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Dying Light First Impressions

It’s hard to think about my first 6 hours or so in Dying Light without coming back to one word: disappointing.

The game itself seems fun, being a mix between Mirror’s Edge and Dead Island 2. However the most of my time within Techland’s Zombie survival game has been in menus and watching FPS counters, not experiencing the game itself.

Before it’s said “Well your PC must be junk,” here are my specs:

AMD FX-8350 8-Core CPU

ASUS M5A97 R2.0 — AMD 970 Motherboard

16GB DDR3 Ram

AMD Radeon HD 7950 3GB GPU

My PC falls within the needed specs for running the game. In fact, the default game settings has everything on “high.”

Upon starting up Dying Light, you notice right away thanks to the cutscene that this is a darker, grittier zombie game than we’ve experienced in years past. While we’ve been inundated with zombie survival sims in the last couple of years, a lot of them try to add some levity to the dark situation (re: Dead Rising 3, Dead Island, Left 4 Dead). Dying Light places you in the dying and quarantined city of Harran, a Turkish city. As Kyle Crane, you are sent into the city as an undercover operative of the GRE with the mission of recovering some stolen files that may cure the zombie outbreak. While in the city you become conflicted between helping the citizens trapped therein and doing your job.

You start in The Tower, and this is where the performance issues began. Normally indoors you get some great frames-per-second compared to scenes that have to render extremely complex visuals. However, in the simple hallways of The Tower, the FPS fluctuated between a smooth 60 all the way down to the 20s. We’re not talking a gradual change, but rather an instantaneous drop. I shrugged this off as sometimes the prologues not being as polished as the rest of the game and continued onward.

dying light screenshot room
The game is dark and gritty, exactly what I was hoping for in a zombie survival game.

The controls are simple enough. Seeing as I am playing the PC version, I started using only the keyboard and mouse. At the conferences I’ve played the game at I always used a gamepad. E3 that was all they had available, while Playstation Experience obviously had the game running on Sony’s hardware. I was happy to find out that for the most part the PC controls are mapped really well. I didn’t feel hindered by the layout and scheme and quickly started to gain a mastery over the controls. Eventually I plugged in a 360 controller and have decided to stick with that, but those who prefer keyboard should have no qualms about using the native scheme.

Dying Light is primarily about parkouring. You run, you jump, you climb, and you survive. I felt a wave of nostalgia rush over me during the tutorial mission where they teach you the parkouring skills. I felt like I was playing EA’s Mirror’s Edge, a highly stylized, first-person parkour game. The rush of running across a scaffolding, jumping down to a rooftop, climbing a ledge and sliding under a wall made me feel as though I could do anything in this game. I was starting to really enjoy the fluidity of Dying Light‘s movements.

Then I walked out into the city proper and was met with that wave of disappointment I mentioned earlier.

My framerate tanked. The audio started lagging and skipping all together. I tried everything: from turning down the draw distance, changing the texture, foliage and shadow quality, turning off AO and AA — nothing worked. My framerate when from the 60-30 inside to 16-19 outside. In a game where movement and reacting to events around you could mean life or death, running at 16FPS not only takes away that feeling of fluidity, it also makes certain tasks impossible.

For example, there is a mission early on where you are turning on light traps. One of the traps requires you to run along a scaffolding, parkour onto the side of the highway overpass and jump onto a tiny bar connected to the lamppost where the light trap is located. Falling from the overpass or the lamppost is certain death. I tried this mission about ten times before I could successfully land on the bar. Not because I am bad or can’t aim, but because my controls were lagging in comparison to the scene I was witnessing.

When the framerates were stable, the night sequences illicit some of the most hair-raising gameplay I've had in a while. Again, when the FPS are stable.
When the framerates were stable, the night sequences illicit some of the most hair-raising gameplay I’ve had in a while. Again, when the FPS are stable.

I simply could not take this any longer. I had to figure out a way to play this game well. I looked in forums, Neo Gaf, Steam community guides. Every fix proposed didn’t work. Even reaching out to PR hasn’t helped. I ended up enabling triple buffer and vsync through AMD’s control panel and that seems to have given me somewhat stable FPS, compared to what I had before. It’s still not where it should be, however.

For 2015, games should work no matter what hardware or setup you’re running, especially PC. By all accounts, the PS4 and Xbox One versions of Dying Light have yielded no issues other than some framerate dips on Microsoft’s console, but even then it runs better than most AMD users are experiencing right now.

I wish my first impressions of Dying Light could be solely based on gameplay, because when it works, it’s a lot of fun. The combat feels great, when the frame rate allows it to. The running and parkouring are a rush, when the game allows them to be. However, AMD users are getting the short end of the stick in terms of optimization. That’s not to say Nvidia users are immune, there are some reports of audio and FPS dips, but for the most part the issues seem to plague those with AMD setups.

I’ve had issues with audio lagging in a loading screen. A loading screen! Then there was the mission where I had to get to the air drops before Rais, the leader of a rival faction, could get his men to them and steal the zombie suppressant. I did it in complete silence. Not because I turned off the volume, took off my headphones and decided to take a break from the wonderful music score and great sound design of the game. Nope, the game’s audio just stopped working all together.

Hopefully Techland is working on a solution for these issues. As of now, no word from the Polish developer has come down that a patch is on the way. When the review codes for the game were released late (some not receiving them till 12 hours before the game launched, some even later) speculation abounded if this was another Assassin’s Creed Unity move. According to the rep, the team was working on the game till the very last second, and therefore didn’t want to release premature code. I can’t blame them. It almost feels as though this game should have been delayed a little longer, but the publisher made the developer pull the trigger.

Not all the experiences out there on the web have been like mine, but unfortunately mine haven’t been great. It’s a shame, because when I have been able to play the game during a stretch of good luck, I’ve really enjoyed what Techland has done. Unfortunately, those moments are far less likely than the other moments in the 8 hours I’ve tried playing Dying Light. I’m not giving up, so hopefully the final review will be a lot less buggy. However, it’s not been a good start in my opening moments in Harran. Let’s hope the developer fixes this fast, otherwise a lot of players affected will be hard-pressed to buy another Techland game day one again.

About Joseph Bradford

Freelance Game Journalist, currently covering games for Legendarium. Tolkienist. Once thought he saw a woodchuck chuck wood. Turns out they can't.