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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Dying Light.

Transcript Edit

So last week I described zombie stories as entry-level creativity, but the flaw in that analogy is that it implies that one eventually moves on from it, as opposed to loitering in the entrance hall, ineptly flirting with the receptionist. Dying Light is a game that, if it ever found an original thought in its head, would probably assume it was a tumor.

"This substantially new IP plays a lot like Dead Island," I thought, before noticing that it comes to us from the same developer as Dead Island, which confused me for a bit, 'cause I assumed they were working on Dead Island 2, currently represented by a pre-rendered trailer that as always as much about the game as it does about freshwater fly-fishing. But apparently, that's being developed by Yager, creators of Spec Ops: The Line, a game about an American agent being inserted into a Middle-Eastern city on an innocuous fetch quest and confronting death, horror and violence while getting a lovely sun tan. 

But I digress. Dying Light is a game about an American agent being inserted into a Middle-Eastern city on an innocuous fetch quest and confronting death, horror and- Oh God! Everything's spiraling in on itself! What are these things in front of me? Jesus Christ, they're my own buttocks!

At least I assume Harran is in the middle-east, it's got a Middle-Easty sort of name. But if you went by the observed variety of accents that the general population has, you might as well assume the city was located inside a middle school play about the joys of diversity. Unless the zombies are the general population, everyone else is a visiting tourist, it's not like we're given any better explanation to why there are zombies here. But then I suppose we hardly need one at this point: it's a city, it's got lot of sewers and building sites, and it's a video game; sooner or later zombies will just grow out of the fucking mildew. 

Our hero is Kyle Crane, so called because he's quite tall and tends to overreach himself, who's been dropped into Zombie Town to recover a stolen file, which is important for some contrived reason I didn't quite absorb, and shacks up with the nice survivors who oppose the local warlord, whose evilness defies all reason and sense, the kind of bloke who couldn't even have a boiled egg for breakfast unless he could bring in the hen and force it to watch. 

If the zombie genre were a school, Dying Light would be the good little boy who irons his uniform every morning and is the first to tattle on the rowdy boys when they start getting a bit too self-aware and ironic. So the list of cliches is adhered to like a randy dog on his master's leg: there is the good scientist and the no-nonsense action lady and the major theme is that human beings are the real monsters (if that wasn't already clear from how much the developers blatantly copy-pasted out of Dead Island), the same first-person sandbox mission-based gameplay, the same kick button (which is constant source of amusement when an enemy is trying to stand up), there is the same looting and weapon-crafting system in which we can sellotape a battery to a crowbar and give it lightning powers ('cause apparently, engineering works the same way as homeopathy, now). The special zombies are exactly the same: Captain Fast-Zombie, Admiral Big-Lad-With-Hammer and Fleet Commander Explodes-In-Your-Face. And just like Dead Island, every other level is set in a fucking sewer! We spend more time knocking poo around than the consumer review section of Anal Sex Monthly.

But here's a conundrum, boys and girls: if Dying Light is basically just Dead Island again, then why do I like it more? Well, it's more tightly designed: instead of making us choose one of several specialized characters and then learn the hard way that anyone other than the melee weapons guy might as well wear pork chops for earrings, they just gave us the melee weapons guy. And he actually has character and personal conflicts and engages with people instead of just going around gormlessly piling up fetch quests, which generally helps feel things less flat and lifeless, no pun intended. Actually I guess that makes sense, since the title has been upgraded from "Dead" to "Dying".

Most noteworthy is the pseudo-eponymous feature concerning the day-night cycle. If you hang around after dark, then you have to deal with super-chasey zombies who for some reason get so mad when people don't take curfews seriously. And it says something of how mundane zombies have become when it's only in the night-time segments that Dying Light comes anywhere near the horror game classification. Because at that point, twatting the lurching dead around suddenly gives way to fleeing like Princess Diana from photo journalists, and often with roughly the same result. 

That brings us to the next, I hesitate to use the word, "unique" selling point: parkour, which further improves on Dead Island by adding some verticality to the world and freeing up the movement a bit. You know, after Mirror's Edge I was convinced that parkour from a first-person-perspective just couldn't possibly work. But Dying Light has shown that I was completely right to think that. Precision landing on small platforms and narrow ledges when you can't see your feet is still like trying to hit a pinata with a live cat, and during climbing sequences you're mostly treated to a face full of ledge and can't tell how far along you've climbed without laboriously peering around like a contortionist looking at the person who is giving it to them doggy-style. 

I can't think how the game could have been anything but improved with a third-person-perspective. Would have helped when I'm trying to pick a lock and want to know if a zombie is about to run up and file its tax return down my bumcrack. But I suppose first-person does carry the benefit of sparing us the weird contortions Kyle's body goes through when the climbing mechanics fuck up, and they fuck up a lot. When the game demands that I climb a radio mast to impress all its friends at Ubisoft and has me do a running jump off a ledge roughly ten centimeters wide, then zones out and doesn't register that I'm trying to grab the next ledge so I fall to a painful clumsy death, you'll forgive me if I don't see it as my fault. So when the game then goes "Now I'm going to take some of your experience away as punishment for being such a crapout", I'm not exactly won over. 

But overall, as I said, it's better than Dead Island. So if you enjoyed Dead Island, but thought "I'd be enjoying this so much more if it wasn't shit", give it a go! But in the context of Dead Island 2 being handed to a different developer, Dying Light's improvement takes on a certain poignancy. It's like an unfit parent desperately trying to win over the judge.

"Please Mr. Deep Silver, we can make good zombie games now, please let us see our child."

"I don't know, Techland, Yager can do really complex storytelling."

"So can we! Look at our complex villain!"

"Is there a bit where he screams the protagonist's name like William Shatner in The Wrath of Khan?"

"Mmmaybe?" 

"Get out of my office, Techland!"

Addenda Edit

  • Seeing the light: Ben "Yahtzee Croshaw"
  • We went from a Dead Island to a Dying Light so presumably the next game will be set somewhere Not At All Well
  • I know you're undead but stop bloody moaning
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart

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