The free-running element fits naturally into a zombie game. It makes sense to stick to the rooftops when the streets are crammed with shuffling corpses, and the ability to quickly break away from an approaching horde by diving into a nearby shop or clambering onto a car results in a wonderfully kinetic experience. And it's all delivered so fluidly. Occasionally a climbing animation won't quite match the scenery, or a ledge-grab will feel strangely contrived, but for the most part Dying Light's animation transitions are seamless.
While the free-running is certainly empowering, it doesn't make you invincible. The least mobile zombie will still endeavour to chase you, even if it's by stumbling pathetically over the wall of a roof terrace and plummeting to the street below. Yet there are other types of zombies that provide a sterner challenge. Virals are zombies that only recently turned, meaning they can run quickly and climb nimbly. They also demonstrate disarmingly human traits when attacked, squealing in pain and begging you to stop, before leaping for your throat again the moment you hesitate.
If cornered by a Viral you'll almost certainly need to fight back. Combat has been vastly improved over Dead Island's lightweight flailing. Melee weapons now have a real heft to them, and zombies reel convincingly from the focus of their impact. Particularly effective blows are accompanied by a slow-motion effect or a grisly "x-ray " filter that shows skulls and bones shattering beneath your bludgeon. It's gratuitous, but it also conveys how tooth-and-nail these fights often are. You're usually massively outnumbered, and the undead attack with an equal level of savagery, lurching forward to have a good munch on your neck, or scratching at your eyes with ragged fingernails. There are also a small number of far trickier human opponents, who dodge your swings and throw knives and molotovs at you.
Dying Light also goes to great length to expand upon its basic free-running and zombie-slaying. There are multiple skill-trees that offer a wide range of upgrades, including an fantastic dropkick move that is perfect for launching a zombie off a rooftop or into a conveniently placed fire or wall of spikes. Weapons can be upgraded to deal fire or electrical damage, via an extensive crafting system that sees you raiding shops and houses for appropriate materials. Like Dead Island, weapons also need to be maintained. Thankfully, rather than spending thousands of dollars to fix a crowbar, repairs are performed using "metal parts", and there are only so many times a weapon can be patched up before a new one is required.
The core of Dying Light is generally well balanced, never leaving you particularly over or underpowered, and encouraging you to explore the city without bogging the game down. The only annoyance is the menu screens are quite fiddly, with the keyboard commands apparently having been arranged by organising a raffle. It's a general improvement of Techland's previous output in pretty much all areas. But Harran only gets truly interesting when the sun begins to set.
About an hour before darkness, your companions in the Tower will warn you to head for the nearest safehouse. As the last shafts of sunlight vanish from the sky, the darkness is pierced by a harrowing scream, and suddenly Dying Light is a different game.
See, the night is prowled by creature called "Volatiles", zombies with the speed of an Olympic sprinter and the temperament of a honey badger filling out his Self Assessment form. Night-time in Harran is all about avoiding these vicious monsters, either by sneaking about in the pitch-black avoiding the Volatiles' vision-cones, or, if one of them spots you, cheesing it to the nearest safehouse and praying to any deity who might be listening that the bastard doesn't catch you. As if things weren't difficult enough, regular zombies are still shambling about, and fighting them will attract the Volatiles to your location.