One of the most heart-wrenching video game trailers ever made was the announcement trailer for Techland's 2011 zombie-ridden action game, Dead Island. The trailer used reverse storytelling with the trailer played backwards, following two adults and a young girl as they fought until their dying breaths in a resort hotel room. With it being played in reverse, however, the first thing the viewer saw was a young girl lying dead on the pavement with bite marks on her body and blood over her mouth after crashing through a window. The clever use of chronology and dialogue-free storytelling left critics and viewers in awe. What followed, however, left some people perplexed. Even though the developer had stated prior to the release that the game wouldn't focus on deeply emotional stories, the trailer had people thinking otherwise, and as such, players went through the zombie-slasher a little confused.
Dying Light 2, however, seems like it could become the game that those who witnessed that evocative trailer all those years ago wanted Dead Island to be, thanks to its consequence-based gameplay, its RPG elements, and its seemingly deep narrative that revolves around equally deep character relationships. We made these assumptions based on what we saw at Techland's Dying Light 2 presentation behind closed doors at E3 2019, and while the mission we got to see played may have been heavily scripted at times, the demo showed plenty of potential and had us leaving the venue more intrigued than we ever thought we would be.
As the name suggests, Dying Light 2 is a sequel to the 2015 action game and has the player step into the shoes of Aiden Caldwell, parkour master, friend, and infected survivor. Set in a dystopian modern dark age, the player has to guide Aiden through hardships, both physical and emotional, as he tries to find a cure for the beast growing inside of him.
The mission we got to see played by a developer started Aiden off in a crowded bar where a woman was performing and plenty of people wanted to have a friendly chat with our man. This base was Aiden's home and his friends were hanging around, enjoying their evening. By the icons over many of the characters' heads, we were left to assume that the player would be able to prompt a conversation with any of them (although this wasn't shown so we can't say for sure).
After taking a stroll through the crowd, Aiden walked upstairs to meet with Frank, who appeared to be the leader of the settlement and a good friend of most people in the bar. Following a chat with friends Jack, Matt, and Frank, Aiden set out on a mission to infiltrate The Castle, a nearby water plant turned fortress, to restore clean water to the district since the tanks were getting low. Shortly after setting out on this mission, however, Frank was shot and left critically injured on the street after bumping into a separate faction. The player then has the option of either staying with Frank or going after the van that was seen driving away from the scene. Here we were told that our actions have consequences, and boy do they ever - but more on that momentarily.
The developer playing the game for us chose the latter, most likely to show the many traversal mechanics in the game, and set out on an impressive parkour run to find the van and get into The Castle. On his way, we saw some extremely fluid animations and gameplay, with Aiden vaulting over zombies, swinging from ropes high above the streets, grappling up to even higher ground, navigating past the undead blocking his way by grabbing onto door frames and generally kicking zombie ass. We have to say that it all looked incredibly satisfying. Granted, the person playing the game for us probably had some practice, but the stunts you can pull off while traversing the world are nothing short of mesmerising. It's clear that the traversal in Dying Light 2 brings a lot more verticality for the player to consider; we saw Aiden climb up 20-storey buildings with the help of his grappling hook, as well as dynamic environments that moved with him. We saw him step off walls high up in the sky to push himself forward, jump across rooftops, paraglide off of ledges, and break his fall with an undead cushion. The options seem endless and it'll be exciting to see what manoeuvres the really good players will be able to pull off post-launch.
After getting to a high enough vantage point, Aiden spotted the van off in the distance and made a run for it, but he fell through the floor of a building that had been left in ruins, landing on the ground in the dark. He got back on his feet only to find countless undead staring at him, ready to attack, but Aiden had some tricks up his sleeve. A UV flare is thrown, stunning all of the zombies momentarily, giving him enough time to slice up some undead with his modded weapon and then escape the room on foot as he shines his UV flashlight in the faces of his enemies. Crowd control doesn't seem to be a huge issue for our parkour king.
We see a few "slow dodges" which makes us think that a perfectly timed dodge may leave you with some time to think before making your next move, but this is just speculation on our part. Aiden ran for the exit, in this case, a garage door that's being propped open by a weapon. He slides under it, grabbing the weapon as he went through and trapping the zombies inside.
Aiden eventually closed in on the van and jumped on top of it, taking its passengers out but sparing the driver. The player finds out that the driver's home is The Castle and that he knows how to get in, but the driver seemed understandably nervous. The player can then choose to either let the driver live or kill him on the spot, but the latter may make it harder for Aiden to enter the fortress. The dev playing the demo chose to trust the driver enough to let him drive through the castle gates and, sure enough, it works. Aiden was in.
As he moved up towards the pump room, our man got a call from home base, telling him that there's no need to find a doctor since Frank has died. Aiden is heartbroken. We're told that staying could have "perhaps" resulted in a different outcome, but this is what we deserve after leaving our friend behind. For Frank's death to not be in vain, Aiden continues the mission, slicing through the living on his way before being overwhelmed, grappling a vent cover and disappearing into the shadows of the ventilation system. Aiden sneakily entered the water plant where the settlement's leader, The Colonel, is waiting.
This new character presents us with yet another choice. We can either turn the valves, hopefully restoring clean water to Aiden's own settlement, or leave the pumps off. Of course, our Aiden doesn't trust a stranger over his friends and fights the locals, including their leader, using his grapple hook to swing-kick, among other things. However, once the valves are turned on, something interesting and significant happens. As the dam is opened, a part of the city once completely submerged, was revealed, opening up a completely new district for the player to explore, one that they wouldn't have unlocked had they not turned the valves. Not only that, a district-specific enemy type crawls out of the mud covering these newly-revealed streets.
When compared to the original, Dying Light 2 looks to change the dynamic in a major way, adding plenty of new content and a genuinely meaningful consequence-based system which changes not only the narrative but the world in which that narrative resides. We're told the weapons have been greatly updated and that the crafting system will be deeper this time around, but the branching quests, narrative beats, and the way your actions affect more than just your own fate are what we're most excited about. Dying Light 2 releases in Q1 next year to PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.