Imagine being chased by zombies through a five story building. This desolate world is filled with debris. Sprinting forward, you are forced to scramble through cramped rooms, clutching desperately to the chair leg you are wielding as a weapon.
You punch through a door to be met by a shambling undead. Clubbing it with the leg, it falls and your defense shatters. Pushing past its crumpled body, you’re driven to the roof. Desperate, you see a dumpster below and leap into its trash filled embrace.
Welcome to Dying Light!
Dying Light's main story revolves around Kyle Crane, an undercover Global Relief Effort operative - and yes, this humanitarian sounding organization has operatives… You can see where this is going.
Taking control of Kyle, you are parachuted into the zombie infested city of Harran to stop Suleiman, a rouge operative who is threatening the overthrow the agency. Unfortunately, the moment Kyle lands he is bitten by an infected. Rescued by one of the city’s factions of survivors, and treated with a serum that inhibits the bite's zombifying effects, Kyle must chose between his mission and his new allies.
The whole tale is a bit convoluted, and filled with so many challenges and side-quest distractions, that by the end of the game the big reveal had me asking "who is Suleiman again?"
Fortunately, the somewhat makeshift story has almost no bearing on Dying Light's entertainment value. The open-world first-person gameplay of Dying Light is a true sandbox thanks to the freerunning mechanics. While these start off quite modest - dashing over the rooftops of favelas and making impossibly long jumps between them - it doesn't take long before you begin to level up. Once you start to unlock skills you will soon find yourself sliding under low beams, springing from ramps over fences, and even using a grappling hook to shoot skywards onto buildings. It may be a touch ridiculous but, once mastered, its fluidity is incredibly satisfying.
It’s also a good thing it is so easy to run as, once night sets in, Dying Light gets far more challenging. Darkness brings the most vicious zombies out of hiding, and they begin to wander the streets of Harran. Once spotted by these beasts the only option is to flee. Put enough distance between Kyle and his pursuers and they may lose interest – especially if you slow them with the various traps that are hidden around the map.
While narratively no excuse is given for a multiplayer mode, nearly the whole game can be experienced with friends to add even more fun to the open-world parkour. It has been some time since I had quite this much emergent-fun in a co-op game, with friends and I clambering up to the highest point we could find before diving from it on to whatever cars or garbage piles we could find to break our fall. Its breath catching stuff, as Dying Lights wonderful visual effects blur the world as you plummet ten or more stories down to your tiny target. Hit the mark and your onlooking-friend will be suitably impressed... miss and you will land in a pile of broken bones as your friend cackles with glee.
These highflying exploits were by far the highlight of the game, inspiring me to explore the vast environments on offer. But there is also a more brutal side to Dying Light. While the undead hordes that fill the world can (usually) be avoided, more aggressive players may choose to meet them head on.
Various blunt, sharp, and ranged weapons litter the world, and - like the freerunning - using any of them will level up your combat talents. The more skilled you become, the more powerful the weapons you can use.
I found the combat far less involving than the running, especially when fighting alone. Zombies swarmed in too great a number to be comfortably dealt with using the loose combat, and larger enemies were too challenging to be fun.
When I did fight, I gravitated more to long-bladed weapons, such as machetes, to which I added environmental effects. For example, by attaching toxic fumes, anything I hit began to wretch, allowing me to easily finish it off its hunched form. Unfortunately, even with durability upgrades attached, eventually my most beloved weapons would break. Though disappointing, this at least stopped me getting attached to a specific play style.
With dozens of side quests and challenges, it can be easy to get distracted from Dying Light's main tale - indeed its sandbox nature encourages this. However, even if it isn't that engaging, I would be inclined to recommend mainlining the story - if only because it lets you quickly gain access to the more entertaining skills, and experience the few fantastic set pieces that are scattered throughout the core missions. After all, you can always jump back into the world for some freeform fun once done.
Other than being light on story (and the occasional technical... abnormality), Dying Light is fantastically entertaining, especially when played with friends. True, it may be more fun than it is good, but sometimes that is exactly what you want.