Dying Light Switch Review: The Dead Rise Again
Zombies don’t climb trees. They’re also not too good with tall buildings. But they will clamber over small obstacles sedately if there’s something interesting nearby. And then night falls. And in Dying Light, that means someone's going to die.
It might just be you.
Techland's spin on open-world adventure and survival horror is on Nintendo Switch now, with all the trimmings. Despite some rough edges and a lackluster story, Dying Light is still, all these years later, one of the most unique and cleverly designed zombie games around.
Dying Light Switch Review: The Dead Rise Again
Zombies have overrun the world in the not-too-distant future. Bands of plucky, and often criminal, survivors struggle to push back the hordes, brave scientists try to find a cure, and nefarious organizations want to use that research for their own ends. Into all this drops, literally, Crane, a double agent trying to infiltrate one such criminal gang before they unleash horrors unspoken on the remaining human population.
Dying Light’s story is not its strong point. The narrative is standard fare for the genre, and you can see most of its twists long before they happen. Most of the characters, including Crane, are flat and forgettable. It’s something I hope Dying Light 2 improves on, but for now, the city of Harran is enough to be getting on with.
Harran is a playground like few others, an urban deathland full of traps, zombies, treasure, zombies, secret safe rooms, and even more zombies. The streets are littered with the shambling undead, and it’s both a clever bit of worldbuilding and vital to Dying Light’s identity.
There’s a handful of non-infected humans in the apartment building that’s your home base, and nearly 30 virals — Dying Light-speak for zombies — just in the two streets out front. It’s one thing being told you’re the last of us and something else entirely seeing it play out in front of you.
Sunlight stupefies most of these virals during the day, but the sheer number of them means you have to think carefully about the route you take. Terror reigns when night falls (hence “Dying Light”), when the virals become faster, more vicious, and much harder to kill. In a twist that can only happen in video games, nights are much shorter than days in Dying Light. It’s a quirk I’m happy to accept unquestioningly.
That’s partly thanks to Dying Light’s combat, which is another twist on the survival horror genre that harkens to Dead Island. Normally, you get guns and scrounge for ammo in these post-apocalyptic adventures. In Dying Light, much like Techland's other zombie game, you use everyday objects as weapons: a table leg or an old lead pipe, for example.
And, if you’re lucky, you might have some random scraps you can modify it with, but only once you’ve learned how to survive first.
There’s a scrappy feel to all of Crane’s encounters, even with stronger weapons, that lends an extra sense of dread to fights with any viral. Your combat stamina meter dictates how many blows you can try landing before having to retreat, and retreat is typically the smarter option in most cases anyway. Too much noise only brings more virals running.
It also makes Crane surprisingly relatable for a character with so little development. If I were dropped into a zombie-filled apartment complex with blood and dismembered body parts everywhere, I, too, would swing a wrench wildly at anything in sight before scampering away as fast as possible.
You eventually get more and better weapons, and I don't think I've ever felt so relieved in a survival game when that happened.
The thing that really sets Dying Light apart from other survival horror games, though, is how Crane gets around the city: via superhuman parkour feats. Almost everything is climbable in Harran. Construction equipment, houses, fences, train cars — if it has an edge, Crane can probably grab onto it or walk precariously along it to reach his goal.
Dying Light’s parkour is sometimes messy, and it’s easy to miss a jump if the camera is angled just slightly wrong, but it’s always exhilarating. Freely roaming the streets is out of the question, given the number of virals around, so getting around the city becomes a puzzle in itself.
Planning your way across the city purely based on which routes keep you furthest above the virals is an absorbing task and one more difficult than I expected. You’ll have to descend from your perch eventually, though, and there’s a palpable sense of dread as you wonder whether your distraction might work or if you’ll run into a horde of virals you didn’t account for around the next corner.
The nature of Dying Light’s exploration keeps Crane’s tasks from becoming too repetitive most of the time, though they teeter on the edge frequently. It was tempting to groan inwardly at the prospect of arming yet another set of traps or tracking down an additional survivor since it involved once again trekking from point A to point B with little else to do.
However, the trek itself was always eventful and demands full attention, especially if you don’t want to get caught at night.
All this is familiar for anyone who’s played Dying Light before, but the Switch version bundles every existing piece of DLC released, including four expansions and multiple cosmetics. The Bozak Horde and Hellraid are good if you want more combat, but I enjoyed Cuisine & Cargo and The Following much more.
Both DLC packs add new locations and challenges, and The Following even gives you new weapons and enemy types to deal with.
The downside is, of course, this is all on the Switch. The Dying Light Switch port’s performance is almost flawless, but that comes at the cost of good resolution in handheld mode, where Harran gets very fuzzy. Still, it’s a small price to pay for one of the most unique survival games in handheld mode.
Dying Light Switch Review — The Bottom Line
- One of the most unique survival horror games still hasn't lost its touch
- Huge urban (and beyond) open world
- Brilliant parkour system
- Scrappy, desperate-feeling combat
- So much DLC
- Fuzzy resolution on Switch
- Underdeveloped story and characters
- Same-y objectives
Dying Light is six years old, but it hasn't lost its edge. A fantastic parkour system, extensive combat customization, and a unique take on the zombie-filled post-apocalyptic world mean Techland's horror game still holds its own after so long.
Sure, the resolution could be better on Nintendo Switch, and it's still the same iffy story, but having Dying Light portable and with all the DLC more than makes up for that.
[Note: Techland provided the Nintendo Switch copy of Dying Light used for this review.]