Dying Light 2, or Dying Light 2: Stay Human to give it its largely unnecessary subtitle, is a hell of a lot of fun once you push past its opening tutorial chunk. But the first couple of hours are absolutely wild.
There’s a dump-truck load of exposition, more skeletons than you can shake a stick at, the world’s most irritating child, a worrying hint of necrophilia, and much more. I laughed myself silly, mostly because of how amazingly absurd it all is, but partly because my brain wasn’t sure how else to respond.
The first hint that something was up was when Spike, a fellow courier, stopped in the middle of the zombie-infested countryside so we could gather honey and camomile. Yes, his response to spotting a beehive was to get me to plunge my hands into it, reminding me of the “wise” words of a herbalist:
“Remember: chamomile and honey are gifts that keep giving. Combine them and, lucky you, you might just go on living.”
Surprisingly, I didn’t get stung to death, nor did a ridiculous comedy routine ensue. But after I’d stopped laughing myself silly, I resolved to keep an eye on Spike in anticipation of his next brain fart.
However, as it turns out, it wasn’t Spike who escalated the lunacy. Rather, it was Aiden, the character I was ostensibly playing. I don’t know whether the tutorial section was crafted separately from the main game, but channeling the spirit of David Cage, it seems terrified you’re not going to “get it.”
If you’ve played the 3D Fallout games, you’ll have experienced environmental storytelling. Granted, plenty of other games employ the technique too, but Fallout’s approach is more overt than most. When I discovered the skeleton of a bus driver sitting at the back of his own bus, I made up my own micro-story.
But when, half an hour into Dying Light 2, you discover skeletons sitting around a swimming pool, the game absolutely insists you investigate them and you can’t progress until you’ve done so. All the while, mournful music is playing, just in case you’ve not grasped that this is supposed to be a sad scene.
“At least they had each other,” Aiden remarks as you hold down “X.” Because, you know, seeing two skeletons leaning on each other isn’t enough for you to draw that conclusion. Next, I gazed at a skeleton seated in a life preserver and once again held down X, expecting an equally inane observation. Then Aiden dropped his bombshell:
“She was classy.”
I… was not prepared for that. Once again, I found myself laughing, not so much at Aiden’s borderline skeleton fetish, but that someone had reviewed Dying Light 2’s script, seen that gem in there, and given it the go-ahead.
I was still smiling when Spike invited me to climb up to the balcony and share a warm beer. He remarked that he wished Crane, the protagonist of the previous game, could have seen this, stopping just short of turning and winking at the camera.
Suddenly, it was flashback time, and I found myself, as child Aiden, in a hospital with my sister Mia. You could tell it was supposed to be serious because it was all in black and white. Or at least it was serious till Mia called me “Aidenbabaiden,” ensuring that I’d hate her forever. Yes, that one line had soured me on the character that was supposed to be the driving force behind my whole quest.
I could go on, but I wouldn’t want to rob you of the whole experience.
Typically, the first hour or so of a game familiarizes you with its basic mechanics, but just as importantly, it should draw the player in. The story, the gameplay, or some combination of the two has to make you crave more or, at the very least, be curious enough to keep playing. Meanwhile, the opening hour of Dying Light 2 doesn’t quite know what it wants to accomplish or how to pull it off, but it figures its scattergun approach is enough.
It’s not. Introducing the main villain 45 minutes into the game is overkill, as is the ridiculous Far Cry 4-style speech he gives someone before he kills them. It just leads to more laughter, which, in turn, robs him of any real menace.
And don’t get me started on your sidekick who decides within five minutes he wants you to help him settle down by the seaside. I don’t know if he actually does survive the game, but between him and Spike’s monologue about his girlfriend, it really smacks of “Spot the Stiff.”
Once you hit the city and crack a few more quests, Dying Light 2 settles down and gives you the opportunity to step off the tonal roller coaster. Yes, the “choices” you’re presented with are pretty binary, but the story’s strong enough to be more than window dressing. And parkouring around the city and booting people and / or zombies off buildings never gets old. It’s just that it takes some real commitment to get to that point.
Ultimately, Dying Light’s rooftop training course may have seemed a little convenient, but it was far less jarring than Dying Light 2’s mishmash of crafting, skeleton investigation, and Bond villainy. Luckily, the sheer comedy factor carried me through it, but if I were a newcomer to the series, I would have questioned the wisdom of carrying on with playing. And for a game that’s (otherwise) as good as Dying Light 2, that’d be a bigger crime than punching a beehive.