By – Jarrett Riddle

TPG Second Look: Dying Light PC Review

The theme of zombies taking over the world is not exactly a new concept. In fact, it’s been done to death, and many people are now swearing off any form of media involving undead abominations. Nevertheless, Dying Light by Techland attempts to portray this scenario without hitting the sore spot of leery gamers. By including an in-depth story with a huge city to explore, item crafting, and leveling mechanics, this open-world experience tries to separate itself from run-of-the-mill hack n slash titles.

In Dying Light you step into the shoes of Kyle Crane, a secret operative of the Global Relief Effort (GRE) whose mission is to retrieve data about a zombie outbreak that threatens the quarantined city of Harran. The devastation, as well as the beauty, of the area becomes apparent as you’re parachuting down to start the hunt. Unfortunately, an unfriendly welcoming party of armed thugs don’t waste time to show you that the undead aren’t the only entities to be feared.

Just before being exterminated, the running dead show up and drive off the bullies, but not before giving Kyle their own special kind of greeting in the form of a bite on the arm. Thankfully, some do-gooders arrive to save you from a brutal mauling. Feeling as if you owe this group for saving your life, you begin working with them in their apartment building-turned-fortress to help any way you can.

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Back at your new headquarters, known as The Tower, you come to know some of the people involved with this life saving group. There’s Lena the struggling doctor, Jade, for whom you mainly owe your life, and Rahim, Jade’s sister and free-running instructor. He’s the one who shows Crane the basics of sprinting, grabbing ledges, and balancing. There’s also the somewhat mysterious leader of the group, Brecken, who you suspect may have the information you’re looking for. Upon meeting Rahim, it’s clear that you’re expected to do your part with helping others survive. At this point, Kyle gets his first taste of what it means to be a runner. You’re guided through a parkour obstacle course on the roof of the building where your acrobatic skills are put to the test.

As you sway uneasily on an abandoned crane hundreds of feet above the ground, the sheer size of Harran unfolds. Shanties, radio towers, and infected-laden roadways fill the landscape with a gargantuan mountain range looming in the distance. The incredible view doesn’t last long though, as Kyle begins to have a seizure, making the journey back on the narrow walkway a dangerous one.

Upon returning, you learn about a drug called Antizin that, while not producing a cure, delays the process of becoming one of the many shamblers along the streets. This means recovering GRE Antizin airdrops is a top priority, both for your and others’ sake.  Retrieving the miracle drug isn’t as easy as fighting through zombies, getting to the drop, and opening a box. A chaotic gang leader known as Rais has a personal army of scavengers that seek out these supplies as well. After meeting with and working for the deranged mastermind, you discover he has a hoard of Antizin that he’s only willing to part with if you do his evil bidding.

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You refuse, effectively making Rais an enemy that must be killed on sight or avoided. Meanwhile, your conversations with the GRE via walkie talkie are getting ever more disturbing. Why do they seem willing to sacrifice anything for the file they sent you after? And why won’t they do more to help the residents of Harran survive? Many twists and turns with the story follow, along the introduction of many important, interesting characters who help or deter Kyle Crane.

The main quest line is not the only thing there is to do in Dying Light. You’ll come across survivors who can be saved from rampaging zombies, bulletin boards with job postings, hunting and racing challenges, and other activities as you hop around the rooftops of the city. These events are not only fun and engaging, but also important, as they give the player much-needed money and experience to upgrade different skills. As more experience is accumulated and levels are gained, equipment available for finding and purchasing get better, but the enemies grow tougher as well.

There are three categories of skills that can be upgraded: Survival, Agility, and Power. Survival points are earned by completing tasks and staying alive at night time, Agility is increased through the use of your amazing free-running feats, and Power can be improved upon by doing battle with hostile threats. With each level of these three, perks can be obtained which grant new abilities that make getting through the game easier and more exciting.

Some bonuses allow you to craft powerful throwing weapons such as molotov cocktails and exploding throwing stars. Others grant special actions like vaulting over the undead and my personal favorite, the dropkick, a deadly attack that sends opponents flying. Passive advantages can be unlocked as well, such as health increases and cheaper shop prices. No matter what you’re doing, you’ll probably be progressing one or more of your skills, so most everything feels worthwhile throughout the game.

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What use are skills without a weapon? A large arsenal of both melee and ranged weaponry can be found or purchased. Aside from having differing damage, the former also has three other values: Handling, which is how fast the object in question can be swung, Repair, how many times the condition can be restored as it deteriorates, and Upgrade, the number of stat increasing items that can be used with it. Ever wanted a cricket bat that electrocutes everything you hit? You got it. How about a monkey wrench with a blowtorch attached? Make it so. Guns only have the damage and ammo values, and thus can’t be upgraded.

The problem arises when you realize that they don’t break down, either. Later in the game when ammunition can be purchased from every vendor, firearms almost completely take over your method of disposal. While even an upgraded, high-impact meat cleaver may take several whacks to kill the infected, one shot from a normal pistol will take its head clean off. It takes quite a while to get your hands on a decent gun, and even afterward melee remains fun, but I feel like ranged weapons should decay as well.

Time passes as you venture around, and can be checked anytime via the inventory screen. While this pauses the game to let you see how much time you have before it gets dark, I wish there was a way to just look down at the watch Kyle is wearing. I feel that would be a more immersive way to show the hour, but the presentation available is adequate.

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Just be sure to keep your eye on the clock, as when it gets late and the sun goes down, the world becomes a much more dangerous place. Harran changes so much at night that it almost feels as if you’re experiencing a whole new game entirely. The city glows malevolently under the moonlight, with bloodthirsty biters around every corner. Aggressive, horrifying creatures known as Volatiles also stalk the grounds, eager to chow down on any living thing it can see or hear. Agility and Power point increases are doubled during these times, and for good reason, as staying alive overnight is not an easy feat even with great weaponry. While this mechanic has no direct link to the storyline, it makes planning routes and travelling during certain hours important.

The atmosphere of Dying Light is incredible. Whether you’re galloping across overturned cars on the expressway or sneaking through a construction site at midnight, you’ll oftentimes be totally absorbed in the action. This is thanks to the wonderful graphical detail and musical interludes. During my playthrough, I just couldn’t stop taking screenshots. Even commonly dull places such as a tire shop look great when the phenomenal lighting shines in through the windows in just the right way. Also, the image of a gaggle of groaning undead soaring in every direction from a well-placed Do-It-Yourself Grenade just never seems to grow old.

The music that plays at random times may do more for the tone of the game than the exceptional art. Every time the synth starts fading in, I feel like I’m living in a sci-fi horror movie. The composition changes as you progress through story, and becomes more chilling and intense at night. While this could’ve probably been an overlooked or downplayed portion and still been fine, it instead excelled and became what I feel to be a defining aspect of the whole experience.

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Controls are easy to learn and completely rebindable. Movement uses the tried-and-true WASD keys.  The mouse is used in looking around, with the left button swinging or shooting, the right for looking down a crosshairs, and the middle using inventory items like the med-kit and throwing knives. Grabbing ledges and hoisting yourself up, which you’ll do a lot, is somewhat frustrating to start with, but feels natural after getting the hang of it.  Still, sometimes the angle or shaking of the camera can easily throw you off your mark, resulting in Kyle plunging to his death. From the given perspective and the shape of some things you can scale, its difficulty at times is certainly understandable. Menu navigation is simple enough, but seems optimized for console use. Thankfully, mouse sensitivity and smoothing options help in this area. Selections can be made with the arrow keys or mouse, while switching categories takes the use of the Q and E keys, or clicking.

Much has been said about Dying Light’s optimization, and unfortunately most of it is true. Though I usually play games in 1920×1080 resolution, I had to use 1024×768 to get a decent framerate with graphics on medium detail and draw distance set quite low. My rig is in no way a supercomputer (see my specs in the Technical Summary), but I’ve played plenty of games such as the Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed series that looked almost, if not just as good as this game.

With those titles I never had to decrease my resolution just to feel like I could play them. Also, even at this small size, the framerate still wasn’t stable 100% of the time. When indoors, running through the dark corridors of an old school, the FPS is perfect, but add some fire effects or a zombie trying to eat your face off, and the frames they go a-droppin’. If you’ve spent a ton of money building your machine and feel you must play games only at the highest settings, then I warn you that you may not be able to do so here without consequences.

ConclusionIs It Worth Your Money?

Dying Light does the impossible by making the overdone zombie genre look fresh and new again. Being able to go anywhere, complete objectives when and how you like, customizing your arsenal, and just generally doing most everything right has put this game a league above other similar titles. Pictures and even video don’t tell the whole story. I believe that as long as you’re willing to make some sacrifices with the graphical details if you have a below-fantastic computer, this zombie ‘em up is worth the $60 price tag.

Dying Light Technical Summary:

Dying Light PC Review Sum

  • Time Played – 30 Hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • Resolution Played – 1024 x 768
  • Bugs/Crashes Encountered – Poor Optimization
  • DRM – Steamworks
  • System Specs – 3.7 GHz AMD A10-6700, 768MB Radeon 8670D, 8GB RAM
  • Control Scheme – M/KB, Xbox 360 controller
  • Saved Game Location – SteamApps\common\Dying Light
  • Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • Availability – Steam
  • Demo – No

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  • Russell S

    So pretty much as John described in his review – a great effort and good fun, but badly optimised, and with some serious performance issues ?

    I love the idea of this game, and I do want to try it, but I still have a bad taste in my mouth after Dead Island. It sounds like some of the problems that plagued that game have carried over in to this one. That is a shame because I like what these developers do, I just wished they executed it better.

    • AdamAmes

      I found myself in the same boat with other games. I loved what they did, but the performance and bugs stopped me from buying.

    • Jarrett Riddle

      Yeah, it’s sadly one of those cases where a great game needs a top-of-the-line machine to really play well. I’ve seen videos of people playing this game with a consistent framerate, and I know that there’s been talk that it runs much better on certain video card brands. All I can honestly speak from is my own experience, and while I had mucho fun with the game, I could certainly see why someone would be turned off with the performance issues.