If the last couple of literal decades of zombie-obsessed media – with films, TV, and games all dipping a necrotised toe in the waters of undead horror on a too-regular basis – have left you hoping for something slightly less rotten from the genre, you won’t find it in Dying Light 2 Stay Human. Beyond the grammatically frustrating absence of a colon in its official title, Techland’s sequel disappoints by having little original to say or do with the genre.

Set 15 years after the original Dying Light, an even more deadly strain of the zombifying virus has plunged the world into a “Modern Dark Age” (possibly a little too on the nose in these COVID-stricken times). Players inhabit Aiden Caldwell, a”Pilgrim” who travels between enclaves of human survivors. Aiden is also searching for his lost sister Mia, a quest that leads him to Villedor, the game’s main setting.

Dying Light 2 Stay Human

Unfortunately, despite many valiant efforts, there’s none of the pathos of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us or TellTale Games’ The Walking DeadDying Light 2 wishes it has a character that players would care about as much as the latter’s Clementine. In the absence of genuine emotion, there’s simply endless interactions with snarling survivors intercut with maudlin flashbacks to Aiden and Mia’s traumatic childhoods, all filled with stilted, clichéd dialogue. While Dying Light 2’s main story is passable as a series of events to move the player along, it feels like an assemblage of well-used ideas scavenged from the remains of the wider post-apocalyptic and zombie genres.

There’s a near-endless variety of adventures to be had in Villedor, but decidedly little that audiences won’t have experienced elsewhere.

It’s a framework that does, however, hold up the enjoyable mechanics of the game. Dying Light 2 never leaves players short of anything to do, with a cavalcade of main story quests and side missions to experience. Techland has even bragged that the game will take 500 hours to see everything it includes, and while it’s unlikely that more than a handful of only the most committed players will ever see that, the sheer volume of stuff to do – even though many of those side missions will be simple fetch quests – means that there’s plenty of variety to customise a unique playthrough. That variety is further enhanced with a choice system, where pivotal decisions can change the course of the key events, or even the layout of the city.

Dying Light 2 Stay Human

Where Dying Light 2 impresses most is its parkour system. As a Pilgrim, Aiden is used to navigating wild and dilapidated terrain while outrunning zombie hordes, and he brings those skills with him into the city. There’s a fun causal loop whereby every leap, vault, climb, or rope swing grants experience, earning points which in turn can unlock more skills. Eventually, Aiden moves through Villedor like Spider-Man sans web-swinging, flinging himself off buildings, landing in a roll, springing forward to wall-run off a billboard, then catapulting over the chasm between buildings. There’s a real sense of flow that few games manage to convey. The greater verticality of the city and much of the wider outside world, with skyscrapers and elevated terrain to scale, is nice too – a significant improvement on the original game.

Aiden’s combat skills follow a similar trajectory – the more damage you dish out and battles that you win, the more points are awarded to unlock even more powerful moves – but also incorporate the character’s agility in fun ways. Parrying an enemy’s attack to stun them, vaulting over their back and delivering a flying drop-kick to another nearby foe is never unsatisfying, and that’s one of the earliest combos you’ll learn. Combat feels pleasingly varied too, with zombies themselves typically the least of a player’s worries. While ‘shamblers’ can be fairly rapidly dispatched, bar special variants, it’s human enemies that will require some thought, distance, and speed to send packing. A day/night cycle where more challenging enemies invade when the sun falls also keeps things entertaining, especially for players who enjoy a tougher challenge.

Ultimately, though, Dying Light 2 opts for quantity over quality. There’s a near-endless variety of adventures to be had in Villedor, and dozens of game mechanics to master – we’ve not even touched on crafting, for instance – but there’s decidedly little that audiences won’t have experienced elsewhere. It’s all enjoyable enough, technically competent and well constructed, but feels more like a collection of the genre’s greatest hits than a must-play original game in its own right.

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