This game is painfully, unfortunately mid. Not because it lacks merit as a game, or has no interesting ideas, but because it sabotages itself on a fundamental level. Pretty much every single cool or interesting idea or mechanical choice it contains is buried completely under an all encompassing, overbearing, irrevocably clunky fixation on filling the game with every single AAA, Games as a Service design cliche the developers could muster. There's almost a desperation to it; you can practically hear the developer begging you not to stop playing it, as they show you all their little compulsion loops and arrays of skill trees crying to be filled out, their awkward crafting and inventory management, their constantly spawning timed live events, their sidequests that put huge yellow objective text and waypoints on the screen at all times, and their whole department store full of ugly-looking unlockable skins. It all ends up being kind of sad, really, because this could have been a pretty dope zombie-dodging parkour game if the developers merely had confidence in the ability of their own game's core ideas to stand on their own.

The level/world design is the best part, followed by movement. The middle eastern city setting is pretty novel for a zombie story, the game looks pretty decent visually, and the parkour mechanics can feel cool when they actually work right (though playing it right after Mirror's Edge Catalyst did not do Dying Light any favors... but it's still solid). The day-night cycle and the tension that the looming threat of nocturnal monsters and the dark creates is genuinely cool, even if running from the monsters can be a bit janky and annoying in practice.

The combat would feel cool if it weren't for how obnoxiously damage spongy the enemies are, especially the humans. The kick is great, though. Love a good kick. If the weapons didn't have arbitrary feeling RPG stats, and instead were something more like Dead Rising and were all useful in their own ways, it would MASSIVELY improve the game. As it stands they tend to all feel like skins of the same 2 or 3 weapons, and that's boring as hell. The crafting is also boring. In a zombie game I'm not opposed to crafting by any means, because it can be a great mechanical tool to make the player feel like they are scavenging for survival and making do with what little resources they have available to them. But that requires restraint on the amount of crafting, actual limited resources, and meaningful choices to make about what you do with them. This game has none of that. So it just feels like busywork instead. They do not have the confidence to ever deny the player their trickle of little gamer treats.

I understand why people like this game. It gestures at some interesting immersive sim mechanics and is big and full of stuff, and some of that stuff is actually pretty cool. The parkour is neat and not too many games try that and get it right. I haven't tried the multiplayer but I could definitely see how playing with a friend could make certain parts of the game a lot more fun. But every time I started having fun the game would throw some kind of obnoxious obligatory feeling dog biscuit of game design at me and after I while it just became too annoying, tiring, and vaguely depressing to want to continue.

Maybe someday if want the game design equivalent of a big bowl of candy corn (too much sugar, kinda disconcertingly waxy, bad for you but weirdly addictive, a perverse simulacra created from the processed remains of the very thing it strives to recreate...), then I will return to this, perhaps with friends if I can rope them into it. But for now Dying Light is just not it.

Reviewed on Oct 29, 2023