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E3 – Dying Light Hands-On Preview

Dying Light is an upcoming open world survival horror game that somehow manages to take an ambitious blend of game mechanics and turn them into what is looking to be one of the best upcoming zombie games. In short, it’s like if Dead Island and Mirror’s Edge had a child that grew up to be president. 

Since the gameplay of Dying Light features so many changing elements, the guided demo I was given featured two segments: an early game character and a late game character. Starting out in the zombie infested world as little more than a man with a bat, the focus is purely on survival. Getting overwhelmed is easy and oftentimes running from a large encounter is your best bet. I quickly learned that sticking to roads and alley ways wasn’t the way to get away from a horde of the undead. Instead, I spent a lot of time using one of the game’s more exciting features: free running.


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A surprising amount of ledges and walls in the game are climbable, which opens up a whole new level of movement in this open world game. The first objective I faced in my demo tasked me with reaching a radio tower some ways in the distance. I tried sticking to the streets, but quickly realized that being surrounded by five or six zombies was not a situation I wanted to be in. Instead, I ran to a canopy hanging off a building and climbed atop it, continuing my journey by crossing from rooftop to rooftop.

Free running will increase your agility, one of two character statistics in the game. The other, strength, is raised by general zombie pummeling. Leveling statistics gives you skill points to drop into new abilities in either the agility or strength category. While I was only able to choose one of two available abilities because of my low character level, the abilities listed on the skill tree were numerous with more on the way.

The game features day and night cycles, in addition to unpredictable weather. Thus, the next leg of the game I tried out happened under the light of the moon. During the day, the goals of an early survivor are to fight and scavenge. At night, stealth is your friend and savior. Special infected roam exclusively at night and will rip you into shreds if they happen to spot you. Luckily, you’re able to see their line of sight via the minimap and also have an ability that will sense their location and outline their forms in red, but the challenge is still there.

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Stealth isn’t my forte, but I gave it a go. I quickly learned when to crouch and hide and when to make a mad sprint for the nearest fence to lunge over. The experience was intense, but honestly also the most fun I’ve had with stealth orientated gameplay in a long time. Despite enjoying myself, it was only a matter of time until I got in over my head and alerted several of the night hunters. At that moment, the free running aspect of the game came back into play as I ran and jumped over everything possible to get to my goal, a fenced-in enclosure, and somehow managed to close the gate moments before the infected caught up with me.

The second half of the demo put me in the role of a late game character with late game weapons and abilities. The differences in playstyle for differently experienced survivors is fantastic. Cycling through my weapons revealed an electrified axe, a flamethrower crossed with a dagger, and a gun. Naturally, that axe and I became close friends.

Where earlier I had fled from large groups of zombies, now I was well-equipped to take down a horde with no issue. My instincts may have said to run but the sparks jumping from the gleaming axe in my character’s hands said otherwise. Here’s the best bit: the combat in Dying Light is disgustingly awesome.

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A poorly aimed swing of my axe sliced off a zombie’s arm at the shoulder and sent the limb falling to the ground in a majestic mess of gore. My next, more precisely aimed, slice split a zombie right down the middle. I can’t even describe how that split looked without branching into a new level of morbidity, but take my word for it: Dying Light takes advantage of what the PS4/Xbox One generation of consoles has to offer.

Dying Light wasn’t on my radar before E3, but that is a mistake I will never make again. The demo I played of the game was fantastic and managed to combine free running, survival horror, and exciting combat flawlessly into one experience. I personally cannot wait until Dying Light comes to PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, and Xbox 360 in February of 2015.

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