also be a bit more nuanced than what was expected from the zombie title. What am I getting at? I’m sorry, my brain’s been gnawed on more than a few times in the last few days, it’ll take a while to get this all out.

Dying Light is Techland’s latest effort in survival horror after creating Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide, and while it does share a lot of similarities with its predecessors, Dying Light incorporates many, many new ideas. Dying Light also suffers from the glitchiness and unpolished code that emanates through Techland’s legacy.

Players will take on the role of a man named Crane inside Harran, a fictional Middle Eastern city that’s been written off by the world at large and left alone to deal with its own outbreak of the undead. Crane enters this city under the directive of a shadowy government force to carry out their interests, but is attacked and bitten on arrival. Now he’s obliged to carry out dangerous runner missions for the survivors of Harran, not only to help but also to procure precious Antizin rations that keep him from turning full zombie.

Dying Light_20150128211540Embroiled within all this bleakness (where you’re forced to make morally questionable decisions), it’s good to know that Harran feels more like a playground than a city of the dead. Everything can be scaled and climbed upon, key for avoiding walkers. At night, things take a much more serious and tense atmosphere: As the sun sets, dangerous new strains of zombie appear that actively hunt down stragglers outside safe zones. Crane is forced to move much more cautiously during this time, but some missions and objectives can only be completed at night. It’s an interesting solution to a common problem in zombie-themed video games: Where’s the horror in massacring slow, predictable corpses?

RUNNING MEANS YOU LIVE… AND GET REALLY TIRED.

Dying Light gives us a ruinous, highly-detailed city to explore in open first-person. There isn’t a fast-travel system in Dying Light, meaning that every destination has to be actively reached by the player. This makes perfect sense, as the joy in this game comes from your swift movement through this dangerous city. But it may alienate those who are looking to work through a speedy fetch-list game. And while there’s zombies and killer zombies and other hoohaa to put a wrinkle in your plans, Harran is your biggest obstacle to overcome in the game. Luckily, Crane can climb, shimmy, and scale with the best. Platform jumping in first-person can take some getting used to, but holding down the R1 button on the controller makes sure any jumps made in arms reach will be recovered from. After a short while, I was gliding over rooftops and like unstoppable, sentient lubricant.

It is a good thing that avoiding and outrunning zombies is implemented so well, because fighting them is a much different story. One zombie is a chore, two zombies is drudgery, and three will make you wonder why you ever left the rooftops. Most of the weapons in the game are melee, and break after repeated usage. Worse, Crane gets easily winded after repeatedly flailing. Your damage and speed go down, and vision is impaired on-screen until a breather is taken. These setbacks are for realism’s sake, however, and can be overcome later with in-game upgrades. But anyone eager to brain some zombies with that new Table Leg they’ve scavenged will learn quickly that weapon durability and stamina are fleeting things.

Dying Light_20150204011928These skills are the ticket to keeping Antizin flowing through Crane’s veins as he puts them to good use in tackling problems for the survivors stuck in Harran. Food and medicine are in short supply, people need help getting out, and sometimes a petty score just needs to be settled. Starting off, Crane does missions for a group of charitable parkour runners who help him after his initial setbacks, but dually also carries out the directives of the shadowy GRE that sent him in. In time, he’ll even carry out jobs for the warlord Rais, the ultimate adversary. The plot gets muddied with so many masters to serve; it can be a very grey world when blurred lines are drawn.

Missions will award Crane with cash, booty, and advancement in three different skill trees. The skill trees will unlock a plethora of things, from rude dropkicks to less exciting fare (like making herbal stimulants). Every skill tree ends in a godly perk that grants either unlimited stamina, no fall damage, or unlimited weapon durability. What’s the most appreciable fact is that advancement in these skills doesn’t hinge on just mission progression: just the act of jumping raises your Agility, and putting down zombies raises Power.

Unless bare-knuckling against biting corpses is your thing, keeping a few weapons in your inventory is advised. Many items can be used as cudgels found in the environment, but more powerful weapons and gizmos can be crafted… but only sometimes. The crafting system itself is a bit unwieldy, where you may inadvertantly craft the wrong item or socket an upgrade onto an unintended weapon. But the blueprints themselves require quite a lot of components for something that will break. Weapons can be repaired, but only so much.

Dying Light_20150203115701The items you can craft, on the other hand, are well worth the tradeoff of their disposable nature. Ever want to whip electrical ninja stars at zombies? Now you can. Ever dream of drawing the damned in with a crackling string of fireworks, and then igniting the horde with a molotov cocktail? That can happen too. Medicine and more essential kits can be made, as well, just not the precious Antizin Crane desperately needs. Can’t have everything.

When the sun goes down in Harran, dangerous Night Hunters appear to stalk their prey (re: you). These nocturnal predators show up on the mini-map with a vision cone, so avoiding their attention is doable, if a little tense when there are multiple Night Hunters in the same area. Once spotted, Crane has a little time to scuttle away before a shriek goes out and the hunt is on. Ultraviolet light from a flashlight or triggering a UV light trap around the city can stun these bad boys, but catching the player almost certainly means death.

Dying Light_20150204011551Up to four players can join together in online co-op and face the horror of Harran. Challenges and competitions pop up to provide friendly competition, and there are random air-drops with valuables to race towards. If something more adversarial is desired, there’s the “Be A Zombie” mode that allows players to enter other games as a Night Hunter. This mode is complete with its own upgradable skill tree, and rewards lurking and mercing on other players with new nasty moves. If other players enter your game and sound annoying, this can be toggled off in the settings.

AIN’T EVERY DAY A SUN RISES

In this near-vacuum of original content for Playstation 4 and Xbox One, it’s good to see a competent game that isn’t an enhanced port. While there are minor technical hiccups like crafting, nothing totally game-breaking has been uncovered during my playtime thus far. Color me impressed, Techland.

Don’t be fooled by story trailers: The plot and characters are annoying at their best, and the dialogue rattles off like a child learning to curse for the first time. This is not the next gripping post-apoc thriller since The Last of Us. But it is a fun, testing survival sim.

Dying Light is going to test a soul, no doubt. It’s the nature of the game to cause strain all in the name of a reward dangling from a stick. But the free running and exploration of the city makes the game an enjoyable tour of experience. The story will take probably around thirty hours to complete, and that’s not counting all the random diversions and side-missions that you’ll encounter. If you’ve wanted a zombie action title that keeps the danger constantly underfoot, Dying Light is worth the pick-up.

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