Dying Light – PC Game Review – Part 2/3

So, in the first part of this Review, I wrote about the game’s plot and gameplay, but what about the game’s graphics and sound? I know it’s a bit superficial but it’s what people look for first and see when they play a trailer, or hear about a game from one of their friends.

Let look at:

Graphics and Sound

As I mentioned in the first part, Dying Light is a new-gen (or Next Generation) title, and also a AAA title – which means that millions were poured into the production and it took several years and a big team to accomplish.

Airdrop Flyby

The game uses a proprietary 3d game engine called “Chrome Engine 6” which is tuned especially for Nvidia geforce graphic cards. That’s not to say it does not work with the competition (AMD/ATI) but it does mean you won’t get the full effect with them. There have been some reports that the game suffers from a few noticeable bugs that hinder the game’s performance, but aside from the high requirements that are quite understandable, I haven’t encountered these issues myself. Previous versions of the game engine were used in games like:

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood (2009), Sniper: Ghost Warrior (2010), Nail’d (2010), Mad Riders (2012)

and more recently in:

Call of Juarez: The Cartel (2011)[1], Dead Island (2011) [2],  Dead Island: Riptide (2013) and Call of Juarez: Gunslinger (2013)

The graphics are on par or even better than recent titles like “Far Cry 4”, “Alien Isolation” and “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare”.

Sound is nothing to knock off either, with many scary sound effects and good use of audio spatial location to make the sounds seem to come from all around you as you roam around the streets, buildings, open areas and tunnels. The Music by the polish composer Pawel Blaszczak does a good job of both pulling you in as well as changing the tempo to match your changing circumstances.

Harran from above

One beef I have with the graphics is that the general look is a little grey and dull in its whole. I believe it was done to accentuate the dire situation of a zombie infected city but it makes for a bit of a drab surroundings. Also, I would have loved to have more interaction with the environment – the ability to push, pull, and destroy objects as well as doors and windows in the style of Red Faction destructible environments. There is some measure of possible destruction as some wooden crates and certain objects in the game are allowed to be destroyed, but mostly its a very standard mostly indestructible affair which makes for a poorer game experience.

The gang is all here

With that in mind, the graphics are quite detailed and elaborate, with many objects lying around, dirt and neglect showing at every corner, fog and rain weather effects, flocks of birds from above, and blood & guts spatter affecting both humans and zombies alike, as well as injuries showing after you hit the zombies hard enough and/or often enough.

You can see a lot during the day
You can see a lot during the day

The night visuals are quite on the spot as well, with the dark volatiles showing on the in-game map as they prowl the streets looking for their next live victim, and the darkness making the lighted areas as islands of safety inside a living nightmare.

But at night its a game of shadows and monsters. Keep a flare at the ready!
But at night its a game of shadows and monsters. Keep a flare at the ready!

The game does not really cross the uncanny valley when it comes to the humans in the game. Having the Zombies look like ravaged versions of their former selves is quite acceptable, although they all look kind of plastic-y and too shiny, but having the human be a mere step behind photo-realism and never quite get there, even with the obvious effort put into motion capture (mo-cap) to get the movements right, is a shame. The biggest issue for me was less the almost realistic graphics and more the lack of facial movements that make all the difference.

The bad guy, Kadir "Rais" Suleiman, is a really bad guy
The bad guy, Kadir “Rais” Suleiman, is a really bad guy

However, as I said before, there is always a balance to keep when designing a (any) game. And twice as much when doing an open world/sandbox type of game. If you put too much into the graphics, the gameplay and AI will suffer and your investment is toast. If you put much more into AI and gameplay, the game will look like something out of the beginning of the century and the audience that’s been accustomed to polished graphic marvels will not touch it with a stick – unless its an indie game with an indie price to match.

So, game developers have to walk a fine line between looks and brains. And as they do, they will forever produce imperfect creations – because something got to give.

Multiple zombies inbound!
Multiple zombies inbound!

In Dying light, it’s the plot elasticity that gave – no decision trees, no multiple possible outcomes. Less of a truly physical engine with a match to real world destructibility. But, they invested into the look and graphics of the game – up to a point. Even with the most powerful machines, there is a physical limit to the number of polygons, and number of moving animations on the screen at the same time. You can see that in many games, but the last one in the Hitman Series (2012’s Hitman: Absolution) shows it quite well – the crowed model there allows for tens and sometimes hundreds of people moving at the same time – and as the numbers grow, the game performance takes a hit, and you can really see how the frames per second (FPS) rate goes down in massive crowd scenes.

The live ones are more dangerous than the undead...
The live ones are more dangerous than the undead…

The same happens in Dying light with animation heavy scenes, but I’m also referring to kinematics – the building of the human models from the skeleton out, means that if you want to get a real sense of facial animations, you’ll need to build a face with moving muscles. Each one of those will tax the gaming system considerably, so most games simply skip it and use pre-fabricated animations to pull off facial animations, or do a very limited scope of facial kinematics – meaning the range of impressions is quite short – unless it’s one of the main characters which quite visibly have a higher range of expressions.

To sum things up: As a whole, Dying light is a balancing act of graphic prowess, game mechanics and AI, with some cutting back on the edges to accommodate most of us mortals who don’t have a super-computer at the ready. However, as we seen in the past, you can make a beautiful large scale game and still have some of the elements they missed – my example is Far Cry – the 3rd and 4th installations both looked gorgeous but allowed for more freedom of choice, and multiple endings. However, they also did not allow for truly destructible environments which I suspect take a heavy tall on any game performance and even more so on an open world type of game.

I hope you enjoyed this part of the review, and next, will be the third and final part, with summary, grading, and some freebies!

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