Dy­ing Light

PC, PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Warner Bros De­vel­oper Tech­land For­mat PC (ver­sion tested), PS4, Xbox One Re­lease Out now (down­load), Fe­bru­ary 27 (re­tail)

There’s a zom­bie on the box, but a mag­pie might have been a bet­ter fit. Dy­ing Light sees Tech­land build on the Dead Is­land tem­plate by bor­row­ing lib­er­ally, of­ten brazenly, from other peo­ple’s games. There are nods here to Far Cry 3 and 4, both in the amount of time spent in the early game scal­ing windswept ra­dio tow­ers (here to claim safe houses, rather than flesh out the map) and the cast of psychos, while crea­ture de­signs owe the same debt to Left 4 Dead that Tech­land’s in­fa­mously mis­er­able zom­bie-bash­ing game did. Even The El­der Scrolls games make their in­flu­ence felt in the clunky heft of the com­bat, the loot-strewn mission in­te­ri­ors, the lock­pick­ing, and the way you level up three tal­ent trees by us­ing the abil­i­ties within them.

Then there’s Mir­ror’s Edge, though in fair­ness to Tech­land it would be dif­fi­cult to craft any kind of firstper­son park­our sys­tem with­out call­ing back to the only game to have ever made a de­cent fist of it. There’s a rea­son so few oth­ers have freerun along the same path, how­ever: videogame park­our sim­ply doesn’t work as well when the cam­era’s set be­hind a pair of eye­lids. Pro­tag­o­nist Kyle Crane may, in Roger Craig Smith, share a voice ac­tor with Ezio Au­di­tore, but the com­par­i­son ends there. Ledges go mys­te­ri­ously un­grabbed, jumps are need­lessly un­cleared, falls are grace­less, and many a taut es­cape is thwarted by snag­ging on un­seen scenery. Much of that is a mat­ter of tech­ni­cal ex­e­cu­tion, of course, and the des­per­ate strug­gle for sur­vival in a zom­bie apoca­lypse is rarely one of grace. But there’s a fun­da­men­tal prob­lem in the very no­tion of a park­our game where you can’t see the ground be­neath your feet.

Yet one dis­tinct ad­van­tage Dy­ing Light holds over its touch­stones is the lay­out of its world. While it feels con­trived when you take a cowled As­sas­sin or Tem­plar from floor to box to light fit­ting to bal­cony to, fi­nally, rooftop – know­ing each hand- and foothold was placed not by a town plan­ner, but a designer – here there is a the­matic jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the way the city of Har­ran ap­pears to have been con­structed by a freerun­ner. It has. Brecken, leader of the friendli­est of the game’s fac­tions and posses­sor of an ac­cent that marks him – along with most of the white-skinned still-hu­mans in the game – as hail­ing from the United King­dom Of South Afris­tralia, used to be a park­our in­struc­tor. When the virus hit, he taught his fel­low sur­vivors how best to stay alive, and re­pur­posed the city ac­cord­ingly. Sheets of cor­ru­gated iron are tilted invit­ingly at awnings, ar­rows painted on boarded-up win­dows point the way to safe houses, ve­hi­cles are spaced a run­ning jump’s length apart, and tan­gles of rope dan­gle invit­ingly off ledges.

The sug­ges­tion, then, is that you stick to the high ground, and it’s ad­vice worth fol­low­ing. While the bog­stan­dard zom­bies that gorm­lessly shuf­fle the streets by day pose lit­tle threat in iso­la­tion, that can change in a flash if you get pinned down by a group. Any un­dead lunge that hits its tar­get means you’re faced with a canned an­i­ma­tion and a QTE, dur­ing which the mob can close in unassailed. At the start of the game eva­sion feels like your only op­tion, but as you find bet­ter weapons, stick el­e­men­tal ef­fects on them and dig fur­ther into the tech trees, that changes. You’ll never feel over­pow­ered – even later on when you’re switch­ing be­tween an as­sault ri­fle and a two-handed club that does fire and bleed dam­age – since you’re rarely more than one scenery snag or ill-planned route from trou­ble. And in Har­ran, even the most ca­pa­ble zom­bie killer is put back in their place by the sight of the set­ting sun. When Dy­ing Light’s light fi­nally dies, this game trans­forms from open-world mag­pie into some­thing tense and ter­ri­fy­ing that is en­tirely its own. Noc­tur­nal enemies ar­rive on the scene, hunt­ing you down at speed, even if you’re freerun­ning across the rooftops. You have only two op­tions: stealth (aided by a back­pack full of dis­trac­tions, traps laid on the street by day, and min­imap vi­sion cones) or sim­ply run­ning like hell. There’s a rare flash of ge­nius here in the abil­ity to glance over your shoul­der while sprint­ing – and, with one mid-game skill point, to throw things at pur­suers – but when you’re run­ning at full pelt from a pack of zom­bies while barely able to see your hand in front of your face, the finer points of Tech­land’s de­sign doc­u­ment will be the far­thest thing from your mind. Only when Crane scram­bles over a safe-house fence and you un­clench will you re­alise. It’s a shame, re­ally, that Tech­land gives you the op­tion of miss­ing the game at its best by sleep­ing the night away, though there’s a cur­rency re­ward for those who do choose to stay the course, and glut­tons for pun­ish­ment can do the re­verse.

It’s a shame, too, that the bulk of the cam­paign mis­sions take place off the open world, where the dy­namic threat out on the streets is re­placed by lin­ear net­works of cor­ri­dors with spo­rad­i­cally placed pock­ets of enemies. The story, mean­while, is pif­fle, with a midgame non-twist you’ll have sniffed out from the tone of ra­dio con­ver­sa­tions barely half an hour in, while the voice act­ing veers from tol­er­a­ble to ter­ri­ble, even when the tal­ent gets the ac­cents right. Check­point­ing can be miserly, too, with a death in the open world drop­ping you back at the near­est safe house, a harsh pun­ish­ment at night when the ob­jec­tive marker a cou­ple of hun­dred me­tres in the dis­tance feels like a life­time away.

Yet that merely serves to re­in­force the strength of one of the few ideas in Dy­ing Light that Tech­land can call its own. Where it bor­rows, it does so smartly, mag­pieing ideas that work well in the con­text of an open world full of zom­bies. It’s too rough around the edges, but Dy­ing Light is like­able de­spite its flaws, and sees Tech­land move a step closer to ban­ish­ing mem­o­ries of Dead Is­land to the af­ter­life for good.

It’s a shame that Tech­land gives you the op­tion of miss­ing the game at its best by sleep­ing the night away

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