I’m not a Dead Island fan. In fact, I’ve been pretty disgusted with Dead Island since the trailer for the first game was revealed to be misleading.
I give this preface to say that my admiration for what Techland is doing with Dying Light is so great as to overcome whatever qualms I may have for the developer’s past efforts. After the 30-minute presentation, I was allowed to get some hands-on with the game for about 20 minutes.
The gameplay is best described as Dead Island with better melee combat and a Mirror’s Edge-style parkour system. The main character is mobile, and the movement system felt very fluid. It was easy to transition from running to jumping to fighting as I moved through the dilapidated city in an effort to collect some supplies from an air drop.
Fighting the zombies was simple fun. These aren’t the death traps of Ubisoft’s ZombiU, as the enemies in Dying Light overwhelm you with their sheer numbers more than anything else. This makes the combat feel more like a playground, where players can experiment and have fun at the zombies’ expense. I played it quite carefully, but after being goaded by a member of the development team, I jumped into the fray and barely escaped.
You also get some special powers which came into play during the demo. One of them is a standard ground pound with the sledgehammer, which pops nearby zombies into the air either as a means of escape or to incapacitate them for an attack. The higher the move is initiated from, the more force it will have. The slightly exaggerated elements of the demo were a welcome change from other games in the genre, which aim to make you as clumsy and fragile as possible.
It’s not all melee, though, as I was able to fire a handgun during my time with the game. Shooting felt tight and responsive, though it was noisy enough to not always be a viable option.
Dying Light has one main differentiator from similar games: there’s a day/night cycle which impacts gameplay, as the night brings with it a special kind of zombie which is as fast as the player and far more deadly than normal zombies. This will create situations in which the player must decide whether or not finishing a certain quest is worth the risk of dying. I couldn’t get a straight answer from the developers, but it seems as though certain quests in Dying Light will have some type of time-sensitivity, making those decisions even tougher.
Dying Light aims to take the Dead Rising formula and tweak it with the additions of better movement and real decision making. So far, it’s shaping up to be succeeding admirably. Dying Light will be out in 2014 for PC, Xbox One, Playstation 4, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.