Preview: Dying Light on Oculus Rift

Fast-paced acrobatics. Aggressive combat. Enemies coming at you from all directions. A huge map with essential verticality. Dying Light has a good number of reasons as to why it shouldn’t work in virtual reality (VR), but at the same time the team at Techland are well aware of these issues. There’s still some work to be done, but Dying Light already feels like the kind of videogame experience VR demands.

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So what is it that sells Dying Light in VR? At this point it’s simply the inherent nature of the experience. Much of the demonstration build that VRFocus experienced was spent combining exploration with combat in such a way that the latter is only a barrier to the former. You will have to fight the undead hordes, but only when they get in the way of your progress through the expansive map. Sticking to the rooftops is a much easier way to traverse the vastly varied locales of HarranCity, and doing so will undoubtedly induce vertigo.

The rooftops are littered with treacherous looking wooden planks acting as connecting pathways, cables to slide across and vents to crawl through. All of these ports of access induce a genuine sense of fear as you try to maintain balance or physically reduce your stature as your visual perception determines you have to squeeze through a small space. Leaping from one rooftop to another, of course, can be a very tense experience with a potentially terse ending.

The aforementioned issues with Dying Light‘s general gameplay are, it would seem, relatively easy to overcome. There were still a number of problems with the design in the build VRFocus experienced but it seems that Techland already know what’s holding them back. The forced look during cut-scenes, the uncoupling of head-look when underwater, the poorly displayed HUD, the drops in framerate and the occasionally glitchy interpretation of navigation commands; these are all issues that need to be combated. Text and framerate are well known staples of VR contention, but killing momentum, it would seem, is just as damaging as acceleration. Dropped inputs can be annoying when playing on a traditional monitor, in VR however, when a response is expected and never comes the dreaded simulator sickness is all too quick to rear its ugly head.

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In terms of combat, Dying Light doesn’t throw too many barriers in the way of VR. It may be a little fast-paced for newcomers – the fact that enemies will invariably try to surround you can be rather disconcerting – but by-and-large a swift kick or thump is enough to break through the crowds. Furthermore, the videogame features a number of acrobatic moves that can help you avoid these situations or pull you out of them when you fail to do so. The slide is, at present, not the most encouraging animation, however the ability to climb a zombie and then run across the heads of your enemies is far less of an issue than you might think. In fact, given that head-look has been decoupled when moving on dry land, it’s actually an enjoyable experience despite the rapid automatic changes in pace and height.

Despite a number of technical issues and obvious oversights that still remain, Dying Light is a convincing slice of ‘adapted for VR gameplay’. The general consensus is that videogames designed specifically for VR are better than those adapted to fit, and while that may be true it’s going to be sometime until AAA developers and publishers are willing to take a leap into ‘VR exclusive’ territory. The likes of Alien Isolation and Dying Light could well be the building blocks that pave the way for bigger budget productions made specifically with VR in mind, and that in itself is nothing but good news.

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