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2015’s Best Games: Dying Light

To round off the year, we’re taking a look back at our favourite games of 2015 – it’s been a hell of a year! Next up, Techland gets zombies right…

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This isn’t Dead Island 2. We know, it seems a little redundant to tell you that when the title of the game is in big letters above these very words, but apparently it’s necessary. Dead Island was fun, and it certainly has its place among the dumb zombie games of the world, but for all that Dying Light looks kind of similar and comes from Techland, you absolutely can’t go into it thinking that it’s just more of the same. That’s how you get annoyed. Then bored. And then you die. A lot.

To be fair, there are a hell of a lot of similarities to Dead Island, but they’re superficial at best. Facial animations, for example are still absolutely laughable; in a city filled with zombies, it’s the real people that are gurning, eye-rolling weirdos. And the story is an absolute heap of junk. You’re a good guy doing bad things while getting inexplicably tight with the local gangs extremely quickly. There’s also the bizarre dichotomy of being told ‘You have X amount of time to get this done’, while the time mechanics in-game require a day/night cycle. So your new storyline quest friends are all ‘Crane, help us! We’ve got to get this done as quickly as we can!’, in their atrociously written/acted lines, but you can be off with your sidequest friends and they’re just like ‘Yeah, bring back my bag from a super zombified place. No rush, mate.’ Which is a shame, because it’s an easy negative to pick up on that doesn’t actually matter to the fun you can be having; Dying Light has got so much more going on.

For starters, you need to be afraid of the zombies. You might be a big buff mandude (obvs), but you’re weak as hell to start off with. You’ll find a crappy old pipe, start wailing on zombies because hey, that’s what you do. And you might take a few out, start to get into the swing of things, but now there are shitloads more. And they keep coming. Oh god, you have to get out of here. Ah, wait, no – they’re biting you to death. Wipe to black. And you’re back in the nearest safehouse. Which, if you haven’t secured a closer one yet by booting all the zombies out of it, might be absolutely miles away. At the earlier stages of the game, while you can carry an absurd amount of baseball bats and lead pipes around with you, you need to accept that you’re just a dude, and running into a pile of zombies to mow them down with your mighty strength and nonsense weapons might feel initially awesome, but that’s not this game. That’s Dead Rising.

There’s a hell of a lot more care been taken here with pacing and progression, but if you play it like any other zombie game, charging into the fight immediately, then you’re just going to wonder why it’s so terrible. Using guns is a good example: you likely won’t find a gun until a certain point of the game, which leads to a section based around shooting. And it’s awesome. But then you’re going to run into tougher enemies. This ever-escalating cold war of skills vs enemies is great; the pace of Dying Light is incredibly well-balanced, and as is always the case with having to earn your skills, it feels so empowering once you master something new and then have to rise to a new challenge. Levelling up is also remarkably well thought out. You’ve got three skill trees – for Survival, Agility, and Power – and they all level up separately as you do more of those individual things. So if you choose to ignore the crafting side of things and just go freerunning around the city, you’re going to level up your Agility skill tree slightly quicker, leading to being better at it and therefore doing more of it, and so on. And by the time you’re at the bottom of one of your skill trees you’ll have a very different game/playstyle going on to someone else, catered to how you want to play.

Movement itself is so natural around the city that it becomes second nature incredibly quickly, almost to Techland’s detriment, as you just don’t notice how easy and smooth it is because you’re too busy just doing it. It’s primarily a means of travelling, though there are a few platforming elements, but it’s generous with hit detection. We had an unfortunate twenty minutes of getting stuck in a few things but aside from that, traversal of the city is ridiculously enjoyable, despite the initial ‘Oh god, aren’t we done with parkour yet?’ feeling. Just ignore that, it’s only your silly self being a grumpy bastard, because how else are you alone going to travel around like a badass in a zombie apocalypse? All the alternatives are even dumber, while the freerunning thing actually does feel really fluid.

As great as the lack of handholding is in Dying Light, Techland still has to work out some kinks; it makes no sense to suddenly throw in a cool stealth section or a gunfight, but not actually say that’s what it is. Here’s a corridor full of zombies – SPLAT! SQUISH! YEAH! – and now here’s a bit where you need to be really sneak – nope, you went in hot, you’re dead. Oh, and they’re still on high alert for you. Great. Still, it’s ridiculously refreshing to get find this sort of game not only challenging, but as well paced as it is. Dying Light is a hell of a lot of fun, and we didn’t even get around to talking about the online Be The Zombie mode (which is exactly how it sounds and so good). Just remember: it’s not Dead Island. It’s a proper goddamn zombie apocalypse and you need to level up.

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