Dying Light: A darker Dead Island
Dying Light is clearly built upon the Dead Island series (which is now in the hands of French developer Yagers with Dead Island 2). Dying Light adds a number of new twists to the formula, however.
The game takes place in the stereotypical zombie apocalypse: a vast, ruined, apocalypt-ifed city.
Dying Light’s key differences from Dead Island are twofold:
Dying Light joins the ranks of games with integrated Parkour style movement so you can seamlessly weave under, over, and around zombie hordes, or run across rooftops to stay out of trouble—or gain a tactical advantage.
During the day, you can (carefully) still hack and slash your way through ‘normal’ zombies with whatever weapons you’ve managed to craft or scavenge, pretty much just like you can in Dead Island. Give zombies a boot to make room, then smash their skulls with a bat, shoot them with a revolver, or hit them with an electrified machete—whatever you happen to have handy.
But at night, the ‘super zombies’ come out. They’re fast and they can Zombour after your Parkour. If they spot you, they waste no time running you down and opening a can of ugly on you, so you need to run, hide, and just plain stay the hell away from them.
“At night you are no longer the hunter, but the hunted,” my Dying Light chaperone at E3 tells me.
Thankfully, you have a special ‘sense’ (vision mode) that helps you detect these alpha zombies. You can fight them if you have to, but they are definitely best avoided.
As if super zombies aren’t enough, human factions (looters/survivors) also pose a serious risk. They outnumber you and have better guns—at least initially. If you need to take them down, you’ll need to use your superior movement capabilities to gain a tactical advantage. (I’m also guessing an old school, griefer style ‘zombie train’ might be an effective measure for dealing with them—or at least distracting them.)
Also similar to Dead Island, Dying Light has 4 available characters and more than 50 skills across 4 trees you can level up.
For my hands-on time I played through about 15 minutes of an early level in which I was tasked with getting to a radio tower. Although I was a bit handicapped by having to use a game controller (vs. a mouse), at times the free-running still felt a bit clumsy. You have to look up, for example, for the ‘auto-climb’ element to actually make you mantle upward. If you don’t, you just jump in place staring at the wall.
But this was probably at least a little exaggerated by my lousy game controller skills.
Regardless, I’m always down for a good zombie game, and Dying Light looks very promising, even if it hasn’t fallen far from its Dead Island roots. For example, during my play through I heard someone calling for help—a rudimentary and (now) over used side quest mechanic that I quickly tired of in Dead Island: Riptide.
Despite those reservations, I’m still looking forward to Dying Light—if for no other reason, the night missions should some actual horror elements to the game. And key improvements to the story and narrative may help renew my enthusiasm, as will better side quests and additional opportunities a large, sprawling open world game can provide. Co-op multiplayer should also provide some added fun (and loot) as well.
Dying Light is scheduled to shamble into retail February 2015 for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.
Hellraid: A Hexen-Diablo lovechild
Hellraid isn’t technically a zombie game, but it does feature hordes of undead just waiting for you to axe them a question.
Hellraid is a dark fantasy, person hack-and-slash game. Enter castles and dungeons based upon Gothic architecture and full of evil undead and demonic monsters, then slaughter them all by sword, axe, hammer, fire—or just whatever medieval heavy metal badassery or you can find. (For old school gamers, Hellraid may remind you of Hexen.)
Stealth is not an option. But in addition to the vast array of melee weaponry there are magic wands and elemental weapons you can use to freeze, electrocute, and incinerate your enemies with.
Hellraid looks gorgeous, but it isn’t Skyrim or an elaborate RPG—it’s more akin to the previously mentioned Hexen with a dash of Diablo and an old school Quake attitude. There is a skill system so you can tailor your undead-smashing-burning-slaying abilities to suit your combat style, as long as it doesn't involve running away, backstabbing, and hiding. Stealth is for wussies, although tactics are not. Carefully timing blocks with something other than your face, using your environment to your advantage, and maneuvering are still important—especially when you're facing multiple enemies, and the games many bosses and their minions. You can drop gates on enemies and—of course—there are some things that go boom when you put fire near them.
In our E3 demo, we got to see plenty of armored, bony skeletons, all of them rendered as beautifully as bony skeletons can be. A sub-boss called the Hercus--a large goat-headed type of demon was also shown, as was a level boss -- the Blinded, a huge armored paladin with his helmet nailed to his face. Make that ex-paladin.
Hellraid will include a solo, single player story mode as well as 2-4 player co-op multiplayer and arena/survival challenges.
Hellraid has the potential to be a great game. The trick will be keeping the combat, enemies, and loot interesting throughout its campaign—otherwise, it’s all too easy for this type of game to quickly become boring and repetitive. I’m hoping it won’t be, because I love stabbing evil things in the face.
Kill everything that isn’t you, crush enormous boss monsters, and let the gods sort them out.
Hellraid is slated for a 2014 release (probably October or later, and this may be an 'early access' release on Steam -- although no specific date has been formally announced).