E3 2019 has seen some incredible looking games revealed, but perhaps one of the most impressive titles I’ve seen so far is Techland’s Dying Light 2. I’ve yet to go hands-on with the anticipated open world zombie sequel myself (boo), but what I saw in an extended hands-off gameplay demo for the press was genuinely jaw-dropping.
The game’s lead designer Lead Designer Tymon Smektala took the assembled press through a demo that lasted for roughly 30 minutes, during which we saw the revamped parkour and combat mechanics in action, alongside a few examples of the difficult choices you’ll have to make as you journey through the world.
Dying Light 2 puts us in the shoes of Aiden Caldwell, an infected whose life is a constant struggle to not succumb to the zombie virus and turn into a flesh eating nasty. The demo kicked off with Aiden in some kind of dive bar, and we learned that this little community of survivors was just one day away from running out of clean water.
Right off the bat, I noted that the game looks utterly stunning. The level of detail in everything from the facial animations to the environments themselves was fantastic.
I particularly appreciated the attention that was given to the little things, like a wrench that had been stuck to a tap in grimy sink, in place of a an actual tap head, or the fact that the lone singer on the grubby stage was performing a song by Metric. Great band.
The demo wasted no time, and we were soon told by an old friend called Frank that it was Aiden’s job to head over to a heavily guarded compound, which was run by a man known as The Colonel. Aiden had been granted an audience with The Colonel, and needed to convince him to release his own substantial supply of water to the district.
Predictably, things soon took a turn for the worse. Before Aiden could head to the compound with his companions, a fight broke out below us. We were then treated to a look at some incredibly brutal combat.
Aiden can combine parkour and melee attacks to swiftly take apart enemies. We saw him leap from a building onto an unsuspecting foe, smashing his head on the ground, before picking up a blade and lopping off heads and arms in a satisfyingly gory display.
Unfortunately, by the time the dust settled we saw that one of Aiden’s companions, the lovely Frank, had been shot and severely wounded. It was here we got our first choice; stay and try to get help for Frank, or chase down the van containing the thugs who had allegedly gunned down our friend.
The demo opted to chase the van, though a quest marker then appeared that showed us finding a Doctor for Frank was still something we could go and do if we wanted.
What followed was a thrilling on-foot chase that showcased the game’s stunning parkour mechanics as Aiden shimmied up drain pipes, swung across ropes, darted through long-abandoned buildings where the undead lurked, and even made use of a paraglider to clear large distances in pursuit of the vehicle.
Imagine Far Cry crossed with Mirror’s Edge with flesh eating monsters waiting around every corner, and you’ll have an idea of how this sequence played out.
As Aiden dashed through buildings full of infected and leapt across obstacles, I was left with the feeling that what we were seeing was all a bit… scripted, but given how solid the original Dying Light’s parkour was, it’s not a stretch to imagine that the parkour segments in Dying Light 2 will mostly be as tight as the one we were shown.
At one point, as it looked like Aiden was just about to close in on the van, he fell through the rotting floor of a particularly grimy apartment block and down into a basement, where he was greeted by a terrifyingly large nest of infected.
The following sequence was a tense escape through what I can only describe as a pants-wettingly terrifying swarm of undead, as Aiden scrambled to get as far away from the zombies as possible and back on the hunt for the van.
It’s here that some of the game’s survival elements made themselves a little more apparent, as staying to fight is not always an option – especially when all your weapons are broken and you’re trapped in a small dark room with at least twenty or so zombies who are crawling over one another to get to you. Fisticuffs ain’t gonna help.
Instead, it looks like you’ll just have to use your wits and rerunning abilities to get away in situations such as this when it comes to Dying Light 2. We also saw the return of the UV flashlight, which could be used sparingly when to stun the zombies when their numbers started to overwhelm.
After a prolonged escape from the basement thanks to some nifty parkour skills and a lot of close calls, Aiden managed to rejoin the chase for the van, leaping from a nearby building to land on the roof of the vehicle and jump in to confront the driver.
Another choice. Aiden could kill the driver and head to The Colonel’s compound himself, or simply threaten the driver and force him to drive them both to the compound. The demo session player spared the driver, which turned out to be the smart choice – the guards at the compound needed a code, which only the driver knew. Killing him would have complicated Aiden’s entry considerably.
Once safely inside the compound, Aiden threatened the driver to make sure he didn’t raise the alarm, and started to look for a way up to The Colonel’s office. It was at this point that we learned that our friend Frank sadly hadn’t pulled through. He was dead. In that moment, the quest to find a doctor for Frank flashed up onscreen as having failed.
Smektala was coy about whether or not staying with Frank or finding a doctor would have saved his life, and simply teased that the outcome would have far-reaching consequences either way. I personally quite liked Frank in the five minutes I’d known him, so was ready for the demo player to confront The Colonel and take his head off.
That’s not quite how it played out. On meeting The Colonel, he insisted that his men hadn’t been the ones to shoot Frank, and that this was part of an elaborate scheme to have The Colonel ousted and destabilize the city.
This led to a final choice; trust The Colonel and find some other way to get clean water to the people, or assume that The Colonel was lying, kill his men, and power up the pumps that would allow the clean water to flow freely. We saw the latter choice play out, which resulted in more fighting, beheadings, and violence, though The Colonel himself slipped away.
The demo ended with Aiden successfully powering up the pumps and releasing the water, which in turn drained a previously flooded region of the city. We were told that this freshly drained area was an entire region of the game’s open world with its own quests, enemies, and characters – an area that some playthroughs would miss entirely if they made different choices.
In just one 30 minute demo, we managed to see brutal violence, fast, fluid parkour, and a handful of choices, big and small, that had far reaching consequences that weren’t always immediately obvious to us. If the entirety of Dying Light 2 is as good as this brief E3 demo suggests it is, then 2020 cannot come soon enough.
Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.