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    Dying Light: follow-up to dead island

    Techland wasn’t happy with Dead Island. heavily hyped by a cg trailer, the game emerged as an interesting if clunky mix of zombie-clubbing, multiplayer and open-world exploration. Yet players were critical of the pace, the technical issues, the dull story and the slow action. techland wanted to do something different, while publisher deep silver wanted a straight sequel.

    So the two parted ways. Dead Island 2 is deep silver’s take on the first-person zombie genre, a very similar title set in california, and Dying Light is techland’s. and techland’s choice so far seems like a good one. the new elements the developers have mixed in free-running, a focus on storytelling, a Dark Souls-type asymmetric multiplayer and a day-night cycle mesh together to make a game that’s more than the sum of its parts.

    The story follows Kyle crane, a special operative for a sort-of-Un agency who’s air-dropped into the quarantined city of harran. he’s after a man called suleiman, who has data that might prove the cure to the virus that’s broken out. suleiman has taken charge of one of the city’s two survivor factions, but crane doesn’t know which and finding out who he can trust is half the story.

    Sadly for crane, as soon as he parachutes into the city, he’s beaten up by the thug faction and bitten by zombies, the end result of the virus. and he manages to smash his supply of antizan, the drug that’s the only thing that slows the virus’ progress. not a good first day. thankfully for him, the tower faction take him in, training him to survive in this grim new world and he learns not to trust his superiors on the outside.

    From that point, the game is a traditional power fantasy. even at the basic level, crane’s stamina is much superior to Dead Island’s asthmatic bunch, meaning he can clobber quite a few zombs before his arms wear out. he can also run and jump like a parkour montage video, allowing him to stay on the rooftops and out of reach of most of the zombie types (more on which in a moment). it’s possible to leave the safety of your tower block home, get to an objective and leg it back, without having to smack a single zombie about, purely by using parkour.

    And it’s an oddly believable world to run around. Perhaps because one of the designers is an architect, harran’s street names, layouts and buildings feel real. when we glanced out from the eighth floor of the headquarters, the view was of a modern middle eastern city think istanbul or beirut, a historical city peppered with satellite dishes. smoke rises from it, the waterfront is clogged with junk, there were shanties, tower blocks and an old colonial-style city centre of piazzas. cluttered interior layouts and the roaming cast inside the block feel similarly authentic.

    But it’s also been designed, explicitly, to be a city that it’s easy and fun to explore using parkour skills (and the occasional grappling hook, in the old town). moving around has the fluidity of Assassin’s Creed or Batman: Arkham City, albeit from that Mirror’s Edge first-person perspective. of course, the agile traversal systems don’t mean that you’re superhuman or that you’ll make every jump you attempt. and, unless you land on a pile of bin bags or  a soft car roof, falling still hurts.

    Unlike in dice’s game, though, there are  no set routes here. rather than have the level designers hand-craft every handhold, the game scans the architecture ahead of you for routes as you run, making this procedurally generated parkour that could theoretically work on any layout. it means that traversing the run-down shanties near the tower block, and the more refined piazzas and courtyards of the old town are completely different.

    The brutal combat also hurts, with much retained from Dead Island. the tools at your disposal are almost entirely crude melee weapons, and combat consists of smashing zombies until they fall down, then stomping the corpse until it stops moving.

    joyously, as in Dead Island or System Shock 2, flimsy weapons will often break on you mid-zombie-braining. if you’ve got parts, you can fix them quickly but often it’s a case of finding or crafting some more. all around the world there are blueprints for new gadget and weapon types, with a range of elemental attacks. they’re not as silly as Dead Island which, frankly, was thematically inconsistent with its magic boomerangs skills and super-powered punching but there are a few top-end weapons that are crazily overpowered. firearms are extremely rare, mainly because anyone firing one attracts all the zombies in earshot to his location. not a good plan.

    In a move borrowed from Skyrim, as you fight or run or simply survive, crane gradually gets better at that activity. there are three skill trees that come off that, each having three tiers of skills, signifying a general increase in your ability levels. level up to the next parkour tier, for example, and you’ll run and climb faster for longer, as well as jumping further. they’ve also been designed to flow nicely into each other. for example, you might unlock a slide to knock one zombie off its feet, then segue into a springboard move off another, before using an aerial execution move to finish off your first undead victim while it’s still on its back.

    Dead To Rights
    the zombie types seem borrowed from Left 4 Dead, but that’s no bad thing. apart from the stumbling biters, there are the recently infected Virals, mostly still human and agile. occasionally hitting one of these will snap it out of the zombie trance, prompting it to beg you for help, before it starts trying to bite your brain again. other types include slow, strong demolishers, exploding bombers, hazmat-suit zombies, acid-spitting toads and the horrifying Volatiles, who only emerge from their lairs when the sun comes down.

    At night, the dead city comes to life. the zombies have a weakness to UV light, meaning that even the most basic biter or Viral wakes up a little more at night-time. more troubling, there are zombie types that only come out at night, including the Volatiles. these are fast, agile and tough in the sections we played, we never managed to faze one, and just had to run. given they’re as fast as you are and hunt in packs, running is merely the third-least-worst option. if you can manage to stay stealthy without stumbling into a somnabulent biter, that’s the second-least-worst option.

    Worst of all, the be the zombie mode only works at night. this is where enemy humans can Dark Souls their way into your game. except they enter it as super-powered hunter zombies, like a maxed-out human player or a really mean spider-man. they can leap several storeys, use a grappling hook to pull themselves around the world fast and deploy a series of damaging attacks that almost all disorient other players or knock them apart from each other. if a hunter gets you on your back on your own, you’re dead. to combat this, humans have UV flashlights and flares. Yeah, not exactly an even fight.

    Bump In The Night
    As a result, staying indoors is the best option, which you can do by napping at any unlocked safehouse, should you be able to reach it when the sun goes down. but you’ll want to take that after-dark risk. some missions, both story and sidequest, are only available at night. also, some ‘things’ come out at night that drop resources essential for top-end crafting.

    that’s without the additional complexity of the game’s weather cycles. heavy fog could have you stumbling in the dark straight into a pack of enemies, or not seeing whether you can make jumps. storms make it easier to move around, but puddles of rain and electric cables are not friendly bedfellows.
    “it’s a game tHat makes you want  to tell stories”
    with all these systems free-running, storytelling, crafting, combat, diurnal cycles, randomised weather it’s one of those games that makes you want to tell stories. in one mission we found ourselves out at night in the middle of a storm to turn the power back on to the tower’s defensive UV lighting system. we were the only survivor stupid enough to agree to go out after dark. we tried sneaking through the shanties and managed to reset two substations before a Volatile spotted us, but soon we were running for our lives, badly injured in a confused melee encounter. half-blind in the rain and the dark, we bounced from rooftop to rooftop, as the Volatiles closed, howling to each other. after a five-minute pursuit that felt like it lasted a lifetime, we eventually plummeted down a cliff face to land awkwardly on a car. stunned, we waited for the Volatiles to finish us. instead, they paused, looking confused. and the sun rose, sending them bounding back to their hidden lairs. that’s just a simple slice of Dying Light these stories erupt into life at regular intervals and it’s why we’re looking forward to it.

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