At PAX, I had the opportunity to enjoy a guided demo of an early mission in the game. The first thing that is striking about Dying Light is how pretty it looks. Techland’s new engine allows them to render a marvelously gorgeous world full of ruin and the undead roaming around. The clarity of everything was refreshing and made running through the mission feel actually next-gen. The mission that the demo showed off was a basic explore the area, do X action at various points then return to base. For this particular mission, the protagonist had to go to various locations to set up traps to better deal with the zombies.
In order to set up a trap the player needs to get near it and press X to set it up. Once it is set up then the player can activate it from anywhere by pressing X. One of the early traps was an electrified doorway, so if a zombie starts chasing a player and they lead them to the door way, activating the trap will electrify the zombie and get them off their back. The best thing about the traps is that once they are set up, the player can simply run by them and press X to mess up some zombies without stopping. In the demo, running away from a zombie near a car prompted a trap action, which allowed me to set off the car trap causing it to explode and take out the zombie (and others following it). When running into areas overrun by zombies using distractions were vital to opening up a path and getting to the designated objectives. So, for players wanting to avoid zombies as much as possible smart uses of distractions will be highly necessary.
While the setting of traps around the map was easy, especially with a useful map HUD element that clearly demonstrated where to go, the real interesting part of the demo was the dynamic events/side missions that pop up during gameplay. When going around setting up traps near camp, a side mission popped up where a survivor trapped in a house was about to be overtaken by three zombies. The player has the option to save the survivor or leave, but helping the survivor nets experience and benefits. So it is useful to help out. However, the coolest part was that this showed off a cool gameplay mechanic, which allows the player to utilize the terrain and environment to deal with zombies. Instead of trying to take out three zombies with a melee weapon, the player can exploit an oil spill on the ground by throwing a firecracker/distraction at it. This lights the oil spill ablaze and draws the zombies to it. As they stand in the fire, they die and the survivor is saved netting the player experience. It is a really cool aspect of gameplay that otherwise would not have come up by ignoring the side mission. There will be more than simply saving survivors as events/side missions and these will be generated based on environment and play styles.
After going through most of the traps, the sun began to set. As the player heads to the final trap, darkness spreads and the night settles in. This introduces the day/night cycle of Dying Light. In the day, zombies are sluggish and only attack if the player gets near them, but during night, zombies are stronger and actively chase/hunt the player. So, doing missions at night adds extra danger and stakes to complete tasks. For this final trap, things go awry and the power goes out, so before the trap can be set, the player has to reset the power. This exposes them to more danger as the zombies are actively hunting them, but through quick thinking and luck, they can get the final trap set and return to base.
When running back to base, the options of gameplay come to bear. Players can choose to try to attack enemies or avoid them and find alternate routes, or a mix of the two. Because the freerunning is so smooth and intuitive, avoiding zombies while running back to the base is a great option and changes the tone of the game making it a bit more survival horror than action game. Plus, running up walls, ledges, cliffs and other areas is fun. When running from zombies players can slide through various areas covered in spikes tricking the zombies into impaling themselves as they chase the player.
However, conflict is not always avoidable and sometimes the player has to use their wrench to demolish a persistent zombie. When in combat, the player can make quick but weak strikes, or charge the attack for a more power swing. It is important to be mindful when entering combat because attacks use up stamina. During the balls out return to base, the player finds the main entrance swamped in zombies, so they have no choice but to run to another entrance. The only problem is they have to deal with more zombies and once again need to be smart about how they tackle the problem.
Once safe in the base, the demo ended. The demo showed off the basic zombies and how day/night affects them, as well as a more power spitting zombie that sprays acid at the player and takes some real work to kill. When night occurs, players need to turn on their flashlight and there is some cool integration with the PS4 controller’s light bar with this feature. The controls for the game are a bit awkward at first, but get comfortable pretty quickly. There is a bit of a learning curve though (but that kind of is the case for anything).
While the demo was a basic introduction mission, it illustrated the feel and tenants of what Dying Light’s gameplay will be comprised of. To that end, the game is highly promising. It will offer players a number of options to tackle objectives and the freerunning aspect of the game goes a long way into changing it from simply another hack-n-slash zombie video game. While the survival horror aspects did not make themselves readily apparent, the day and night cycle might help to add some unsettling atmosphere and danger to the game.