Dying Light was a smash hit that turned the tide of zombie games over the past few generations. With increasingly larger undead hordes, they had become less scary and intimidating over time, but Dying Light made them terrifying again, which is a big part of why this is one of my favorite games. Dying Light 2 didn’t give me so many chills, but why?
The difference between day and night in Dying Light was night and day. When the sun comes up, you can be sure there’s nothing you can’t handle or at least escape, but when the sun goes down and takes its soothing UV light with it, the Volatiles come out to play. They are highly mutated zombies; they are big, fast, deadly and strong. Your only real options are running or maybe fighting one with heavy use of UV lights while screaming in terror, if you’re lucky enough not to attract a group.
With Volatiles wandering around at night, and with your reduced visibility, it made Dying Light really, really scary, to the point where you could just avoid going out at night all together when possible. But these missions which Homework being done at night or in a dark area are incredibly memorable and distinctive – I still remember the image of the first time you encounter one of these boosted zombies.
Aside from the fact that Dying Light 2 isn’t as polished as the first game right now, it also introduces some major changes that just make it less scary. Its predecessor focused on zombies. There was, of course, a story, but most of the biggest moments are zombie-specific, whether it’s trying to destroy a volatile (again, petrifying) nest or infecting a character. . The sequel story, however, focuses on warring human factions. Like The Walking Dead, The Last of Us, or any other zombie-based media these days, the zombie apocalypse is more of a backdrop for human drama. Turns out the real monsters are… us!
You can see this throughout the game, starting with the Volatiles who don’t really come out at night anymore. Instead, there are Howlers, who scream when they see you and trigger a chase with faster zombies, called Virals. These chases are rather easy to evade, so they rarely develop long enough for Volatiles to get involved, unless you deliberately drag out these gameplay footage.
Promotions are also usually retained. Rather than coming across more powerful zombies while walking around, you’re more likely to find a group of humans. Some special zombies, such as the exploding ones, seem to be limited to specific story missions that take place in a particular building. At least one zombie from the original game – the Screamer, a zombified child who screams and attracts zombies – seems to have been dropped in favor of the less gruesome Screamers already mentioned.
There’s a bit towards the end of Dying Light where you can see a bunch of Volatiles in a seemingly communicating room, hinting that they’re evolving even further. In The Next expansion, there is a talk volatile. The hopes that planted themselves in my head of organized Volatiles terrorizing you at night as they hunt you down, or even lead lesser zombies, were dashed afterward.
For me, the best parts of Dying Light 2 are when it feels most like the original, where you’re rushing around in the dark terrified of zombies, but a shift in focus towards human drama means there’s a lot less of that. Clearly, Techland wanted to show off its narrative chops by weaving more intimate and relatable storylines into the sequel. Not only did they fall short, but they kind of strayed away from the horror element that made Dying Light such a treat to begin with.
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