Dying Light was pretty much exactly what I hoped it would be. It’s an effective free-running survival horror game. The story is absolute crap, but the music, sound design & creature animation is outstanding. It’s fairly well paced too, as it gave me new areas to explore just as the first map was starting to feel old. The first hour or so of the game isn’t too exciting, but the further you get into the game, the better it gets. It doesn't show everything it has going on right off the bat like some games do.
I found the second half of the game more scary than the first. With new types of monsters and excellent level design, the tone they were going for was executed with great effect. If only the story was better! It commits the worst offense, which is to be boring. I could feel myself nodding off during cutscenes, wishing they’d just get it over with. The story mission designs weren’t too bad, and I loved the music. It just had the least interesting villain in history. He even looked generic, with a face so devoid of interesting features I was struggling to take in his looks even while staring directly at him. Same could be said of the rest of the cast. Even Ubisoft at their worst does better than this. But I guess it’s still a step up from the story in Dead Island. That had a story so bad I remember staring at cutscenes, mouth agape at the incomprehensible shit that someone had written, and then animated.
What was missing from the story is characterization. You have no idea who the main character is, who the employers are, who your friends are, or who the enemy is. You know their names and what they look like, but that’s about it. It’s as thin as it gets. The protagonist is forced by his employer to do morally questionable acts “for the greater good”. But because you have no idea where he’s coming from, it’s hard to care. What’s at stake for him? This story and setting needed much more work. It leans heavily on cliché, which has a sleep-inducing effect on the audience, without any meat to the story. When exploring, the music, sound, and visual design create a deliberate tone. You can “feel” what the developers were aiming for with this game. But they seem to have underestimated just how much work you need to put in on the story and cutscenes to not make them horrible.
The reason this game isn’t a complete disaster is because of just how much stuff is in this game, and because of how strong the other elements are. The music is like Hotline Miami and Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon, evoking the feel of 80s movies. And the sound has all the subtleties you expect from AAA games, like how the world seems to have layers of sound based on how far you’re elevated from the ground, giving you different types of wind sounds.
During the first half of Dying Light I felt I could only recommend the game with several caveats. But as I got further into the game I felt myself becoming more enthusiastic about it! It’s quite an “emergent” game, ie it’s a bit chaotic in a way that’s rare in newer AAA games. At one point I wanted to get into a building, and luckily a hostile human had spawned nearby. He was attacking zombies, and as he made noise the hordes kept wandering away from the building towards him, clearing the path for me to run inside. An entirely unscripted event, and just one of a ton that I saw during the game. This element of chaos, coupled with the free running system kept it fresh all the way to the end. It never felt like a slog, or that it overstayed its welcome, which is relatively rare in big AAA titles. If you like the idea of free running in a zombie infested city, with escape sequences like those in the late parts of Mirror's Edge, then you'll probably have a good time here.