If you see the setting sun. Run!
Like a zombie infested shopping mall, the gaming scene has been overrun with the undead for quite some time. The developers at Techland are likely very aware of this fact, given they’re responsible for the fun but highly flawed, Dead Island series. Seeing the potential in the gameplay and determined to bring something unique to the genre, the studio got to work and eventually put out a new IP in the form of Dying Light last January. Not content to rest on their laurels, however, they decided to not only release a substantial sized DLC with The Following, but bring upgrades to the main game as well. Read on to find out if Dying Light: Enhanced Edition shines as bright as it should or if this was a concept better left in the dark.
First and foremost, what exactly does the “Enhanced Edition” bring to the table. Aside from being packaged with all available pieces of Season Pass DLC, the game now includes a number of smaller updates. Two skill trees have been added, one for the dune buggy exclusive to The Following and the other being legend levels that allow you to upgrade various stats far beyond their initial limits; similar to the paragon levels found in Diablo III. Enemy AI has been given a boost while weapons, crafting and a few skills have been tweaked. Challenge bounties and a more unforgiving difficulty called Nightmare, are also available. Last, but certainly not least, is the DLC expansion that contains a new map, weapons, missions and storyline. All these additions help to significantly increase replay value of what was already a fairly content filled game.
The plot revolves around special agent Kyle Crane and his journey to the quarantined Harran. As soon as he lands, things get out of control very quickly, forcing him to get far more involved with the residents then he had initially planned. All this leads to events seen in the zombie genre at some point or another and honestly, just isn’t that compelling. Shady government types, friendly survivors fighting ruthless ones for supplies and a desperate search for a cure are all common tropes you’ll find here. And they all end as predictably as a drag race toward a brick wall, only with far less impact. The story for The Following starts off promisingly enough, but it too devolves into another uninteresting tale of wasted potential. This could have been remedied to an extent if the cast involved were well developed characters but sadly, most have as much personality as the senseless sacks of meat surrounding them. Fortunately, the gameplay itself is much more engaging than the half-baked narrative.The format is similar to many other open world games of its type. You’ll explore a massive map, either solo or in 4 player coop, picking up story missions and side-quests while killing and looting along the way. Most of these simply involve fetch quests or clearing areas, but the rewards are often worth it and the locations are interesting to explore. Due to the movement mechanics of the game, simply getting around the map is fun, since the main form of travel is parkour. The controls can feel awkward at first, but after an adjustment period and some upgrades, you’ll find it to be as exhilarating as it is useful. Running through a confined alley, climbing to the roof, then drop-kicking a zombie onto a spike trap is always amusing.
The new countryside map gives access to a dune buggy, which along with the more open spaces, is a welcomed change of pace compared to the urban settings you’ll spend most of your time in. Using it to plow through fields and flesh eaters alike is as equally exciting as the free running. It isn’t invincible though, so looting cars for fuel and materials, as well as crafting upgraded parts, will be necessary to keep your road rage on track.
Combat itself is hard hitting and fluid. The impact of each hit feels as destructive as it appears gruesome, which is largely owed to the detailed gore & dismemberment. You have access to a variety of weapons to face the hordes with too, from simple pipes and wrenches to more competent slaying tools such as a katana or machete. These can all be modified using blueprints you’ll acquire, which gives them elemental effects such as fire or electricity. They do break however, so scavenging supplies is mandatory to maintain their condition. On top of all this are skill trees Crane can upgrade that all help make him a more efficient fighter, runner, and all around survivor.While the main focus is on the in-your-face melee combat, there are ranged weapons like throwing stars, bows, grenades, and of course, guns. Firearms are harder to come by though, and shooting involves the risk of luring enemies to your position. While a daring approach even during the day, it’s almost assuredly a death sentence at night. The night time gameplay changes dramatically. Once the sun sets, the hunter vs hunted mechanic shifts. Instead of shambling zombies, the world becomes infested with vastly more mobile predators, known as Volatiles. These creatures will actively chase you if you’re spotted, making for some of the most panic inducing gameplay I’ve experienced in a horror game to date. You can kill them, but that often draws more, so avoiding them all together is usually the smartest move.
The game presents a catch to this though, in the form of double XP for exploring at night, allowing you to level your much needed skills even faster. This high risk/reward scenario is a great way to encourage players to learn how to survive at night, especially since skipping it entirely, is an option. Nightfall also presents the chance to invade or be invaded by live players in control of one of the Night Hunters, a more vicious version of the game’s Volatiles. This is a simple asymmetrical multiplayer mode that, while fun, doesn’t hold much lasting appeal unless you have a full team of communicating players.Graphically, the game looks pretty damn good. It may not be the most impressive from a technical standpoint, but the world, from the rundown city to the tall grass ridden fields in the country, is presented with great detail and provides an amazing sense of immersion. Several little shops, homes, and buildings are explorable and filled with posters, pictures, and other miscellaneous clutter to give the impression that people once lived there. The lighting is fantastic, with blinding rays beaming down during the day followed by pitch blackness at night. Character models are a mixed bag, since enemies themselves are as detailed and grotesque as you’d expect, but humans are often bland with little to distinguish one another. Facial animations are also done poorly and the lip syncing is bad enough to be mildly distracting.
Performance wise, the game is fairly stable, with some occasional frame rate dips during action heavy segments, like driving and fighting large mobs. This sometimes happens during crucial parkour moments too, which is unfortunate. Throughout the 50+ hours I have invested in this game, I only witnessed that a few times. It should be noted that all three platforms (XBOX1, PS4, PC) each have different causes for performance issues, so keep that in mind if you plan to pick the game up.
The sound, from the music to effects, is phenomenal and perfectly complements the experience. It consists mainly synth and assorted electronic style pieces, with a mix of some percussion heavy tracks; each musical choice is used accordingly and helps with the overall tone of the game. A lot of it is very reminiscent of the soundtrack from the original Day of the Dead, which given the subject matter, is most fitting. Hungry groans echoing from all corners of the map, doors and windows being smashed out from ravenous infected, and the piercing shriek of a Volatile cutting through the night–are all noises likely to keep you on edge. Guns sound as powerful as they feel, and the sickening thud of a hammer to bone is presented in unsettling clarity. The voice work isn’t nearly as commendable, with most characters outside the central cast delivering bland performances made worse by mediocre dialogue. Kyle Crane, played by Roger Craig Smith (who’s no stranger to zombies or parkour) does a solid job, though, thanks to his often sarcastic attitude and energetic delivery.
At the end of the day, Dying Light: Enhanced Edition provides the same fun, adrenaline fueled gameplay that it offered last year, but with a good deal extra to help justify a new release, which it certainly accomplishes. The game shows that while Techland has learned to craft a more engaging and visceral combat system, as well as an often enjoyable parkour mechanic, they still fall into the same pitfalls of poorly constructed stories and forgettable characters. There’s no shortage of replay value due to its crafting and leveling system, numerous quests, co-op, and multiple difficulty levels; so as long you enjoy the game, it has plenty to keep you busy. It may not be a far cry from Dead Island or its competitors, but the interesting use of the day/night cycle makes Dying Light: Enhanced Edition a unique experience horror fans should definitely check out.