Dying Light is a Different Kind of Zombie Game. So, Why Does It Feel So Generic?

DyingLight - Zombie PunchPsychologists call it “exposure therapy.” When a patient suffers from a debilitating form of anxiety, some therapists will repeatedly expose him or her to the fear-inducing stimuli. Obviously, no one is ever in danger, so the process allows the patient to recontextualize their anxiety and extinguish the fear.

For example, if you were afraid of household appliances, which is an actual disorder called Oikophobia, a psychologist might ask you to do a load of laundry or microwave a bowl of oatmeal. After a number of treatments, you’d eventually realize that appliances aren’t very scary.

I think we’ve all been undergoing exposure therapy for zombies, thanks to the entertainment industry. They’re just not scary anymore.

When I was in high school, I couldn’t imagine a more terrifying Armageddon scenario than a zombie outbreak. There was something about an army of reanimated corpses that really twisted my evolutionary instincts into a knot. But over the last few years, zombies have lost their ability to scare. These days, they’re more of an annoyance than a genuine threat. The never-ending flood of zombie-filled video games, movies, and television shows has neutered those biting bastards. These days, they’re about as scary as my toaster oven.

But Dying Light is different.

DyingLight2Titles like Dead Island and Dead Rising sport an undead army that’s decidedly more playful. The weapons are whimsical, and players can single handedly dispatch gigantic crowds of shambling corpses. I certainly don’t want to badmouth these games — in fact, I thoroughly enjoyed the latter. But they borrow from one another so extensively that they’re often indistinguishable. And the same is true for most zombie-themed video games.

But Dying Light’s zombies are humorless monsters that demand your undivided attention whenever they’re in the area. They’re powerful and vicious. Allowing yourself to be surrounded by even a handful of these creatures is a particularly gruesome death sentence.

DyingLight1The strength of Dying Light’s zombies is offset by the player’s agility. Surviving in this world requires swiftness and dexterity. During my time with the game, I’ve spent far more time jumping from rooftop to rooftop than dodging zombies on the streets. Still, weaving through a crowd of walking cadavers isn’t out of the question. It’s ballsy, but often necessary.

And when the sun goes down, Dying Light’s undead undergo a terrifying metamorphosis. They shuffle off their arthritic movement and turn into gold-medal track stars. Plus, a new species of zombie, the Volatiles, show up. They’re hunters who run, climb, and jump with more expertise than Mary Lou Retton (look her up, people. Gymnastics is an important sport).

When it comes to zombies, the folks at Techland have crafted one of the most unique experiences on the market. Unfortunately, that compliment doesn’t extend beyond the zombies.

Almost every other element feels like it was lifted directly from another game and plopped into Dying Light. The crafting system and skill tree follow the same basic model that every RPG-influenced FPS has used for the past decade. Even the free running system, which is one of the most interesting aspects of Dying Light, has a lot in common with Mirror’s Edge, including a relocated jump button. Plus, I’ve climbed way too many radio towers in Far Cry and Tomb Raider to let it slide in Dying Light.

DyingLight3Maybe I’m being a little too harsh. These days, it’s difficult to find a single game that hasn’t been heavily influenced by another title. Video games aren’t created in a vacuum. They’re a product of the industry’s culture and their developer’s influences, both of which have been shaped by history.

But in an industry that’s been overexposed to zombies, it would have been nice to see Dying Light distinguish itself from the pack — it almost did. The zombies themselves twist those same evolutionary instincts, but their successfulness is quickly undermined by the flavorless mechanics and quest lines. It’s hard to be scared when you’re bored.

  • DarthDiggler

    When I was in high school, I couldn’t imagine a more terrifying
    Armageddon scenario than a zombie outbreak. There was something about an
    army of reanimated corpses that really twisted my evolutionary
    instincts into a knot. But over the last few years

    So you are admittedly a few years out of High School?

    Coming up with original ideas for movies, music, games or any creative endeavor isn’t easy. Often most forms of art are some what of a remix of what has come before. Games borrow ideas from each other often. At least on the consoles you don’t have so many me-too games like you see in mobile gaming.

    Innovation is the result of improving a feature that came before. Often what makes a game great isn’t its individual ideas (which may not be that new) it’s how they execute those ideas. Tech Land gives you a zombie fest in an open world with 4 player coop. How many other titles can we describe like that?

    Games with missions all have the same issue — most of the times missions aren’t all that spectacular. It’s go here and pull this lever basically. These mechanics have become templates for better or worse. Open world games are hard to populate with all “great quests”. If you have too few quests you don’t have enough direction for the player to be able to discover things about the open world.

    If improvements to this game are so easy — why didn’t you suggest ANY? :) See what I mean about unique and original ideas? :) :) :) Honestly I would be shocked if many were disappointed in this title, it plays exactly as I expected it to. Anyone who has played Dead Island before should feel right at home and that isn’t a bad thing.

    BTW Mary Lou Retton never did Parkour, Gymnastics is apart of Parkour, but I would say Freestyle Skateboarding has more in common with Parkour than Gymnastics.