The past several generations of game consoles have seen the zombie genre pick up significant traction, and it has quickly become one of the industry’s most oversaturated concepts. Video game sales figures have historically demonstrated that when a developer includes—or simply alludes to—the presence of zombies in a narrative, the result is usually millions of dollars in sales. Dying Light serves as one of the first zombie titles to be released on the PS4 and Xbox One consoles, and as such, the expectations of gamers was understandably high. While some minor issues still permeate the title, Dying Light serves as a successful step in the right direction for the genre, and a worthy example for developers of what can be achieved in a next generation zombie title.
Dying Light situates players in the role of Krane, an agent working for an organization called GRE (Global Relief Effort). Krane is airdropped into the fictional city of Harran, Turkey, amidst a viral outbreak with the sole objective of retrieving a single file containing confidential information pertaining to the virus.
The plot and characters are as generic as they come, with very little separating the game’s storyline from the plethora of zombie movies on the market today. Our protagonist Krane possesses about as much personality as the nameless shambling hordes of zombies he dismembers throughout the course of the game. While an underdeveloped narrative may be an issue for some players, though, Dying Light more than makes up for any narrative missteps through its gameplay.
Many developers have marketed their respective zombie titles with the promise of adynamic, open environment that players are free to traverse. Very few titles follow through on this promise – whether due to lack of funding, or hardware limitations, most game environments feel constrained and underwhelming. This is one area where Dying Light truly shines in relation to its competitors. The city of Harran looks gorgeous, with dynamic lighting and particle effects that would put most open world titles to shame. The environment possesses a strong sense of verticality that demonstrates clear attention to detail by developer Techland. Players are free to climb up the tallest skyscrapers and down into the depths of the city’s sewer system.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the game is its day and night cycle, which not only presents aesthetic changes to the games’ environments, but also simultaneously blends genres. During the day the game plays much like a typical action/brawler, as the player sets traps and outmaneuvers the seemingly endless hordes of zombies. At night, however, the game assumes a survival horror framework as zombies become faster, more aggressive, and significantly more agile, making the player’s sole objective to seek refuge.
If a vacation to a tropical destination in the near future seems unlikely, the breathtaking vistas of Harran enjoyed with a few friends, and a few cold ones (and I don’t mean zombies) would serve as a satisfactory alternative.