I have acrophobia. For those who don't know the singular term, that's a fear of heights. When I drive over something like the Chesapeake Bay Bridge or Louisiana's Twin Spans, the experience for me is one of tension; pale knuckles and an enhanced attention span for the few minutes until I'm back on solid ground. I don't mess with many roller coasters, because I don't enjoy that slow, stuttering rise to the top before the coaster plunges below. I avoid open balconies. It doesn't bother me much, but it's a part of who I am.
I also prefer third-person games to those with a first-person point of view. If I'm playing a first-person game, I like it to be a relatively fast, close-quarters arena shooter. With action-adventure games, I definitely lean towards seeing my player character onscreen, like Batman: Arkham Knight, Assassin's Creed: Syndicate, or Mad Max. I also hate first-person driving with a passion; dash cam is big plus for many driving game fans, but I find that it actually takes me out of the game. This is why games like Far Cry leave me divided; I'm fine with the shooting and general traversal, but the driving leaves me cold.
These two facts made it rather surprising when I reviewed Techland's Dying Light earlier this year and found that I really liked the game. The core of the zombie open-world title is the first-person parkour experience. Techland calls the system "Natural Movement" and it's functionally similar to what you've seen in Mirror's Edge and Titanfall, but it ends up being the most enjoyable part of the game. Once you've unlocked certain moves and gotten use to 'jump' being on a shoulder button, I'd argue that Dying Light has probably the smoothest first-person parkour system in gaming.
Great movement in a game is about flow. Once you've grasped the controls and understand the environment, you should be able to get from point A to point B with little issue. Dying Light has its flow down; yes, there will be moments when your character will narrowly miss a ledge you thought you could reach, but overall it feels like a playground. Where Mirror's Edge required perfect, precise play, Dying Light is more freeform. Techland has designed a city that feels real, but at the same time provides you with a ton of opportunities to move from the streets to the rooftops smoothly, and vice versa. The game's zombies provide players with a reason to stay away from the streets, steering you towards staying vertical.
When you start playing Dying Light, you'll find that you'll start making jumps by aiming your camera downwards to make sure you stick your landing. It'll be hardcoded into your Dying Light DNA: looking up to where you want to wall-run or mantle, looking down to where you want to land. As you get deeper into game though, you'll find that you begin to intuitively grasp the distances you can leap. You don't have to look down as much, because you trust the digital "you". It's when I got to this level that Dying Light felt almost too real for me.
When I play games like Assassin's Creed and Batman: Arkham Knight, being up high isn't a problem for me. There's a layer of abstraction between me and the game. When I pitch off a building, I don't think of the character onscreen as "me". They're the ones falling to their potential death. Rico Rodriguez hurling face first towards the ground in Just Cause 3 doesn't affect me at all. There's no lurch in my stomach leaping across any tall buildings.
In contrast, the opening section of Dying Light has you traversing a high crane between two tall buildings. I had issues looking down as I navigated across the yellow metal of the crane. When missions took me on top of other tall buildings, my hands tightened on the grips of the controller. I've seen videos of players leaping from the top of the game's Infamy Bridge and the separation allows me to see something I'd probably never do myself in game. Dying Light even pushes you towards these sections where you're far above the ground with its second map, a tightly-designed urban sprawl full of tall rooftops.
What I experience is a bit different from proprioception. That's what prevents some people from playing first-person games at all; they get motion sick from the camera movement. General camera movement in Dying Light doesn't bother me at all. It's a bit different.
Sometimes as I'm flying across a gap between two tall structures, I'll look down and there's a moment where my real-life fear manifests itself. Where my animal brain takes over and screams, "What are you doing?!" In these moments, my attention snaps tight and my gut rolls over itself. A slight wave of nausea hits me, one that passes quickly when I land. Dying Light is unique because it's one of those few games that gives me that brief sense of vertigo. Ubisoft's Far Cry 3 almost treaded similar ground with its climbable towers, but it's content usually keeps your feet on the ground. (Haven't had time to play Far Cry 4 yet.)
I'm sure this is a feeling that will become normal as virtual reality begins to take over the industry. When I played Insomniac's Edge of Nowhere on Oculus Rift earlier this year, the demo gave me similar feelings, despite the game presenting itself in third-person. A Dying Light on Oculus Rift would be completely crazy. I think that might even be a bridge too far for me.
Until then, the Dying Light I can play right now stands alone. Techland has already announced The Following DLC and Dying Light: Enhanced Edition for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, releasing on February 9, 2016. If you're not afraid of heights, you'll still find a very fun game. If you are, Dying Light will give you the feeling of leaping over open air in a way that you never would in real life. It's a valuable and freeing feeling to me. That perfect moment of vertigo, followed by the dull thud of solid ground, and more running. I become someone else for a moment and not the guy that wouldn't be caught dead on a high ledge.
And isn't that what gaming is about?