After the Harran virus broke out 20 years ago, mankind has sought refuge in the few remaining settlements. Ragtag groups of people have banded together purely to survive, foraging for supplies and growing a few crops on rooftops because the streets are full of shambling infected, zombie-like dead people, with a few extra-dangerous mutants mixed in.
Playing as a man called Aiden, a wandering Pilgrim bound by no ethics or rules, you've left your previous settlement to search for your long-lost sister. Information gathered leads you to the city of Villedor, one of the remaining bastions of humanity. The end of your journey to Villedor is played in a thrilling intro which also acts as a tutorial for the game's basic manoeuvres and hand-to-hand and melee combat moves.
There are two distinct sides in Villedor, survivors and the militaristic PKs (the dubiously named PeaceKeepers), and you'll most likely fight elements from both sides at some point. Gangs of human renegades need to be treated with respect too, as they can dodge your attacks and use power attacks and ranged weapons of their own
There are various bows and a crossbow available but most of the combat is up close and personal with anything; bits of pipe, table legs, bats, blades and axes, it's visceral, immersive and very gory. You do get to shoot stuff with a few weapons but DL2SH is not a first person shooter, and doesn't pretend to be. It's a first person survival game that has bows and crossbows, which are about as projectile-based-weapony (yep, it's it's a phrase I just made up) as it gets. There are single-use boomstick shotguns that you can craft and at the moment the only crossbow in the game is, annoyingly, tied to being loyal to the PKs.
The controls are tight and there's a very agile feel to your character. Verticality is a major feature of DL2SH and the graphics good enough to give me a lurch of vertigo when up really high. 'RB' is jump, which feels just as weird as it sounds at first, but the reason for this soon becomes apparent. 'B' is crouch and 'X' is use/operate/open/loot–and you're going to be doing a LOT of looting. There's also a strangely familiar lock-picking mechanic that uses both analog sticks.
Virals are the basic slow-moving infected zombie; Biters are the next stage of mutation as they get the taste for living flesh. Mutated Banshees leap at you, Bolters run away from you, Spitters…well you can guess what they do. Demolishers are huge, powerful and charge at you like a bull, but are rare, and their close cousins Goons carry a massive club. Revenants are weirdly mutated and agile, and only seem to spawn at night in certain areas. Suiciders lumber towards you and explode on contact, and the Rampage is another strange large mutation, possessing a practically impenetrable crusty skin on the front of its body. But it's Volatiles that are the ones to be afraid of. Fast to alert and possessing extremely powerful attacks, these things are deadly and need to be subdued with UV light sources, killed from afar or simply avoided. This was just a list off the top of my head and there are many more varieties of infected, and Techland are still adding new ones.
DL2SH has a LOT of dialogue and multiple-choice conversations, probably too much 'yap' to be honest. Every NPC seems to want to tell you their life story, but fortunately if you're the impatient type you can skip with 'B' and there's usually a "blunt" option to end a conversation early too. You need to pay attention sometimes though, as some quests will require that you actually know some of Villedor's past history.
Having complained about the amount of dialogue I have to say that the voice acting is top notch, other than a few over-dramatic moments. The sound is superb, the city is never totally quiet and you can usually hear someone calling for help or screaming in panic or pain. The noises that the bodies make when you hack at them with an axe or blade are suitably squishy and visceral. The music is also perfect, swelling as the action intensifies or you climb to or near an objective.
DL2SH has excellent character models with realistic facial expressions and decent lip syncing, the infected are extremely well animated too, and the ragdoll is as good as it gets. Should you try it (and you really should) you'll be impressed with the way co-op player's characters interact with the enemies and the scenery and obstacles too. The only faults I'd find are the way bodies clip into walls and when wet the characters look too shiny, like they've been oiled up, which looks daft.
Going back to the co-op mode, up to 4 players can team up to play and even if you're playing solo you can call for help or be on call to aid other players. Rescuing another player is very satisfying, as is helping them out on a mission they've been struggling with. You'll be extremely grateful if you call for help and someone turns up to revive you or assist you on a quest.
There's an hour or more (depending on how much you explore) of what is basically a playable intro-tutorial before you can join up with friends, which was a major pain in the everything. I kept thinking "I’m kind of over ‘learning’ how to play and just want to have fun with my friends..." When do you REALLY want help? right at the start of a game, that's when. Once you've learned the basic controls, that should be the point at which you can co-op. Do you really need over an hours-worth of intro and tutorials?
Travelling around the city is made easier by clearing Metro subway stations, which then act as safe houses and fast travel locations. But these have to be powered up and will be infested with enemies, which can either be infected or human bandits, either way they're quite a challenge. Despite some clear effort on the designers' part, mission structure lacks variety and most tasks that you are given by NPCs are either search & rescue, parkour challenges, grindy bounties or kill lists. I'm not sure why the original Dying Light added vehicular missions to the mix and then they left them out of DL2SH, it seems like a backward step.
Navigating the city you'll be running and jumping, swinging on horizontal bars, ropes, tightrope walking, wall running… Later on you even get a parawing and a grapple rope which make you seriously mobile. So mobile in fact that, naturally, I managed to get stuck in a few places but clipping is a problem with AI characters so I imagine it's related to that.
The city is sprinkled with side missions and parkour challenges that vary in length and use the scenery well–sometimes a bit too well. This means that some parkour challenges are devilishly difficult and some literally impossible until you've achieved a certain level both stats and ability-wise.
Graphics-wise DL2SH is a treat with only some rather basic wet character effects and that thorny old problem, clipping, although that does get unintentionally funny sometimes as bodies clip through walls and "spaz" until they find a place to rest. Another complaint I'd have is about the annoying pauses before you regain control of Aiden after a cut scene, and worse, times when he gets hit simply because you didn't have control.
At times DL2SH reminded me of Dead Island, Far Cry Instincts: Predator, Mirror's Edge, Assassin's Creed and even Borderlands, but despite a few flaws I honestly think it's better than all of them.
A poorly thought out "Community Update" that fixed some bugs, added some new graphical options (to make the game look grittier and more like DL1) and most noticeably upped the number of infected on the streets during the day (including occasional Volatiles–the single most dangerous and scary enemy in the game) and making Volatiles spawn in areas at night where you were previously unlikely to see them. Now this is probably great for players who have been playing the game since launch and want an extra challenge but it's made the game dauntingly tough for new players not wanting to resort to "Easy" mode–surely Techland must have realised this would happen? Instead of this daft idea, how about just adding a "New Game Plus" option for those who just want to play DL2SH forever? This may well be the case for some, and regular updates, community challenges, boosts, events and the imminent arrival of a whole new Bloody Ties story DLC suggest that Dying Light 2 Stay Human isn't going away anytime soon.