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Make it a (Virtual) Reality: Dying Light

You could be on vacation. From the rooftops this picturesque city looks like the ideal holiday-making destination with sun-licked trees and rustic buildings. Then you look down and notice the thousands of thousands of zombies, tripping over each other in a desperate, hopeless scramble to get a taste of your flesh. Perhaps not the best place to take a week off, then. You tiptoe around the edge of the roof, the wind clearly tempted to push just a little too hard. A zombie suddenly appears from around the corner, its flailing arms made all the more threatening by your uneasy footing. One slip and it’s a very fast and real trip to the ground floor.

Dying Light already has virtual reality (VR) support in a way. Last year developer Techland revealed that it was aiming to deliver support for the Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD) to the title at some point in the future. Now that the videogame has launched on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, VR support seemingly isn’t anywhere to be found yet, although no doubt some hopeful modders are currently working hard to unlock integration as with last year’s Alien: Isolation. VRFocus came away impressed with the title’s experimental integration, leaving questions as to what the full experience might be like in VR.

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This is a first-person action experience that looks to combine Techland’s own Dead Island series with the likes of EA’s Mirror’s Edge franchise. That is to say that, while players find themselves in a zombie-infested environment, they can also scale walls, buildings and just about anything else with great ease. Ever since VR’s inception many have dreamed of the perfect zombie survival experience that will allow them to experience the apocalypse first-hand, and this might well prove to be the perfect candidate.

While guns can be found, much of Dying Light is based on melee combat, meaning players will need to get up close if they are to dispatch enemies. This could be the source of some great tension in VR, forcing players to sheepishly approach drooling, terrifying enemies and frantically trying to push them away when the teeth get just a little too close. Imagine having a full-on swarm of mindless zombies surrounding you; your head darting back and forth as you desperately search for a means of escape. Dying Light could be the first tile to really deliver on that thrill of surviving for as long as possible.

It’s the title’s liberating free running mechanic that causes pause for thought. VR in its current state isn’t suited to fast-paced experiences that involve lots of movement. Not only does the technology lack a suitable input to replicate these actions but even the latest HMDs can cause simulator sickness without careful optimisation. The developer has spoken to VRFocus about these issues before, proving it’s full aware of them, but just how it will address them is another issue entirely. VR can serve to compliment the traversal in some ways, with players physically looking at the ledge that they want to mount, but maintaining a sense of presence as you start to clamber up is another matter entirely.

It could well be that Dying Light sees true VR support in the near future. If and when it does arrive, hopefully Techland will have figured out all the kinks to this promising experience.