Dying Light preview: Dead Island with a twist

The zombie genre has taken the industry by storm, unsurprisingly considering the amusing exploitation of brain-busting action, as well as the plot potential if you want a little backstory for the dastardly shape of a devastated world. Techland’s Dying Light continues to play on the recent successes of the zombie genre, expanding on the open-world shenanigans in that developer’s other zombie game, Dead Island.

For me personally, I see Dying Light’s separation from that game, at least on a narrative level, as being a good thing: Dead Island certainly wasn’t perfect, and while it was a refreshing take on the open-world gaming experience and one of the better zombie experiences at the time, it could have done a lot more, at least in offering a more varied brain-dead zombie than what was in the final product.

Dying Light appears to have acknowledged this. Techland looks to be moulding an open-world experience particularly motivated by environmental disturbances, primarily in a day and night cycle that turns otherwise standard, slow-moving zombies into ruthless monsters bubbling with aggression.

There are similarities with Dead Island here, no doubt, but the structure of the experience appears far more reliant on the arching narrative, as well as the environmental influences on the zombies that infest the game world. The government appears to still have some sort of control over the land, and while we didn’t get much of a look in as per the game’s plot, it may be similarly structured as Dead Island: missions that have the core characters searching for supplies and rescuing survivors appear to fill the cluttered game map, ensuring there’s always something to do in this dying world.

From the demo shown, Dying Light does seem particularly focused on melee combat: Dead Island was similarly structured, encouraging players to stock up on melee items and repair and improve them to maintain for a longer period than, say, an assault rifle, which will eventually run out of bullets. The character, in this case, runs out wielding a machete, hacking away at any zombie that comes near with neat slice-and-dice mechanics that showcase the advancement of graphical prowess and animations on next-gen hardware.

Undoubtedly the most intriguing thing in Dying Light is the day-night cycle. The demo began during the day, as the character moved slowly and cautiously towards a dropped crate of supplies. Zombies were aplenty and especially reminiscent of the beasts from Dead Island, but things suddenly turn nasty as the sun starts to set. The open world is inviting in a weird sort of way, but night time in Dying Light is rather terrifying: the moaning and groaning of the zombies turns to screaming and screeches, as bigger, stronger and smarter brain dead are unearthed.

When you do find yourself without any effective weapons and low on health, the game’s Mirror’s Edge-esque free-running takes hold: you’ll jump freely across buildings, up walls and through fences, and the zombies won’t know what’s there. Running is a core mechanic in Dying Light, it seems, and it looks to be a lot of fun.

The appropriately-named Dying Light isn’t quite as refreshing as Dead Island was, but it does appear to be expanding on what that solid game was able to offer the genre. Techland has been to this rodeo before and they’re upping the ante with a game world brimming with…erm…after-life. Comparisons with Dead Island are definitely fair — they are both open-world zombie games, after all — but Dying Light looks to separate itself through expanded melee options, deeper RPG elements, and a day-night cycle sure to scare the living bejeezus out of you. That balance between tactical engagement with the world during the day and hardcore survival at night may just help propel Dying Light to the top of the genre.