LOS ANGELES — Dying Light is secretly a superhero game.
You don’t get a cool nickname or wear a spandex suit, but after playing the new demo for the open-world zombie game at the giant Electronic Entertainment Expo tradeshow, I couldn’t stop thinking about how it made me feel a lot like Spider-Man. Dying Light places a huge emphasis on speed and efficiency. You have to constantly figure out new ways of using your parkour skills — how quickly you can jump and climb over obstacles like fences and ledges — to overcome its urban levels. Dozens of zombies swarm the streets, so you want to stay away from the bigger crowds as you travel from one mission to the next.
One crucial tool that helps you avoid attracting the zombies’ attention (or to escape from an angry horde that’s chasing you) is the grappling hook. While Dying Light doesn’t give this to you at the beginning, the demo skipped ahead to a level called Old Town, where the item was already available. By pressing the left trigger, your character will throw his grappling hook to whatever point you’re looking at, and once it attaches to something, it immediately pulls you in.
It took a while before Dying Light’s parkour elements clicked for me (you have to make sure to point the camera at the thing you want to jump or climb over), so the grappling hook helped me out a lot in the meantime. I found it useful to reach tall buildings I just didn’t want to climb or as a way of crossing wide gaps between rooftops. But you can’t rely on it too much — you still want to continue running and jumping to get away, especially if the fast zombies are chasing you (they can climb, too). According to a representative from developer Techland, you can also use the grappling hook as a weapon by pulling enemies toward you.
Unlike Spider-Man, however, you can’t just use the hook to travel up buildings as much as you want. You’ll have to wait for it to cool down before you use it again (it took less than 10 seconds).
Another thing that superheroes like to do is save people, and you can also do that in Dying Light — but only if you’re fast enough. When I was playing in Old Town, I had to rescue someone trapped in a church tower. The catch is this guy is already suffering from a bite wound, so you only have a certain amount of time to reach him before he turns into a zombie himself. I was totally oblivious to this as I zipped from building to building, chopping up zombies with a cool knife that also sets them on fire.
By the time I reached the survivor’s barricaded window — naturally guarded by a zombie priest — it was too late. The demo ended when he transformed and attacked me. The developer told me that it’s possible to save the guy if you beat the invisible clock, but he didn’t mention how you actually stop his transformation from happening.
Dying Light comes out February 2015 for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PS3, and Xbox 360.