Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Dying Light Review!

In a decade and a half of gaming development, Techland made lots of games from different genres, but what put them on the map was their ability to create fun first person shooters with good combat. The western, Call of Juarez, showed their true talent and it continued with a great prequel, Bound in Blood. But in the last years, when gamers talk about Techland they think about the Dead Island series, which is a mix of first person action combat, RPG and a few elements of survival horror in a world filled with zombies, the perfect combination for mindless fun.
Techland managed to deliver most of the time an immersive experience and up to date graphical fidelity with the help of their in-house Chrome Engine. Their games for 2015, Dying Light and Hellraid, promise to add new elements to improve on their recipe.
But how much can they improve without damaging the fun focused gameplay while possibly increasing its complexity?

               Dying Light is another first person action shooter filled with zombies from Techland and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.
               The action takes place in the fictional city of Harran which is under quarantine after it was hit by a viral outbreak that turned most of its inhabitants into aggressive zombies. The player takes the role of Kyle Crane, an undercover agent sent into the city by the Global Relief Effort (GRE) to recover a file that could damage the image of the agency from one of their operatives that went rogue.
Not long after being parachuted into Harran, Crane is attacked by bandits and bitten by a zombie only to be saved by the runner Jade Aldemir which takes him to the Tower, a building that serves as sanctuary for many of the survivors.
Waking up days later, Crane finds out that the people of the Tower attempt to help the survivors and struggle with their supply of antizin, a drug that suppresses the infection as long as it is constantly administrated. He is trained into parkour discipline by Rahim, Jade’s brother, and starts doing various missions for him and the other survivors as he attempts to find out which one is the man he is looking for.
Things become edgy when in order to get contact with the other major faction in the city, Crane is ordered by GRE to destroy a supply of antizin putting the lives of everyone in the Tower in grave danger.
Crane is a tough, resourceful and sarcastic person, willing to help anyone, but also taking a lot of shit from the people in Harran for no apparent reason. He is easily manipulated by GRE to do stupid things for the sake of the dramatic evolution of the story. These moments will clearly have a terrible outcome and could easily be avoided, but there are no decisions left to the player and the story development seems to mock the player with this.
Protect them! Infected children are some of the worst!

               The story of Dying Light had potential, but instead of trying to expand on it and make it something outside of the comfort zone of FPS games, the people at Techland decided to go with the same generic presentation. Because of this, the end result is an extremely linear narrative which puts the player in predictable situations with an unchangeable outcome as there are no choices involved.
The characters met in throughout the game gave a Far Cry vibe, with crazy and eccentric being in abundance even for a zombie apocalypse setting. It is like Harran was a giant loony bin and the outbreak just gave everyone the liberty to act accordingly.
The villain tries too hard, making him unbearable, he is nowhere near Vaas but he is definitely grinding the attention from the player through forced actions and unstoppable talking. The ending moments are anticlimactic being nothing more than a QTE fest which is extremely disappointing for a game that showed little elements of a console port.
                It is quite a shame that Techland didn’t push it past the most common features for this kind of game. I would have preferred to see less secondary missions, which Dying Light has in spades, in favor of a better developed story. Instead the story pushes onto the player some wannabe memorable moments with the hope of obtaining an emotional response, but I felt nothing for those that died or for my immoral actions since there wasn’t anything I could do to save them.
There was no other option...

               The gameplay shares many similarities with the Dead Island series with lots of secondary missions and challenges, weapons crafting and a strong focus on melee combat. With the action set in a verticalized open world, Dying Light sets itself apart through its core game mechanic: parkour.
               The parkour is the main element of the game and it opens up the gameplay for some pretty amazing fast paced action and stealth.
The city’s architecture seems designed for this discipline and waiting for the moment when this would be put to good use. Most of the buildings have a low to moderate height and have a wrinkled exterior aspect so it is easy for the players to grab on anything and pull themselves up. The suffocating infrastructure with small roads and buildings hugging each other gives a connectivity feeling to the city like a circuit waiting the electric current to pass through it.
In the two months of quarantine the city was adjusted by the survivors to serve their needs. Traps have been set everywhere and can be used to slow down the chasers and walls full of spikes are ready to receive some zombies and if the night proves too dangerous there are many safe houses that just need to be secured. Harran is a paradise of slaughtering zombies and freedom of movement.
Jumping over obstacles, zip-lining and being in a constant running is how the action goes in Dying Light from the very beginning until the final cutscene. The learning curve for this mechanic isn’t too steep, but it takes some time to get used with it and learn how to optimize it. There is an ever present sense of vertigo in this game that caused for me more deaths than the zombies did (my extreme fear of heights didn’t help me either).
But what Crane can do with his basic training is not enough, especially for the night time and the second half of the game, his abilities can be improved with the help of a skill system.
Circus training.

               The skills are split in three different categories each with its separated progression. Survival is leveled by completing missions and makes the life in Harran easier by improving crafting, offering discounts for vendors and allowing the usage of advanced traps and the awesome grapple hook (Attack on Titan!).
Agility increases with each jump or parkour trick performed. Leveling Agility makes the character better at this discipline increasing the threshold for getting tired while performing any parkour actions.  It also opens up abilities like sliding, jumping over the zombies and many others.
The last skill tree is Power and it serves as an enhancement for the combat system. The Power tree is leveled through fighting and upgrades the combat with various new abilities like throwing the melee weapons, aerial drop kills and other spectacular and unrealistic moves. It also increases the character’s life and helps with the maintenance of the melee weapons.
Grinding my way to be the best!

               The day-night cycle in this game is more than an immersive feature, instead it separates the action in two distinct stages. During the day the zombies pose a threat mostly through numbers or because of the player’s mistakes. The streets are filled with Biters which are the generic slow walkers and don’t represent much of a threat unless they surround their victim. Things can get a little difficult when trying to take on a Goon which is a big zombie wielding a giant pole that can smash anything into pieces. Causing noise through explosions or gun fires can wake up the Virals which are quite fast and agile and can climb buildings chasing the player. Yet, the Bombers might be the most problematic as they tend to use the element of surprise, coming around corners or waiting behind closed doors, one slow reaction or an instinctual hit on them and they explode killing everything in their proximity.
There are many different zombies under the warming lights of the sun with more appearing as the action progresses and while they can be quite a nuisance at the beginning, most of them rapidly become obsolete and no more than practice targets. But as the sun sets, things start to change.
The night is a dangerous time to be out of the safe zones as the Volatiles awake and start searching for prey. These are extremely fast zombies that can match the agility of the player and gather in a pack quite quickly after spotting someone. They are resilient and require several hits from a high damage weapon to be killed and their only weakness is UV light. This makes the Volatiles a dangerous enemy and it is not indicated to fight them except when facing them one on one and with the help of UV lights.
               The night time is intense and has a special feeling to it, being chased by the Volatiles and desperately trying to escape by grabbing on anything and blindly jumping into the dark in front can get the heart pumping. This is the perfect time for those that seek something more challenging in the game or want to test out their sneaking skills. The night is not only harder but also more rewarding as during this time the experience gained for each skill tree is boosted exponentially.
Looks so peaceful.
Get off me!

               While the parkour is what sets this game apart from previous Techland titles, the combat system is what makes it fun and it does manage to overshadow the latter.
The combat in Dying Light is similar to the one in the Dead Island series being centered on melee combat and following a similar items progression.
 The fights are relatively reactive based on the enemy faced with both melee weapons and firearms being capable of blowing off the body parts they are hitting. From the classical exploding heads to the maiming hits directed towards legs or hands, the combat offers possibilities and the visual effects support it in such a manner that is bloody, visceral and satisfying.
To further enhance the violent action and the great feeling of the fights, features like slowing time when melee hits have a devastating effect or an x-ray image of the target showing the broken bones by the critical damage have been implemented into the combat system. While these features can be seen hundreds of times during a playthrough, I never felt like they got old and had the same effect as the first time I’ve seen them.
               Abilities gained through the skills system allow for more freedom in combat, combining the parkour moves with combat actions for a bit more complexity and expanding the ways zombies can be killed.
But a head on approach might not always be the best or fun option. Using the terrain or various items to create a distraction and gather the zombies in one place so they can be easily blown away by explosives or burned by Molotov cocktails never gets old.
You don't need that anymore!
Your left arm seems to be the problem!

               The combat is not only about the attacks, but also about the weapons used to deliver them. Dying Light features and extensive arsenal which consisting mostly of a wide variety of melee weapons to play with, including different types of axes, swords or maces, divided by quality and stats. Each weapon type has its distinct attacks suited for different playstyles and combat situations.
The durability of melee weapons is used quite fast and they can be repaired only a few times, making the idea of backup weapons very important. Upgrading them can increase their durability and other stats, but eventually no weapon will last forever. To keep the flow of melee weapons going the game has a crafting system based on schematics and using items found throughout the world or purchased from vendors. The crafting is decent and gives access to some crazy weapons that use lightning and other elements to damage the enemies. But as good as it sounds, the crafting doesn’t seem to be at the same level with the Dead Island games, having fewer patterns and less interesting weapons.
The firearms are poorly represented with only four types available and always using the same models. Besides the lack of variety and the fact that they can’t be upgraded in any way, some of the firearms act quite weirdly and bug out when being hit and during aiming or reloading being quite irritating when surrounded by zombies.
It is well known that Techland’s latest games have been more about slashing and smashing than shooting your way out through enemies. But for a shooting fan like me the firearms just feel lazy, like they were added just to make everybody happy, which is too bad because the shooting is above average and could compete with many games of this genre that are completely build around it.
Half Life 3 confirmed!!!
Uber pipe!

               What diminishes the intensity and enjoyment of the combat system is the difficulty level. The developers seem to have gone out of their way to make the game easy and it shows. Most of the zombies are quite easy to kill and it takes one or two fights to learn most of the tricks for each of them and the action turns into faceroll pretty fast. To make matters worse the item progression in the game allows for incredibly powerful weapons that turn zombies into a pile of meat in the blink of an eye and there isn’t even an option for adjusting difficulty at the start of a new campaign.
The AI is adding up on this problem by not reacting as it should, faster zombies get stuck in all sorts of objects and act quite strangely sometimes and no enemy seems to react to the flashlight.
But the biggest issue that mainstreams the level of difficulty even for the night time is the minimap, which serves as a radar for all non-Biter enemies and includes the vision for the powerful zombies that show up at night. This feature is such a killjoy as it increases the readiness of the players to such levels that they can hardly ever be surprised. There is not even an option to disable it, which points out that the developers didn’t even think of the impact it can have on the level of difficulty (seriously, are challenging AAA games a dying breed?).
30 minutes into the game.

               For those who want to survive the zombie apocalypse as part of a team, there is a Co-op mode with support for up to four players and the possibility of an additional player to take the role of a powerful zombie to hunt down the survivors. The team play is extremely fun and includes competitive challenges, but does oversimplify the game even more.

               One of the strongest features of this game is its technology. Using an upgraded version of the Chrome Engine, Dying Light delivers an immersive experience through graphics that are reaching today’s standards.
Even in its disastrous state with streets filled with blood, with bodies everywhere and hordes of undead, the two districts of Harran are still nice to look at with beautiful landscapes and unique buildings. The level design was done with parkour in mind and serves its job amazingly and the keen attention to details adds up to the exploration feeling. Things don’t stop here, the animation both of movement and combat are spectacular and fitting the purpose of a dynamic game very well. The lighting and shadow effects make the day feel like a vacation and the night time a visual and terrifying pleasure. But the game has its baggage, like most of the new releases nowadays, making sacrifices where it shouldn’t and having all kind of tech related issues. The zombie models look terrible up-close and the overall chromatic effect can be upsetting for some people, but this could have been tolerable if Dying Light didn’t have huge performance problems.
The optimization was a mess at release and there are settings that are still unusable. The advertised NVIDIA Depth of Field makes the cut-scenes lag behind so much that they can’t be watched. The view distance can cause serious frame drops when is set above 50% and vsync has the potential to cause massive freezes.
Despite being patched multiple times and GPU drivers being dedicated to it, it still has some troubles with performance and is better to avoid the options mentioned above.
               Dying Light didn’t skip much on graphical fidelity but it did ignore physics to a high degree. While bodies have their own physic and some indoor areas are filled with destructible objects, the world of Harran is composed of an unmovable and unbreakable environment. Most of the things are made to stand still and very few objects can be moved or destroyed. This is quite a letdown as physics should always be an important part of an FPS game and I could only imagine how much more amazing the action would have been if cars would blow up and the walls of the buildings could be destroyed and so on.
Horrible quality shirt.

               The sound effects in Dying Light are wonderful. There is a considerable amount of details put in the environmental sounds, from the constantly moving leafs of the trees and the wind passing through them to the sound made by every structure. But the best part is related to its best feature, the combat. The slashing sounds of weapons cutting through the rotten flesh and the vile sounds of the zombies when they are hit repeatedly are amazing. The night time is a blend of chilling cries and creepy noises made by the restless threat that could make your skin crawl
The game has high quality voice acting covering all the dialogues in the game with every voice capturing perfectly the personality and quirks of each character.
I did feel like the music wasn’t always in tone with the action and didn’t intensify the feeling and atmosphere as much as it should do. By the end of the game I realized that despite being activated the music never really caught my attention.
Zombie attempting parkour.
Dacia 1310?!
Looks familiar.

               Dying Light gave me a strong feeling of a challenging survival at first and I loved that. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that it is going to follow the same path as the Dead Island series and this left me with a bitter taste. I imagined this game taking a step forward and becoming more complex and difficult while tuning down some of the arcade gameplay elements, but I was wrong. The story is decent but underdeveloped resuming itself to a linear and predictable evolution and a villain that sets a new standard for annoying (I think it beats Diablo in talking nonsense). The game isn’t polished either with various annoying bugs, AI problems and terrible performance issues.
               Even so, looking from an action standpoint, Dying Light does serve its purpose very well. It doesn’t have any unique elements, but it combines mechanics that have been used in the past to create a dynamic gameplay, full of zombies slaughtering and mixed with heart racing and acrophobic moments for great entertainment. It might not be everyone’s coup of tea, but it is fun and quite a good training to fight fears or train for Mirror’s Edge.

+ Good graphics
+ Atmospheric sound effects
+ Visceral, fun and addictive combat
+ Parkour
+ Night time
+ Open world
+ Wide variety of melee weapons
+ Plenty of side quests
+ Co-op

- Linear story with plenty of moments of predictability and full of clich├ęs
- Optimization problems
- Arcade elements (cars preventing fall damage, etc.)
- Various glitches and bugs
- Small variety of firearms
- AI can go crazy
- Terrible last boss fight
- Way too easy


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