Movement is something it’s fair to say that most gamers take for granted. For most, it goes without saying that the movement mechanics in modern video gaming work intuitively and efficiently. In fact, I’m willing to bet that the majority of gamers wouldn’t even give movement mechanics much thought at all, despite a select few high profile titles making some big strides over the past couple of years. Titles like Titanfall, with its carefully considered verticality and wall-running, and Assassin’s Creed: Unity, with its new parkour-down abilities, as well as others have collectively made movement more complete and fluid than ever for gaming.
Movement is a key focus too in Dying Light, a first-person zombie survival game with a difference; the ability to move around the post-apocalyptic landscape using parkour to traverse the environment in an attempt to escape, flee and outwit the zombies pursuing you. Parkour in games isn’t particularly new; the aforementioned Assassin’s Creed franchise was built upon its free-running mechanics, and parkour has been seen in first-person titles before too, notably Mirror’s Edge.
Dying Light’s world has been wonderfully crafted with movement in mind. The parkour system allows you to run against, scale and jump between buildings. It’s a compelling mechanic in that it indirectly exposes your own fight or flight instinct – too many enemies to take on? Will you put up your best fight and be prepared to die trying, or do you flee upwards in an effort to make it out of the present situation alive? It’s not often a game leaves me critiquing my own decisions.
On a more practical note, Dying Light’s parkour system left me feeling very impressed. An incredible amount of work has gone into the world design to allow for the wealth of parkour opportunities. During my short hands-on demo, there were parkour opportunities almost everywhere I could look and if I could see a building, I could climb it.
Even in modern day open world gaming, it’s actually surprising how limited your options can be – for example, aside from walking or driving, how many real options did Watch_Dogs present for approaching a location? Although I only played one mission in Dying Light, the practical applications for parkour were already presenting themselves and flooding my mind. Reach a vantage point that’s high enough in Dying Light and you can genuinely plan out a rooftop route to your next objective or goal.
In the same way, moving stealthily at ground level in the tight and narrow walkways of the Favela-styled areas offers a lower profile mobility option. It’s an interesting trade off; at higher levels, moving around is fast and fluid but you’re exposed, while at lower levels you move more slowly but while concealed, with the expectation of more interactions with the undead. I also find it incredibly interesting that during my short playthrough, weaponry was of little concern – I focused on the best, safest approach to where I was going, focusing on getting there in one piece rather than fighting tooth and nail towards the next objective.
I did try out a pistol and a shovel against a couple of zombies, yielding mixed results. The pistol was efficient, particularly if you land a headshot (as you’d expect with zombies), but entirely impractical in that the noise attracted more enemies. The pistol, or any other firearm, is definitely a last-resort, I’m-screwed-unless-I-do-this weapon, not to be casually fired. On the flipside, the shovel was considerably less noisy with the drawback that I needed to get much more involved with the enemies than I’d like. Melee weapons meant I had to get close and getting close heightened the risk of me taking damage or quickly becoming overwhelmed if other enemies rallied round in support of my intended target.
The thing that stuck with me the most, in relation to both movement and combat, was that I needed to think – something that, again, modern gaming regularly does for us. I needed to be clever to survive in Dying Light, to keep my options open – only entering combat if I had a close-by escape route, planning out a route to my destination rather than sprinting aimlessly towards it, scoping out an area from higher ground to become aware of the dangers before entering.
There’s another key facet of Dying Light that, unfortunately owing to the timed demo, I was unable to check out – that’s when the darkness comes at nightfall. Dying Light’s world changes immeasurably when nightfall comes; the undead go into overdrive, become more aggressive, more volatile and the world becomes a much more dangerous place to be.
While I didn’t actually get to play during the (in-game) dark, based on what I’d already experienced I can predict some of its implications. Certainly, darkness would restrict the player vision, making it considerably harder to see and therefore plan a route to your desired destination. If playing during the day already had me feeling the need to plan ahead then nightfall certainly looks like it will up the ante, taking away some of the survival techniques I’d already started to develop.
Combat during the night is more than likely something that players will want to avoid too. If firing a pistol during the day attracted a few undead, then firing during the night when the enemies are already aggressive and hyper-sensitive would surely be a sure-fire recipe for disaster.
Planning activities and/or missions around the day/night cycle in Dying Light could impact the way in which players approach the game in a heavy way. Heading out on a supply run just before nightfall could see players left alone, exposed and vulnerable – again, Dying Light is forcing players to think about their actions before they take them, and that’s what I liked the most about my short demo with Dying Light. It’s not a case of shoot now, think later – it’s a case of think now, shoot later.
Providing Dying Light can make the most of these mechanics, supplying an interesting narrative with sufficient motivations and a varied mission structures, it could be one of the years’ sleeper hits. In the space of a short demo, I went from passively interested to extremely invested and excited for Dying Light and I can’t wait to get my hands on the finished game.
Dying Light releases for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on January 27th 2015 (North America) and January 30th (Europe) and our review will follow shortly after.