First Impressions: Dying Light 2: Stay Human – The First 3 Hours

Oh, the humanity!
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Oh, the humanity!

Dying Light 2: Stay Human takes place in 2036, 15 years after the initial outbreak of zombie disease. The world recovered, made a vaccine, and all was well. For a bit, anyway. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s hard not to draw comparisons to the world we’re currently living in, but I don’t think it’s intentional. When I saw a press demonstration in Los Angeles at E3 2019, Corona was just a mad scientist’s wet dream. But here we are…

Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom. Well, it is a bit. The governments of the world didn’t stop at the vaccine. They kept on experimenting and eventually, the Harran Virus – the nasty germies that turn people into zombies – broke free and humanity went tits up again.

Note: We’ll have our full review soon-ish. We only got our hands on review code the day after release, so we’re a touch behind, but we’ll get there!

Game Information
Release Date: February 4th, 2022
Developer: Techland
Publisher: Techland
Availability: Microsoft Store, PSN, Steam, Retail (Amazon USA/Amazon UK)

Fast forward to 2036 and you’re playing as Aiden, a Pilgrim who wanders from city to city. Pilgrims are generally not liked, but they’re necessary to get messages from one human stronghold to another.

Aiden isn’t just wandering the world – Book of Eli style – for the hell of it. He’s searching for his sister. We learn through flashbacks that Aiden and his sister, Mia, were experimented on as kids, and somewhere along the way, they got split up.

Having a clear motivation from the go definitely helped draw me into Dying Light 2’s story, but there’s more to it, and it turns out the Stay Human tagline has more meaning than meets the eye.

Yes, we’ve all played zombie games and laughed our little heads off as we watched a crawler scream its way around the map in Call of Duty Zombies, but rarely are we made to think about the circumstances around such an apocalypse. The Last of Us is perhaps the best example I can think of where humanity is in the foreground, but there’s a new contender with Dying Light 2.

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After a brief introduction where Aiden meets a fellow Pilgrim, we’re treated to a scene that – for me at least – pulled at the heartstrings more than I’d like to admit.

The pair of Pilgrims go searching inside a great big house for loot and other valuables, but they end up being the last guests to an End of the World party. Scattered around the mansion are the decomposing bodies of partygoers who perished, presumably by poisoning themselves after one last sesh. Bodies sat the bar with scrawled notes of sadness. Bodies lay by the pool, looking out to a sunset they never got to see. It’s sad stuff and I genuinely didn’t expect this, especially after playing the first game where terror was the predominant emotion. Those nighttime chases, man…

A quick beer and a fairly well and the Pilgrims part ways with Aiden being told to get to the radio tower to make contact with an informant who has information useful in Aiden’s search for his sister.

Along the way, I learned to parkour. I also got to kick in a few zombies. The parkour, at first, was a little dicey; I didn’t know the rules. What can I grab on to? What can I climb? How far can I jump? Thankfully, it’s very intuitive without treating you, the player, like an idiot. There aren’t a million neon yellow ledges screaming “climb me!” here. There are a few, though…

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It’s subtle and I felt like the game trusted me to do the right thing. I appreciated that. I clambered my way over ruined cars, snuck past some snoozing zombies, and eventually hit the tower house. Here, I had to fight off a few infected as well as a special “boss” style zombie. This was the game’s way of introducing different combat moves, such as dodging. After a quick ruckus with the rotters, it was time to bed down for the night, ready for radio contact at dawn.

The informant told me where I needed to go over the radio, and so another hop, skip, and a few jumps, not to mention some zombie heads getting removed from their zombie bodies, and the next story beat was in my lap.

Aiden and the informant met up and moved onwards until some bandits ruined the fun. Oh, Aiden also passed out and got bit by some hench zombie, and now he was infected. Yay! This isn’t a 28 Days Later deal, though. You can get bitten without turning right away. Remember, the world survived and vaccines were made, and Aiden was experimented on as a kid. He’s made of tougher stuff, so he doesn’t turn. He stays human.

The bandits took my new buddy to a boiler room of sorts and beat the crap out of him. Luckily for him, I’m the hero of this story, and the game needed to teach me human combat scenarios. It didn’t feel overbearing, and I’m glad for the short tutorial that taught me about perfect blocking and linking parkour moves with combat.

dying light 2 hakon

The game’s big bad, or at least I think he’s the big bad – he could be one of many for all I know – is called Waltz, and he comes waltzing in after the Informant shoves you in a vent with a special key that the bad guys can not get their hands on in any circumstances. It would be bad for everybody, and here, we see another example of a true human. The informant sacrifices himself, telling Waltz that the key is in his stomach, knowing full well that Waltz isn’t going to wait for him to go poopies to retrieve it. Aiden watches on in horror as Waltz guts the guy, and then it’s a mad dash to escape.

Still reeling from the horror and gushing with admiration for this selfless sacrifice, I paused the game and had a look in the options to see if I could switch performance modes on the fly. What can I say, I’m a curious guy.

I started the game in Performance mode, which means that sweet 60 frames-per-second, but Dying Light 2 Stay Human has two more modes; Quality and Resolution. I flicked between them before settling back on Performance, because I favour frame rate and responsiveness over bells and whistles. Still, it’s nice to know the options are there.

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Back to the chase and it ends with Aiden being rescued by a new friend, Hakon, who turns out to be a lovely chap. He introduces Aiden to the sprawling city, a paradise of… filth and misery. I really liked Hakon, and so far, he is still alive, and I hope it stays that way; during one conversation (you can choose your responses in some cases) I promised Hakon that we would go out on the road together so he can get away from the city and live by a beach, surfing and eating fish until he either drowns or eats the wrong fish. I have a feeling his end will be less Andy and Red in Shawshank Redemption, and more Dobby in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Well, a beach is a beach, right?

My new friend took me around town where I got to see the Peacekeepers, who are the city’s brutal and mean cops. I got to do some more parkour over city rooftops, and I got to learn more about the situation at hand. Everybody is infected in this city, but it’s well managed, and if Aiden wants to stay, he’s going to need a wristband that shows his infection status – everybody wears little bands that indicate how their infection is managed. Green means good, red means dead. Simple.

The game pushed us towards a hospital and this was touch and go for me. I played late at night and I’m a self-confessed wimp. I can’t play Splinter Cell at night because of the tension, yet here I was, sneaking past sleepy zombies. One wrong move and I was going to be something’s dinner. I made a wrong move and I ended up getting attacked as they all woke. I swung my weapon wildly, but my stamina depleted. I relaxed my grip on the controller and only half-heartedly fought back as I waited for the inevitable end. And then I saw it: a small passage I could crawl through. Safety! I ran towards it, hopping over the chompers and scrambled my way through the hole. I couldn’t believe it. It was such a cool moment – like one of those scenes from a movie or a TV show. Like The Walking Dead where Rick is ready to blow his brains out under that tank but then he sees the opening above him. Yeah, I felt as cool as Rick Grimes. Maybe even as sexy. I’m not sure on that yet.

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And that’s how my story is going in Dying Light 2 Stay Human. I’m really enjoying it and I stayed up far too late to keep on playing. That’s something I haven’t done in a long, long time. But you can guarantee I’ll be doing it all week until I see the game’s conclusion.

Should you play Dying Light 2? If the first few hours are anything to go by, then yes, absolutely. It’s terrific, tense, and kind of fun in a grim way. The story has me by the short and curlies – something the first game didn’t do all that well, in my opinion, so I’m looking forwad to seeing how Aiden’s journey plays out, and if he can indeed, Stay Human.