Dying Light review: The freaks come out at night

Dying Light

Dying Light is a first-person zombie survival game from Polish studio Techland, recently released for Xbox One, Playstation 4, and Windows. Techland also developed the oh-so similar Dead Island, but they gave up on that IP due to creative differences with publisher Deep Silver. While Dying Light resembles a reincarnation of Dead Island, it trumps that game on so many levels that I finally like one of Techland's zombie games.

Whether or not you enjoyed Dead Island more than I did, you are in for a real treat with Dying Light. Dying Light has the potential to be an awesome zombie franchise, but first they need to fix some of the flaws that claw and bite at the current version.

Welcome to the undead city

Dying Light takes place in the fictional city of Harran. What should have been the home of the game world's next Olympic Games has instead become ground zero to a viral plague that turns the infected into zombies.

Players assume the role of Kyle Crane, a contractor for the Global Relief Effort (GRE). The GRE has quarantined the city in fear of the plague spreading and has decided to help the trapped citizens by sending in rare airdrops with supplies.

However, Kyle Crane wasn't hired to help the citizens. Instead, his mission is to locate a political figure called Rais who has gone rogue. Rais and his thugs have taken control of the plague-ridden city and stolen the majority of the GRE's airdrops. The villain also possesses an important file that could jeopardize the future of the GRE. The player's job is to stop him.

After parachuting into the city, Kyle immediately gets ambushed by a swarm of thugs. Their attack, in turn, attracts a horde of zombies. Some of the residents of "The Tower" notice Kyle's predicament and rescue him. This tower is full of refugees who resist Rais's reign and will do anything to help our hero complete his mission.

Fight or Flight

Although Rais and his men pose a huge threat, a bigger danger looms over the city of Harran: the zombies. Players can choose either 'fight or flight' when a horde of blood-thirsty zombies approaches. The game allows you to pick up almost any tool you see, including gas pipes, baseball bats, scythes, and even a 9mm pistol. Each weapon has 3 main properties: damage, durability, and repairs.

Damage obviously measures the amount of damage a weapon can inflict upon your enemies. Durability is a bit more complex; it rates how much damage a weapon itself can take. The lower the durability, the faster a weapon breaks. Broken weapons can be repaired. Some weapons can even be repaired multiple times before needing to be discarded, but you'll get less use from others.

Although you have a vast amount of weapons at your disposal, most weapons you come across early on won't do much to hold zombies at bay. Should you have to flee, you needn't do so on the ground. Dying Light's parkour traversal allows players to climb buildings and methodically jump from roof. If it has a ledge or rail, you can probably climb it.

If you aren't too careful, you can easily fall from a ledge or rooftop and die. In the beginning, you'll find this happening more often than you would think thanks to the unintuitive mapping of both the jump and climb actions to the same button (Right Bumper). But if you whiff a jump and land on a trash pile, car or awning, it will at least reduce the fall damage.

Running and climbing become particularly vital when the sun sets and night blankets the city. Instead of running around freely, you have to slow down and rely on your flashlight for visibility. This is when the game is at its most intense.

At night, stronger zombies that can sense you from afar come out to hunt. These zombies can't be outrun easily, and they will pounce at any opportunity. Should they detect you, you'll have to scramble up a building as fast as you can in order to break their line of sight.

You can easily avoid the night by going to a safe house and sleeping through the night. But that wouldn't be fun, would it? Not when all XP gained at night is doubled, which helps your rank up fast. Dying will make you lose a big chunk of that EXP though, creating a compelling risk-reward dynamic.

The Running Man

Dying Light

Whenever you aren't killing zombies, you'll likely be busy completing missions. Most mission objectives lie far away from where you get them, necessitating a few minutes of running from point to point.

While distance can be fine for a typical open world game, this one could have used a fast travel option. All the running contributes to a long playtime in which you feel like you have done very little. My own completion time came in at 28 hours, with very few side missions completed. One could easily have a 40-50 hour experience with Dying Light in order to complete everything.

A Dying Light party

Dying Light, fortunately, has the option to complete the campaign with up to 3 other players. Going through missions, or taking down hordes of zombies with a buddy is when Dying Light is most enjoyable. It helps to distract from the fact that you are covering miles of land in between missions and it helps to make the game feel less repetitive.

My favorite aspect of the multiplayer is that it has what it calls 'dynamic competition.' This is pretty much random mini-games that happen for friendly competition between you and your buddies. For example, you could get a dynamic competition that prompts players to kill as many zombies as they can in 45 seconds. Or race to the next mission location.

What this does is spice up the pace of the game when playing with friends. Whoever wins gets some extra XP and some cash. This sounds like fun, but matchmaking issues hampered the chance to try it out that often during the period of this review. This, sadly, looks to be an all too common problem.


Most achievements in the game are easily accomplished from your first play through. My personal favorite came by complete accident but was actually tough to achieve. "Can't Touch This" had me kill 20 enemies in a row without taking any damage whatsoever.

The most challenging and time-consuming achievement is called "Mount Everest." It asks for players to climb a total of 8848 meters on various objects. That could take hours if not days!

Overall Impressions

Dying Light

Dying Light (Image credit: Techland S.A.)

Dying Light is easily one of the most fun zombie games I have had the pleasure of playing. As with previous Techland games, the melee combat and weapon modifications are excellent. It adds an element of complexity to an otherwise bland style of combat. And the parkour traversal is by far the most welcome addition to the genre.

Running from Volatiles at night is by far one of the most intense situations that I've ever encountered in a video game. And climbing. There are a few times throughout the game where you have to climb huge structures and your heart will sink as you're doing so. Dying Light portrays the sensation of Vertigo rather well when you're climbing these structures which adds to the overall intensity.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of things that hold Dying Light back from achieving greatness. For one, the story is a bit of a letdown. You never truly feel attached to characters, even though, the game tries hard to do so. That said, I did find myself enjoying the story later on as things began to unravel. Secondly, the mission structure could easily be improved and not have them be so far apart. This only adds unwanted length to the games story and makes the player feel as if they've hardly achieved anything. Lastly, the matchmaking in multiplayer needs to be sorted out. That itself hinders players from having the richest experience with the game which is a huge disappointment.

That being said, I did enjoy the game. I now find myself going back to complete side missions and try out new weapons. And to hope that the multiplayer issues have been resolved.

If you are a fan of Dead Island, Dying Light is a no-brainer purchase as it uses a similar premise as a foundation, then greatly improves upon it. If you are not a fan of zombie titles, maybe wait until it goes on sale or hear that the multiplayer is fixed. Then you should definitely check it out. As the refugees say, "Good Night and Good Luck."

Jonathan Dollison