Oh, Dying Light, how I love you. I love the way you let me leap across rooftops and climb tall towers like an acrobat with endless supplies of energy. I love how I can dropkick a zombie and watch its flailing body knock over others like a fleshy bowling ball. I love looking over my shoulder as I run through the darkness, only to see a crowd of undead sprinting towards me, growling hideously and baring their ghastly teeth.
But oh, Dying Light, how you irritate me. I hate you for the gunners that ambushed me as I swam underwater, because there was no way to know how to react until I emerged and discovered that I wasn't meant to peek my head out--not yet. I hate you for that time you filled the screen with so much haze and bloom during a boss fight that I couldn't see properly. I hate that sequence when you made me leap from one pole to another, because you made it hard to get a good look at my surroundings, and your button prompts are hardly generous. And I hate these moments most because your systems are strong enough to let the open-world gameplay do the heavy lifting. The harder you try to direct the action, the weaker you become.
If you count yourself among the Dead Island fandom, your expectations are already set. You understand developer Techland's inconsistencies, and you are prepared to disregard the chaff so that you may reap the grain. Dying Light spawns from the same pile of mutated freaks as Dead Island, but it establishes its separate identity early on. The first difference to become clear is in tone: where Dead Island's story was difficult to take seriously, Dying Light sets the stage for a dark drama with a city overrun with infected victims, and a desperate populace anxious for hospice and aid. There are light touches here and there: you stumble upon The Bites Motel, for instance, and magazine covers and other details offer plenty of sight gags. But you are meant to be fearful and cautious, and you are meant to empathize with the survivors working so hard just to stay alive, let alone thrive.
As a covert operative sent to the city of Harran to recover a secret file, you find yourself in over your head, playing triple agent as you run errands for the city's two primary factions while radioing information to your agency's head honcho. Death is always in the air, not just because the infected have overrun the city's two sizable explorable areas, but because the survivors are so weary, so close to defeat. Dying Light lumbers through one cliche after another, but it's perfectly palatable: expressive faces and decent voice acting make the story beats and cutscenes worth paying attention to, even when the specifics--the antihero with a heart of gold, the doctor close to discovering a cure, the power-hungry villain--fall solidly within been-there, done-that territory.
Dying Light also sets itself apart with its parkour system, which sees you running across the city from a first-person perspective. It takes a short while to get used to climbing onto ledges, which requires you to be looking at them in the proper way. But then it's off to the races, and you're running across rooftops and sneering at the zombies below, most of which can't handle the climb. Rushing through the open world this way is terrific, due to solid (if not quite excellent) controls and well-constructed climbing and leaping paths, particularly in the game's second half, which takes place in the city's vertically-minded old town. Even better, the parkour energizes moments of great tension. Far Cry comparisons are easy, given how you unlock a few of the game's safe houses by climbing tall towers. But the climbing requires more finesse and situational awareness than it does in Far Cry 4, and some of the towers are outrageously tall, making the entire endeavor an anxious exercise in precision.
And tension is yet another aspect of Dying Light that sets it apart from its zombie-game peers. When night falls, particularly dangerous and fast zombies roam the city, and the entire timbre changes. It's best to circumvent the vision cones of those baddies and avoid direct confrontation, but you're occasionally mobbed in spite of your careful movement. These undead are more persistent than the Liberty City police department, so the best option is to run, run, run until you lose them. You can hold a button to look behind you and see how close they are, and doing so can be startling when you see the incoming horde. It's been some time since a zombie game legitimately scared me, but that look-behind-you move reveals some creepy sights. During the day, you scamper around and, occasionally, confront your infected fears. Once the sun has set, you slink and sprint, trying not to catch the deadly eyes of nearby volatiles.
Throw in a three-pronged upgrade system that makes you stronger and more agile as the game progresses, and you have the foundation of a great game. Alas, Dying Light flounders too often for it to achieve greatness, though it's poised to develop the same cult following that so many Techland games do. This is a surprisingly long game stuffed with, well, stuff, yet your role for too many hours is to play errand boy--a role so demeaning that even lead character Kyle Crane remarks upon it. Go flip a switch. Go collect crayons, or mushrooms, or coffee. As the first act draws to a close, Dying Light has taken a turn for the worse: each time the game grants you structure, it struggles, to the point where you might wish the gofer quests would return, because the ones that have taken their place are either frustrating slogs, or simply bad ideas.
The slog arises because these simple tasks require you to cover a lot of real estate. As fun as it is to move through Harran, the parkour doesn't carry the game alone. The other problem with Dying Light's first half, as dumb as it may sound, is the zombie crowd itself, which is not powerful enough to provide a huge challenge, but is too powerful to wholly ignore. The undead become annoyances--children that wave their arms around and demand attention while the game asks you to once again take to the streets so you can pull a lever.
The bad arrives when Dying Light embraces ideas that have an air of cleverness, but have you crying out "what were you thinking?" as implemented. There is the time you quaff a potion intended to temporarily disguise you from the undead, but it reverses your movement controls. And so death might very well ensue depending on when you drink and how quickly you adjust to the surprise. There is the time you descend on a zip line and let the game drop you at the very end of it, only to take a good amount of fall damage. There's a garbage pile a few feet before the end that you can leap into, but the limited field of view when ziplining, and the general visual bleariness, mean you probably won't know it's there until you've lost half of your health bar, and you're cursing Techland for not noticing how these elements don't quite work together--or worse, for not caring.
These are just a few examples of the frustrations that set in. Once the second act arrives and you enter old town, however, there's a moment of revelation when you gaze upon the district and take in its beauty. The slog has been set aside, and excitement for new navigation blossoms. Depending on how you spend the skill points you earn, you gain access to a grappling hook that provides so much stimulation that you wish you'd gained access to it even earlier. Then again, Dying Light gets occasionally lost in "ideas" even in the second half--shooting segments that lack tightness, confrontations with multiple kinds of big baddies that have you flying backwards and getting poisoned simultaneously, and so forth. You've got the tools to succeed, at least, even when the fun meter drops: upgradable weapons starting with knives and baseball bats and working up to machetes and ice picks, along with throwables like grenades and molotov cocktails. Those weapons degrade quickly, but there are more of them scattered around than you will ever need.
When night falls, particularly dangerous and fast zombies roam the city, and the entire timbre changes.
Dying Light succeeds when it remains confident in its systems. The combat isn't as fulfilling as it is in Dead Island--you won't be breaking any arms--but out in that wild world, you aren't meant to wade into the horde anyhow. What drives the action is the promise of discovery and self-improvement. There are locks to pick and supplies to nab before the opposing faction gets to them. The balconies harbor new people to meet, who share their stories if you stick around long enough to hear them. When a zombie or six draw near, you swipe, kick, and bash until the blood is flying and the grunts are silenced, and you can return to your pillaging. Dying Light most often approaches greatness when it allows you to improvise your own tune instead of clumsily trying to conduct the entire orchestra.
That a game of such wild fluctuations can still give rise to so much fun speaks well of its high points. Those peaks rise even higher when other players are involved, and you have a few friends (up to three) join you, distracting the speedy virals while you take care of a ground-pounding beast swinging his giant hammer around. Competitive zombie invasions are liable to have you tensing your muscles even further invasions when they turn the game into a nighttime arena. This is Be the Zombie mode, and while using your tentacle to grapple your way around as a zombie is enjoyable, it is the tension you feel as a hunted human that makes these moments stand out. You can tweak your setting to allow or disallow these sudden multiplayer matches, and there's no shame in wanting to explore without distraction. But if Dying Light's nighttime pressures appeal to you, allowing zombie attacks further extends that drama.
I am rooting for Dying Light's success, even as I shake my head at its avoidable foibles. I understand it, I get it, and so I find pleasure in it even as it disappoints me, even when I land between a fence and a rocky cliff and get stuck there, even when I don't grab a ledge or pole after a jump for reasons that I can't quite understand. My dearest Dying Light, I am so grateful for your specialness, for it shines through even when I am prepared to damn you to hell.
Join in us over the next few days as we look at all of the leading games consoles and platforms out right now and try to convince you why you should spend your hard-earned cash. Today, Kevin VanOrd tells you why the PlayStation 4 is the console to own in 2015.
The PlayStation 4 has had undeniable market success, so it seems pointless to regale you with tales of sales numbers and game attach rates. Needless to say, if you buy one, you will have no trouble finding a community for the online games you love, and you'll have all of the multimedia applications you should expect: YouTube, Netflix, Spotify, yadda yadda yadda. But it's the games that make the console, and the PlayStation 4 excels in a vital area: variety. The system isn't primarily for shooters, or for kids' games, or for action-adventures, or for retro platformers: it's for all of these genres and beyond. To own a PlayStation 4 is to gain access to scores of games, both past and present, that fulfill different needs--the need to compete, the need to relax, the need for emotional fulfillment, and the need to explore and discover.
To own a PlayStation 4 is also to have access to the best-looking version of multi-console games. It goes without saying that the upcoming Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will look best on the PC, but where consoles are concerned, the PlayStation 4 version seems the obvious choice because it boasts a 1080p resolution, as compared to the Xbox One version's 900p. Whether or not you are swept up into the melodramatic console resolution wars raging across the Internet, it's natural to want your games to look their best. Not only does the PlayStation 4 allow you to play excellent multiplatform games like Dragon Age: Inquisition, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Wolfenstein: The New Order, and Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, but it does so at higher resolutions than does the console competition. This is true of most multiplatform games on the PlayStation 4, as it happens. You may not think you notice much of a difference, but it's human nature to pamper yourself when possible--so why not pamper yourself with higher-resolution games when given the opportunity?
Sony delivered a fantastic array of interesting exclusives on the PlayStation 3, and that machine's successor looks to be no different. Break down the exclusives already released, and you discover racing (Driveclub), open-world adventuring (Infamous Second Son), and off- and online shooting (Killzone: Shadow Fall). Look towards the horizon, and the list grows when you add heavy-hearted role-playing (Bloodborne), explosive cinematic action (Uncharted 4: A Thief's End), and lighthearted exploration (Rime). The diversity isn't just impressive because these games come from different genres, but also because they strike such different emotional tones. The Order: 1886 looks like any one of the CW's dark-fantasy dramas come to life, while No Man's Sky's deep colors give it an otherworldly vibe. If it's hard to nail down the PlayStation identity, that's due in part to the varied choices lying before you.
There's another aspect to consider as well: the huge promise of games we've only seen bits and pieces of. We know very little about Wild, but promising an explorable area the size of Europe is an astounding claim that piques curiosity. The Tomorrow Children's unique mix of resource collection, creation, and creepy youngsters makes it almost impossible to describe at this early stage. And of course, there's always the hope that The Last Guardian might one day re-emerge as a PlayStation 4 exclusive. Game-lovers are nothing if not a faithful bunch.
The PlayStation 4's digital shopping experience is so improved over the PlayStation 3 that it isn't even fair to compare them. Regardless, it is so easy to buy and download games from the privacy of your own living room that traveling to a local game retailer has become a last-generation memory. At the time of this writing, the most popular downloadable games in the PlayStation Store include Saints Row IV: Re-Elected, Dying Light, and Grand Theft Auto V. We used to wonder why console games weren't so readily downloadable, and looked to Valve's Steam service on the PC if we wanted to download big-budget entertainment at the moment of release. Of course, the PlayStation Store is still home to plenty of digital-only gems like Race the Sun and Secret Ponchos. But if you stick to the big guns from big publishers, why not just stay at home in your underwear and download Destiny instead of braving the crowds?
Of course, there's another bright side to the console digital age: free-to-play games aren't just for PCs and mobile phones anymore, and the PlayStation 4 excels when it comes to freemium choices. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and DC Universe Online grant us access to massively multiplayer worlds, while games like Warframe and Loadout cater to those of us with itchy trigger fingers. So long, retail chains. We've found a better way.
If you've got the bandwidth and still want to play the PlayStation 3 games you've missed for some reason or another, put away the PS3 and put something else in its place. PlayStation Now allows you to play a good number of PS3 games by streaming them directly to your PS4. You might have played the popular games like Uncharted: Drake's Fortune that are available on PS Now, but what about the beautiful El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron? You might have already crossed BioShock Infinite off of your list, but you probably missed Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. Why not rectify your oversight via PlayStation Now?
The library is limited, but poised to grow, and while Sony's statements have been vague, it's likely we will see pre-PS3 games added to the list, which would exponentially increase PlayStation Now's value. Right now, all of the PSOne classics are playable only on the PS3 and the Vita; adding them to the PS Now library would make the service a no-brainer.
Now's the time. If you don't already own a PlayStation 4, you're missing out on great exclusives, a cool streaming service, and the best-looking version of almost every multi-console game on the market.
Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Bill Gates is worried about machines becoming super-intelligent one day and doesn't understand why more people aren't right there with him sharing his concerns.
As part of a wide-ranging and fascinating recent Reddit AMA, a fan asked Gates if he thought machine super-intelligence might become a concern going forward. Gates said, at first, machines will do human-helping jobs like picking fruit, but danger could come as they grow smarter and smarter.
"I am in the camp that is concerned about super-intelligence," he said. "First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super-intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don't understand why some people are not concerned."
Musk, founder of SpaceX and Tesla, said last summer that super-intelligent AI systems are "potentially more dangerous than nukes."
Gates was also asked if he thought full end-to-end encryption of all Internet activity could do anything to protect humanity from the threat of super-intelligent machines. Unfortunately, Gates didn't answer.
If you haven't read Gates' entire Reddit AMA, you should do that. It's a great read.
Are you concerned with machines becoming super-intelligent one day? Let us know in the comments below!