Although the idea of zombies in videogames has worn very, very thin with me, I was looking forward to experiencing Dying Light, the latest offering from Techland, the same company who made the Dead Island series. Sure, it’s zombies again, but they’re in a beautiful open world with first-person parkour mechanics. I’m a sucker for open-world games with the first-person viewpoint because they just suck me in more.
With no review code for Dying Light forthcoming from the game’s PR company in charge of such things I headed off to raid the piggy bank. Having decided that I could afford to pick up a copy of the game provided I live off Pot Noodles for a while I began the process of deciding what platform I wanted to play and ultimately review the game on. It wasn’t a hard decision, though. I went with the PC. Y’know, master race and all that. Why? Well, for starters a digital download via Amazon was £30, saving me a few quid over the console versions, and a full £10 over the digital download direct from Steam. But the big reason is that I just upgraded my PC with a brand new XFX R9 290 graphics card, a process which involved me getting a new power supply to run everything and a whole new case as well, plus an SSD for Windows as an added bonus. With a shiny, kind of new PC just sitting there, glowing away, I naturally wanted to test it out a bit. Dying Light on PC it was, then.
The problem is the game runs like a two-legged cat that’s having a coughing fit in the middle of a race it’s trying really hard to win. The issue isn’t the actual gameplay which genuinley seems to be really fun when everything is running okay, but rather the horrendous performance issues that plague the title. Now, my computer isn’t a powerful rig, but it’s still pretty solid, sporting an FX-8350 processor with mild overclock, an R9 290 GPU and 8GB of Corsair Vengeance ram. Yet even with this setup, plus several settings turned very far down, I’m getting around 25-30FPS during a lot of the game. Furthermore I can look in one direction and achieve 60FPS, and then quite literally turn around and get a mere 28FPS. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason the mad frame rate fluctuations plaguing the game, either, which makes for a jarring experience. One moment I’ll be jogging along at 50FPS, and the next it will tank to below 60FPS before then going to 35FPS or so and then dropping again. Such massive fluctuations make it hard to properly enjoy the action. Now, let’s be clear: I don’t expect to necessarily run the game at the highest settings with 60FPS as well, but considering my computer meets the game’s recommended specifications the horrendous performance I’m getting is annoying, to be it mildly.
It’s not just me, though. Where the problem seems to exist is largely in AMD equipment, and more specifically AMD CPUs. And let’s just leave the entire, “Oh, well, AMD sucks” argument at the door, shall we? Yes, they produce less powerful processors than Intel, but they do tend to provide better value for money-making them a good choice for people on a budget, plus the eight cores are handy for video work. Regardless, people running AMD processors seem to be having a terrible time, although people with Intel aren’t getting away with it entirely. This is all largely speculation, though, as pinpointing the exact problem is tricky. What we do know is that the game seems intent on maxing out a single CPU core, which is why AMD is struggling as Intel boasts dominant performance per core. Turning down the distance slider in the options can help considerably while not degrading the visuals in any significant way, but in itself that’s pretty bonkers. How much the GPU is coming into play is harder to say, though there does seem to be people using AMD GPU’s coupled with Intel processors that are doing perfectly well. Everything seems to point to the processor, then.
Even if you’re running a high-end Intel and Nvida gear, though, performance still isn’t what one would reasonably expect. Techland say they are working on a performance patch, but the problems the game is facing seem too large to be fixed by a single patch, or perhaps even patches in general. A small update was released while writing this and thankfully for some people it seems to have helped, but sadly I’m not one of those lucky, lucky gamers. Techland may be able to fix this, but are they going to reach a point quickly where they refuse to sink more money into getting it sorted? Far too many developers and publishers these days seem happy to sling out poorly performing games, toss one or two patches into the mix and then abandon the project, leaving unhappy gamers in their wake.
Ultimately it’s just one more game in a worrying trend of poor PC optimization. However, in instances like this we can often see parts of a community come together, and so it was with Steam’s Dying Light forum members who began digging into the game’s files, discovering ways to boost performance by doing things like turning off sun shadows completely. This sacrified visual quality, but for many made the game actually playable. In a move that has caused considerable upset on the forums, though, the latest Dying Light patch has made it nigh on impossible to alter the files anymore, with Techland claiming that they did it to stop cheaters. Furthermore, Techland’s publisher, Warner Bros., has used it’s ESA membership to get mods shut down, threatening legal action in the process. As examples two people who uploaded a tiny mod to remove film grain have been hit with DMCA requests, and the mods have been removed.
Of course this isn’t the same as getting an official statement regarding Techland’s stance on modification. It’s possible are just genuinely attempting to stop cheating, but for many people the move indicates a lack of support for the modding community who are hard at work trying to help their fellow gamer’s play Dying Light. It’s also possible Techland want to get the issues resolved before unlocking the files again, or that it’s Warner Bros. themselves pushing the locked files and DMCA requets, forcing Techland to concede. If it is a clear move against modders then it’s an idiotic one. A game like Dying Light simply cries out for modification, for people to play with the systems and create new content, and games like Skyrim have shown that by supporting and allowing a thriving mod community your game can live on for many years, rather than just months.
But what about when I can maintain a stable FPS? As somebody who plays console games a lot 30fps is fine for me, though obviously 60fps is preferable. Hell, provided it’s stable I can even play and enjoy a game at 25fps. It’s fluctuations that really cause the problem. When the game manages to steady itself I’m having a whole lot of fun playing Dying Light. The first-person parkour seems to work very well and after some practice I’m not leaping across the rooftops and walls with something akin to grace, only the occasional problem arising in Crane failing to grab a ledge he should have easily reached. With the parkour system in place and the sheer number of zombies roaming the street the game emphasises the fact that you’re not a super human capable of barging through the undead hordes. Instead the idea is to fight only when you must, and use your running skills to simply bypass the enemy as much as you can. It brings a sense of realism to survival, and I found myself sinking into the role, jogging across rooftops looking for possible good spots to loot, and keeping an eye out for those precious airdrops.
Combat, when required, is simple but rather enjoyable thanks to the powerful sense of impact. You basically just click the mouse to swing a weapon, tending to aim for the head, but you can also kick enemies into spikes and more. There’s a total of three skill trees all levelled up separately, and the combat tree has some sweet looking moves. My favorite, mere hours into the game, is the drop kick, which just feels great to use, especially with a crowd of zombies to be knocked down like bowling pins. It’s just a shame that weapons break so damn quickly. The game encourages me to modifying weapons with powerful new parts, but it feels pointless when they are going to break, and can only be repaired some many times before being consigned to the junk. Why put the effort in? Why become attached to a weapon only for it to be taken away?
The story is mostly forgettable, mind. I’m only a few hours in but I just don’t care at this point, and I find it baffling they even bothered to give the lead character a name when he barely has a personality. It’s another case of the developers refusing to commit to either an embodiment of the player or a full-fleshed out character, creating a strange middle-ground that doesn’t work. Far Cry 4 suffering this problem with Ajay Gale as well.
So yeah, early impressions of the actual gameplay are very, very good. It looks beautiful and the gameplay feels wonderful. If the game actually ran worth a damn this could easily be ranking a four out of five, based on a couple of hours of mucking, a score which could obviously change a lot depending on what else happens. But right now with the performance problems it would struggling to reach a two out of five from me. To those thinking about buying the game, don’t bother at the moment if you’re running an AMD processor, especially the FX series which seems to be getting hit quite hard. Consider the game on console instead, or wait and see if Techland manage to get their shit together. If you have Intel and Nvidia gear you should be okay, though.
As for me reviewing the game, I don’t know what I’m going to do. At the moment there’s quite a few other review copies sitting in my Steam library demanding attention (Blackguards 2, The Book of Unwritten Tales 2, Grim Fandango Remastered) that take precedence over a title I’ve bought, and with its current performance I almost don’t want to review Dying Light. It’s a daft stance, really, as I always advocate a game being reviewed regardless of what the developers may or may not do in patches down the line, as people need to know what they are spending money on. But right now the performance is so patchy I actively don’t want to play the game because I genuinely want to enjoy it, and the fluctuating FPS isn’t allowing me to. Hence this short piece rather than a full review to warn people about the PC versions performance problems. In the coming days I may change my mind, in which case expect a review praising the gameplay but ultimately berating the developers and with a low score attached.
C’mon Techland, get it sorted.
Categories: Opinion Piece