Dying Light review

Dying Light would be a lot more fun if it just stopped holding your hand

Dying Light can be great, but it doesn't understand its own strengths.
Dying Light can be great, but it doesn't understand its own strengths.
Dying Light can be great, but it doesn't understand its own strengths.

Highs

  • Massive, detailed open world
  • Superb multiplayer
  • Solid freerunning/parkour
  • Beautiful graphics

Lows

  • Combat is a mess
  • Inane story and characters
  • Highly derivative
  • Are we sick of zombies yet?

Dying Light is one of the only games to ever get nighttime right. Your life feels like a fragile thing when the sun sets over the fictional city of Harran and the powerful “Volatile” zombies come out to play. It gets so dark you can barely see what’s directly in front of you, but you don’t dare flick on that flashlight. You keep your weapons sharp, craft way more health kits than you need, and bring along all the right tools, but you also feel fear, and die often.

That tension is a pretty big accomplishment, but it also highlights one of the game’s biggest flaws: Dying Light is nowhere near consistent enough to be as punishing as it is. It’s maddening to be killed repeatedly by things that are out of your control, and Dying Light has hordes of those.

Set in the large and detailed city of Harran, Dying Light stars Kyle Crane. He’s an agent of the Global Relief Effort (GRE), a private firm that (surprise!) isn’t as benevolent as its name suggests. Crane is air-dropped into the zombie-infested and quarantined city, where he’s promptly infected.

Dying Light screenshot 13
Warner Bros./Techland
Warner Bros./Techland

This opening is actually pretty exciting — for a cut scene — and it’s short and informative, as well. It’s the kind of introduction that makes you eager to pick up the controller and start playing — only it doesn’t let you. You’re yanked right out of the action and woken up in a safe house, where you spend way too long walking around talking to people before you can actually start the game.

It’s the first sign that Dying Light doesn’t understand its own strengths. The opener gets your blood pumping and takes you right to the edge, then turns around and makes you do one of the most boring things possible: Talk to video game characters. And Dying Light is full of video game characters, from the “tough as nails” heroine-turned-damsel Jade (yes, she is described that way many, many times) to the sociopathic, murderous villain, Rais (pronounced “rise” or “rice,” depending who’s talking).

There are no new stories to tell in this space, so the team just ripped elements out of existing zombie fare and called it a day.

It’s like developer Techland was aware going in that the zombie genre is completely played out. There are no new stories to tell in this space, so the team just ripped elements out of existing zombie fare and called it a day. Oh, and Far Cry 3. Somebody at Techland really, really liked Far Cry 3. Rais is that game’s infamous killer Vaas in just about every way. You may as well read Jade as Vaas’ sister Citra, too. Dying Light even has a “trippy” (read: tedious) slow-motion-walking level.

These characters are terrible, and it doesn’t help that they look like they were animated by someone who had only ever seen pictures of humans in books. The main story missions can be truly painful, too, and not just because the characters and script are so bad.

Dying Light is wonderful when it gives you the freedom to act with some degree of agency, but the 20-something hours of story missions (this is a very long game) mostly funnel you from combat to combat or through lengthy climbing sections. The combat is a mix of melee brawls and gunplay in first-person, but it’s a slog. You jam the attack button until your stamina is low, then back off to avoid grabby zombies. Shooting, meanwhile, feels imprecise, which makes one wonder why there are so many gunfights. The game is much more fun when it provides ways to creatively avoid combat.


That’s where tools come in: Firecrackers, bombs, firecrackers with bombs attached, night vision potions, stamina boosters, plus an assortment of firearms and melee weapons. For every item that facilitates combat, there are two more that help you avoid it, along with a raft of customization options for personalizing your arsenal. The depth is there, Techland just doesn’t create enough opportunities to take advantage of it.

Having the ability to freerun everywhere helps stave off the boredom, and it rarely feels like a chore. You can dash across rooftops to reach almost any location, constantly watching for your next jump or handhold. Staying on your feet and beyond the reach of zombie hordes is challenging enough that you can’t do it on autopilot, but it’s still intuitive and fun. It’s the best part of Dying Light, and it only gets better once the grappling hook is introduced.

There are flashes of brilliance, when dynamic scenarios emerge that require actual thought and not just frantic button-mashing.

This thing turns you into a zombie-slaying Spider Man, letting you zip around rooftops with ease, and it’s essential to having fun in Dying Light. Yet its implementation feels like an afterthought; the grappling hook takes a good 10 hours to unlock, and even then it takes up a valuable item slot on your left trigger. Meanwhile, there’s an entire button devoted to the shockingly useless (and ridiculously goofy) kick attack, and R3 is practically unused. Worse, the grapple actually has a cooldown, limiting how often you can use it, which doesn’t make any sense.

For all the fun to be had in free running around the expansive city of Harran, Dying Light features scenario after scenario that its mechanics simply can’t support. There are lengthy climbs that are treacherous only because the game is so inconsistent in what it will actually let you grab onto. Or battles that are so big and chaotic that half the time you die and you’re not entirely sure why.

There are flashes of brilliance, when dynamic scenarios emerge that require actual thought and not just frantic button-mashing. It’s here that the Dying Light systems that do work come to the forefront. Set off an alarm trying to pick a lock and you might be in for a tough fight with a lot of zombies — or you can grapple to an adjacent building, wait for them to gather, and blow up a barrel to thin them out. Once the coast is more or less clear, smear yourself with zombie guts and get back to picking that lock — and hope you can open the door before your camouflage wears off and more undead arrive.

Dying-Light-screenshot-23
Warner Bros./Techland
Warner Bros./Techland

These changeable situations play out all the time when you’re just running around doing random stuff, and that’s when Dying Light is really, really fun. The amazing sound, music, and graphics (character models aside) help as well. There’s one safehouse at the tippy-top of a suspension bridge’s towering cables that you only ever see while doing side quests, but the wind up there, the precarious climb, the vertigo, and the twinkling lights arrayed below you create a very special feeling that’s rare in games.

Dying Light also gets major points for its seamless and flexible co-op multiplayer. You can play with friends, though you don’t get credit for missions unless you’re at the same point in the story. Even better, you can enter matchmaking from the pause menu, and the game will jet you into the world of a player whose progress is similar to yours. And if you leave your game open, up to three players can drop into your Harran at any time.

The game changes in subtle but important ways when there are more players. Some things, like remaining unseen, are tougher with more people, while combat is easier and more enjoyable. Races and zombie-killing contests pop up periodically around the city, and you can trade items and equipment back and forth by dropping them on the ground. People pop into your game just to ask if you want one of their extra guns. There’s even a fast travel system to help with progression; if one player reaches an objective or quest giver their teammates can warp directly to them. Sometimes it’s just great to have someone watching your back while you pick a lock or hunt for supplies.

In its best moments Dying Light rewards players for thoughtfulness, patience, and exploration, and they tend to manifest most in side quests that come with vague objectives attached. It feels great to not have your hand held by an objective marker, and Dying Light lets you simply do your own thing often enough. The city of Harran is dense and beautiful, and enormous, too. Right when you think you’ve seen everything, an entirely new district unlocks. You can find a bed and wait it out once night falls, but sometimes it’s fun to just stay out and feel the thrill while earning some extra experience.

Dying Light screenshot 3
Warner Bros./Techland
Warner Bros./Techland

Don’t let concerns with Techland’s previous Dead Island games stop you from taking on a chance on Dying Light. You have to slog through some really terrible story missions and some very janky combat, but there’s a detailed world to discover, and a lot of fun mechanics to take advantage of. Just make sure you find some shelter before dark.

This game was reviewed on PS4 using a copy provided by the developer.

Highs

  • Massive, detailed open world
  • Superb multiplayer
  • Solid freerunning/parkour
  • Beautiful graphics

Lows

  • Combat is a mess
  • Inane story and characters
  • Highly derivative
  • Are we sick of zombies yet?
Smart Home

Power on and off: Kasa Outdoor Smart Plug by TP-Link brings weatherproof smarts

The Kasa Outdoor Wi-Fi Smart Plug grants remote control of two outlets in an IP-64 weather resistant housing. Simple and straightforward, this smart plug is a great fit for summer lighting.
Gaming

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.
Gaming

The hottest Nintendo Switch games you can get right now

The Nintendo Switch's lineup started off small, but games have steadily released as the console continues through its second year. Here are the best Nintendo Switch games available now.
Gaming

The best zombie games of all time, from Resident Evil to The Last of Us

Zombies are a longtime media staple, from movies to literature to TV to video games. Plenty of zombie games are bland and boring, but a good number offer tangible reasons to care about the undead. These are the best zombie games.
Gaming

Here are the best games to play with your friends on the Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch's hybrid design adds convenience to your gaming time, allowing you to play Switch games both at home and on the go. The design also benefits multiplayer experiences, from co-op to competitive and online to offline.
Deals

Amazon sale knocks 20% off Nintendo Switch, Pro Controller, and games

A new wave of savings on gaming content is crashing down in celebration of Earth Day. Amazon is slashing prices up to 20% off for used Nintendo Switch consoles, games, and accessories like the Switch Pro Controller.
Gaming

Epic Games bans more than 1,000 cheaters in 1st week of Fortnite World Cup

Epic Games has already banned more than 1,000 cheaters in the Fortnite World Cup. The developer is taking cheating seriously, especially as players are competing for a $1 million prize pool in every week of the qualifiers.
Gaming

Get Nindie with it and check out these awesome indie games for the Switch

The Nintendo Switch's portability makes indies feel at home on the platform. Luckily, there are plenty of great titles to choose from. Here are our picks for the best Nintendo Switch indie games.
Gaming

Mortal Kombat 11 DLC characters reportedly leaked: Who’s next after Shang Tsung?

A datamine on Mortal Kombat 11 reportedly revealed all the DLC characters that will be added to the game's expansive roster. The leak corroborates the hint that the anti-hero Spawn is on his way to joining the fighting game.
Gaming

You're not a true fan without these Nintendo Switch exclusives

Who doesn't love a good Nintendo game? If you're looking for great first-party titles for your Nintendo Switch, take a look at our list of the very best exclusives available right now.
Gaming

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.
Gaming

Apex Legends update 1.1.1 failed in fixing hitbox issue of Caustic, Gibraltar

Respawn Entertainment tried to make Caustic and Gibraltar more playable with Apex Legends version 1.1.1. The Fortified passive ability is meant to reduce incoming damage by 10%, but it is not working properly.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robots that eat landmines and clean your floors

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Gaming

Tired of the same PS4 annual releases? Try one of these indie games instead

While big budget games rely on practical innovation, indie games dive head first into new, unexplored territories. If the quirky and unusual appeal to you, take a look at our list of the best indie games on PS4.