PC, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One and Series X/S
IN APRIL 2020, soon after the UK entered its first lockdown, I reviewed the zombie-packed Resident Evil 3, describing it as noticeably “pre-pandemic fiction”. Two years on, the pandemic is still going, and I am still playing zombie games. This time, it is Dying Light 2 Stay Human, and it is interesting to look at the game as a work of post-pandemic (mid-pandemic?) fiction.
It is a sequel to the 2015 game Dying Light, which saw a viral outbreak in the fictional Middle Eastern city of Harran turn people into zombies. The end of the game promised a cure to the disease, but as the introduction of Dying Light 2 explains – and stop me if you have heard this before – a new variant of the virus emerged in 2021 and spread rapidly. The zombies took over and civilisation collapsed. Cheery stuff.
The game picks up the story in 2036, where you play as a survivor called Aiden Caldwell. After being bitten by a zombie, you enter one of the last remaining outposts of society, known only as the City. There, you discover that all of the other survivors are also infected, but use a variety of tools to avoid zombification – hence the “Stay Human” part of the game’s title.
Full zombies can’t survive in sunlight, so City folk have set up ultraviolet lamps to hold back the infection. One of your early goals in the game is to acquire a wristband that provides an alert when you need a top-up of UV. Owning one of these wristbands is a condition of living in the City, perhaps a nod to the various covid passes that have been implemented around the world.
“Aiden has expert parkour skills that allow him to scale buildings and dodge undesirable characters”
With a wristband secured, the game settles into a rhythm. By day, you are more or less safe from zombies outside (though not from roving bandits), although it is risky to enter derelict buildings, where the undead tend to gather. Then, at night, the zombies hit the streets, so it is tricky to get around outside, but easier to explore within. Dodging zombies has its rewards: you get bonus experience points, which you can use to upgrade your abilities, handy for venturing out at night and for surviving a zombie chase.
For reasons that are never properly explained, Aiden has expert parkour skills that allow him to scale buildings, jump across rooftops and generally dodge undesirable characters. In a strange game design decision, features that would usually be part of the basic move set in this kind of game (such as the ability to slide) require unlocking upgrades, so it takes a while to accumulate the full set of skills.
That is a shame, because this freedom of movement is probably the best thing about the game. I had great fun racing through the city, but beyond the obvious covid-19 links, the meat of the game is nothing you haven’t seen before. Everything boils down to: go here, get this thing, kill these zombies, repeat.
As you explore the city, you get the opportunity to claim various locations, such as a water tower, for one of three factions: the slightly fascist Peacekeepers, the anarchic Renegades or the ordinary survivors. You get to pick a side, and Techland, the game’s developer, goes big on the idea that which you choose matters to the (entirely forgettable) storyline. But two years into the pandemic, I was more inclined to stick with the ordinary survivors. It is hard not to sympathise with people who have lived through a world-altering disaster and are just trying their best to carry on existing.