Quite often I look back at my Xbox capture gallery and revisit past gaming moments I’ve loved. There have been exciting, visceral set pieces such as the intro to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, or moments of expertly crafted skill as I’ve destroyed a particularly hard boss in Dark Souls. Then there’s Dying Light, which has a clip of a zombie strapped to a gas container, flying around the air like a deflating balloon before crashing down and eviscerating a group of zombified pests. It’s moments like this that highlight the pure insanity that Dying Light can bring to the table, but also how a great combat system paved the way for one of the greatest zombie games ever made.
Dying Light takes place in Harran, a city divided between the wealthy and those struck by the horrible effects of poverty. What they both mutually share though is an outbreak of a zombie-like virus that is affecting its citizens and after the game’s opening moments – you. What follows is a race for a cure and to help the citizens who are suffering from this hideous outbreak.
What Dying Light does so well with its story is balancing a blood-filled horror plot line against a political backdrop. Playing as protagonist Kyle Crane, your initial mission, before everything falls to pot, is to gain intel on a rogue political figure. After succumbing to the infection, the two plot threads interweave throughout the entire campaign, building to a satisfying crescendo. It’s as much a game about the monsters that roam the streets, as it is the monsters that humans can be.
Following from developer Techland’s previous project, Dead Island, the combat here is a main focus. Dead Island crafted a perfectly fine, enjoyable zombie romp across a tropical holiday island which fell victim to a zombie outbreak. It lacked polish, but was a fun, albeit a rather unremarkable co-op experience. Dying Light takes the foundations of where Dead Island went wrong and builds upon them. The combat here is punchier, gorier and more satisfying than it ever was before. Each swing, stab and hack with the wide array of melee weapons you can possess only further punctuates the visceral beauty of a decapitated zombie head rolling to your feet.
Expanding on this is the customisation you can partake in to fulfil your zombie killing dreams with a variety of attachments to electrify, burn or detonate your foes into a rainy extremity of blood and guts. The sheer amount of customisation is incredible and as weapons degrade slowly, it constantly encourages you to try new variants in its open-world playground.
One time where combat is not going to be an option though, is night-time. Dying Light operates on a day and night cycle, which creates two unique gameplay experiences depending on what time of the day your in-game clock is at. As the sun’s heat beats down above you, you’ll be happily carving your way through bone and organs to your next quest marker. When the sun sets however, it’s brown pants time. Once a hunter, you’re now the hunted as the infected become stronger, faster and more formidable than before. You’re not going to want them to lay a finger on you, as it’s most likely going to be going through you. The sheer terror that intensifies as that sun drops and the glowing red eyes of the infected light up the streets with their sinister glow is unparalleled. Having that panic set in as they lay their eyes on you, snarling with their razor edged teeth and foaming from the mouth at the anticipation of your flesh is a true sensation of horror. The chase ensues and you’re forced to use perhaps Dying Light’s best mechanic – parkour.
Harran is a playground of many levels, shapes and sizes. Scurrying around the environment is made easy with the press of a button which can be used to climb, jump and slide across its many rooftops and back alleys. The sense of momentum gained is exhilarating as you’re chasing down a particular target, or simply trying to outrun the horrors in the night that plague the streets. Some of the best gaming moments I’ve had this generation have taken place in Harran’s darkest of nights as I’m fleeing for my life, hesitant to look back at the nightmare fuel that locks onto me. The parkour can also be integrated into the combat, as you climb upon zombies heads, jump between foes or deliver John Wick style drop kicks to knock an opponent down.
None of this would be of any use unless the quests provided felt meaningful – and they certainly do. Many look to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in terms of quest design, but Dying Light managed to create a fully immersive world through its main-quests and side-stories to flesh out the characters. Everything feels meaningful and the quests delivered create a constant sense of variety and exploration of the environment. It’s refreshing to see a world stripped of the usual checklist tasks that occupy its landscape and instead allow you the freedom to fully immerse yourself in its story and lore.
Since release in 2015, Dying Light has received constant updates and Techland have remained engaged with the community to bring new content, improvements and downloadable content to fans – the majority of which has been available for free. Even years later the community for this game is still strong and the fans still show their admiration all this time later. It also plays host to the fantastic add-on, The Following, which expands the world of Harran offering a new campaign and the added ability of vehicles to mow down on onslaught on enemies in.
It would be easy to gush about the love I have for Dying Light. Simply put, it’s one of the greatest zombie games ever made outside of the Resident Evil franchise. The combat system is a refined blood soaked beauty, parkour invokes an incredible sense of freedom, and that open-world design allows you the opportunity to soak up this perfectly crafted city. With Dying Light 2 on the horizon, there has never been a better time to soak up some zombie brains and hack-and-slash your way through the murky streets of Hurran.
If you haven’t yet played Dying Light, you can grab a copy of the game right now on Xbox One from the Xbox Store. It’s also available on PS4 and PC.