Why I’m Thankful For Demos: Dying Light

I’m between games right now, which means I’m struggling to decide whether it’s time to buy something new (the Uncharted collection has definitely caught my eye, especially as someone who hasn’t played any game in the series yet!) or just tackle something in my queue, which is getting pretty slim. I’ve been messing around with Super Meat Boy!, and it’s a ton of fun for like 10 minutes before I want to commit defenestration. I could play through Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword again, but I’m kind of waiting until the next LoZ gets a release date before that. And then there’s Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, though I’m apprehensive because I heard it’s more of the same and I just finished up Borderlands 2.

You understand my quandary, right? Great, well, I decided to make it worse last night by perusing the demos available on the PlayStation Store and, lo and behold, there were two available that I downloaded instantly: Dying Light and Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection. I can sum up my feelings on the latter quite easily by saying, “I loved it. I need it. GIVE ME IT NOW.” But the former? That’s a different story.

My interest in Dying Light grew much like it does for any title that looks good and receives ample hype: the trailers were pretty rad and I’m admittedly down with any game featuring zombies. I loved Left 4 Dead for its insanity, my adoration for the Resident Evil franchise is well documented, and I was blown away by how much I enjoyed Telltale Games’ Walking Dead games. That being said, I was a bit skeptical about Dying Light, mostly because the reviews didn’t do much to persuade me. Still, I wanted to play it at some point, and the consistently declining price tag didn’t hurt to make me think, “Hmm, maybe it’s time I just give the game a whirl.”

But as someone who will readily admit he’s “careful” with his money—frugal is the preferred term, but whatever—I’m not exactly willing to throw $40 at something that may end up being returned a week later because bored me to tears. So when I saw that demo for Dying Light, you best believe I was quite excited to fire it up and play.

That excitement, unfortunately, was somewhat-short lived.

Let’s start with the good: Dying Light is a very nice-looking game, and I was happy to play through the hour-long demo without a semblance of frame-rate issues. The movements, animations, and all that jazz were pretty swell, too, though some of the more aggressive zombies had some rather absurd movements that surely had to do with them probably being difficult to program for every possible scenario. But yeah, nice graphics and smooth gameplay usually equals a nod from me (and most gamers, I’m sure), so things were going well.

But then I kept playing and, well, I was just a bit underwhelmed by it all. The fact that the protagonist is clearly ridiculously gifted when it comes to jumping, running, climbing, etc. was fun at first. When you couple that with the fact that the zombies are stupid-difficult to kill sometimes, I was kind of annoyed. My handgun and its five or so bullets did the job at first, but they also attracted a decent-sized horde and … I ran out of bullets. And even after upgrading my baseball bat with electricity, I was still having some trouble killing the undead.

Let me be clear: a high difficulty or steep learning curve is totally fine with me. You want to make your game brutally difficult? Great, just make sure I can play the thing smoothly and not run into mind-numbingly frustrating stuff like, well, the mission I played in this demo. I had to perform a number of tasks to ensure that a wall outside of a safe zone would light on fire and destroy some zombies. Fine, that sounds doable. But when I’m doing that and running into zombies that kill me within seconds and my only option is jumping around? I’m left feeling kind of confused as to what I’m supposed to do. Is this essentially a pseudo-stealth game where I stay out of reach most of the time until I have to interact with the undead in some way? Meh.

I’m down with games that basically ask you to perform one chore after another; hell, I love Borderlands 2, which is all about chores amid the humor, shooting, driving, collecting, etc. However, playing Dying Light felt more like a chore than the tasks within the game itself. I know what you may be thinking, “You only played it for an hour, like, how is that long enough to come up with a solid opinion?” Well, I’ve been playing games for 25 years so I know what I like and, more importantly, what I don’t. I’m not saying I dislike Dying Light, I just know that it would annoy the living hell out of me if I ever bought it and attempted a true playthrough.