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Wednesday, February 2, 2022

[Review] ‘Dying Light 2: Stay Human’ Shines as a Succesful Zombie-Smashing Sequel

Running from zombies has never been such a good time. In Bloody Disgusting’s Dying Light 2 review, find out just why dead is better.

Seven years after first releasing something of a surprise hit with zombie-kicking parkour adventure Dying Light, Polish developer Techland returns that formula with a sequel that looks to expand on the original in almost every way, whilst still fundamentally staying true to the things fans bought into the first time around. Did Techland manage to pull that off? The answer is largely, yes.

Set 15 years on from the events of the first game, Dying Light 2 tells the story of Aiden, a ‘Pilgrim’ who wanders the apocalyptic lands left behind by a mutation of the virus that previously saw the city of Harran quarantined. What remains of civilization is threadbare, and Aiden’s journey takes him to one of the last big cities left standing in a broken world. Of course, people are still unable to get on even now, and the city is in a power struggle that an outsider like Aiden could have a significant influence on. 

I make no secret of the fact I adore 2015’s Dying Light. The atmosphere, the day/night cycle, the music, the parkour, the combat, all so very much my jam. As such Dying Light 2 arrives with big shoes to fill, and I honestly don’t think it makes the best first impression.

Stabbing in The Dark

Opening on Aiden being chased through a tunnel by infected, the pace quickly drops as he’s reunited with an old friend and pulled through a rather plodding tutorial mission where he gathers flowers and looks around the decaying shell of an upmarket home, shaking his head at how goddamn sad every long-dead body found within it is. It’s the kind of mawkish, stilted moment that Dying Light’s story was rife with, and it made promises of a richer story this time around seem somewhat generous.

The tutorial continues with a climb up a cliff to find a radio tower. The environment in this opening is all forest land, which I’ll admit intrigued me as a change of scenery. Unfortunately, the mechanics of Dying Light 2 really don’t gel with this great outdoors, and as such, it gives an underwhelming impression.

Thank the Elder Gods that this is merely a blip then. In fact, with the context of what comes, there’s an argument to be made for this serene introduction to act as a calm before the storm, and in fairness, decent lore building. Dying Light 2 soon breaks out the horror tools and hammered away at my nerves with a pair of panic-inducing encounters that set the bar for the game’s bigger moments, and starts it on its way to opening up a whole new world of the dead.

In almost every way, Techland has amplified the better qualities of Dying Light, and improved on a few of the weaknesses. The atmosphere is different, which initially felt disappointing for me as I loved how hazy and isolated Harran felt in Dying Light, and the Euro-horror synth soundtrack played a big part in that. The atmosphere in the sequel grew on me though, especially in how claustrophobic it makes the indoors feel and how desolate street level is. Olivier Deriviere’s score is perfect for it too, majestically shifting tone in tandem with the action and ambiance.

Army of the Dead

The infected have a few new tricks up their rotting sleeves this time. With 15 years of mutation thanks to the new virus and a botched attempt to coat the city in a ‘curing’ chemical, the undead variants are more vulnerable to the sun than they were before, visibly cooking in the noonday sun as they shamble about the city. The ultra-irritating runners still hunt you down if you dare to make a big noise, but they pay the price in daylight by getting swiftly microwaved by UV rays if the pursuit runs too long.

The fearsome Volatiles mostly stay indoors now as they are so heavily vulnerable to the outside world, but they’ve grown more deadly and brutal. Worse still, the majority of encounters with them are in claustrophobic indoor environments, where other infected are already snoozing, and uncertainty lies around every corner.

Night also brings out Anomalies, special infected that can raise the already twice dead around them. They feature in their own little arenas, where Aiden must use rope swings, javelins, explosive canisters, and his own arsenal to get the better of these freaks without getting caught in a mass of undead arms and teeth.

Perhaps the most important of the foes is the Screamer. Previously seen as small childlike undead that bellowed a dinner bell to anything within shambling range, this new version is adult-sized and crops up at night amongst the throngs of regular undead. It’s easy to spot thanks to the glowing yellow bile that bubbles and overflows from it, and if one happens to see you, you best know where the nearest safe zone is.

The day/night cycle returns with a vengeance. Not only must Aiden avoid more dangerous infected, he also needs to maintain his UV exposure to avoid turning himself.  So when you’re against the clock and being chased by an escalating horde of infected, it’s crucial to master and utilize the suite of parkour skills on offer.

Blade Runner, Jumper, Climber, Fighter

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Ahh, parkour. Perhaps the biggest reason Dying Light remained a treat to play long after the credits rolled. In Dying Light 2 there’s a greater set of mechanics for traversal and a world better designed for it, so once again, parkour makes the act of going from Point A to Point Z a highly enjoyable activity. Chaining moves together and building momentum as Aiden jumps, clambers, swings, and rolls across the rooftops of the city has the same trance-inducing flow of a rhythm action game. Combining it with improved combat further highlights the fantastic work Techland has performed here.

Dying Light’s melee-heavy combat was certainly a mixed bag. There was a satisfying weight to lopping of limbs and dropkicking foes off rooftops (my absolute favorite combat feature). Fights against human foes weren’t much fun though, and the introduction of guns felt at odds with the design of the game. Dying Light 2 balances all that out by largely chucking guns in the bin for a far greater focus on hand-to-hand/face combat, smart movement, and strategy.

 There’s simply more depth to combat now. Especially as Aiden learns new moves throughout at a pace that suited my growing handle on the game world and mechanics. Fights against humans allow for proper dodging, blocking, and grappling, with multi-enemy encounters able to blossom into acrobatic sword fights. Oh, and yes, dropkicks are in here, and better than ever.

When things aren’t so close, there’s still plenty of options. Stealth plays a greater part, especially indoors where many infected are in a sleep state. So chokeholds, arrows, and distractions prove to be important tools whilst searching for the juiciest loot.

Dead Predictable?

This revision and refinement do mean a sacrifice is made in terms of identity. With Dying Light 2, Techland cherry-picks aspects of every popular open-world game in the last seven years, and plops it on top of what was already in its previous game. That is a gift and a curse for Dying Light 2 because while the more open, overwhelming game world is a parkour playground I’d dreamed of having, it’s so packed with things to do it can be a little too overwhelming, and a majority of those things are the same activities you’d find in any number of Horizons or Assassin’s Creeds so weariness naturally set in at times. Climbing towers are at least made entertaining platforming puzzles, as is the cable-connecting found in power station activations

What keeps it interesting beyond parkour is the impact of choice. Yes, there’s a lot of ‘capture this area’ stuff, but you get to designate them to one of the two factions vying for control of the city. That also feeds nicely into the story.

Choice in terms of the story comes in two flavors. The largely interchangeable general conversation options that seem to come to the same conclusion however you answer, and the timed instances where you must decide something that will alter or impact the landscape of the city, be that geographical or political. In the previous game, there was a very basic, bland idea of good guys and bad guys, with the odd bit of unique personality found in some side missions. 

A Human Voice

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There’s no denying Dying Light 2 still feels a little bit boilerplate in places, but the character and story work is undoubtedly in better shape. Whichever faction you end up siding with, the game presents neither as truly great or evil as entities, but as two groups of humans with their own baggage, personal agendas, and beliefs. There’s going to be consequences however you approach things, and while it’s not exceptional storytelling, there’s more to care about in the characters this time, even when they’re being a dick to Aiden.

Perhaps my only real gripe with it is how despite the choices on offer, the story of Lawan (played by Rosario Dawson) is forced on you. I get why. Having Rosario Dawson on hand to add some heft to the acting on display means Techland was always going to make the most of that, but the back half of the story throws Lawan into way too much. She’s definitely an entertaining character, but she takes something away from the story Aiden is supposed to be going through.

With the odd distraction here and there, I reached the end of Dying Light 2’s story in 30 hours, and felt happy to plow on into whatever else the game world could offer because, as I mentioned before, it’s a world made for the parkour system and it ensures that just exploring and mopping up side quests continues to be an enjoyable task.

Dying Light 2 has some rough edges (climbing animations are a tad messy for instance), and an unfortunate pre-release bug halted my progress for a while as voices and sound effects started cutting out more and more frequently whilst subtitles flickered onscreen for a millisecond. That bug did get fixed thankfully. Lighting is generally fantastic, but there are some awkward instances after night transitions to day where areas remain oddly dark for a bit.

A Sequel That’s Light Years Better?

So Dying Light 2 ends up being a success overall. In some ways, Techland aims high and generally hits by creating new variations on its established ideas, but then plays things a little too safe and predictable in terms of open-world structure and player progression. I think the game works because of this compromise though. It’s the solid familiarity that makes the expanded parkour traversal work so well, after all.

This is a confident sequel at heart. One that effortlessly switches between precarious leaps of faith from high-rise buildings and nervous crawls through undead-infested interiors. One that finds time to indulge in dread-inducing horror and explosive intensity. Where it perhaps lacks in structural ingenuity, it more than offsets by finely-tuning the things that made the original a success.

Dying Light 2 review code for PS5 provided by the publisher.

Dying Light 2: Stay Human is out February 4 on all current platforms (Switch version TBC).

The post [Review] ‘Dying Light 2: Stay Human’ Shines as a Succesful Zombie-Smashing Sequel appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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