Dying Light: The Following is nothing if not a bold and daring expansion to last year’s very well received zombie hack and slasher. The streets of Harran, whether in the Slums or in Old Town, were no place for trying to get around in a vehicle, with cars, vans and barricades blocking almost every road. Getting around on foot and having the freedom to take to the roofs as something of a parkour expert was a perfect fit for the situation.
Techland take a lot of that away from you in The Following, as Crane follows up another potential lead for a cure. It tears you out from the city and drops you into the middle of the countryside, an environment that your very specific set of skills is nowhere near as well suited to. The rolling hills, fields and meadows are rife with zombies, in a truly overwhelming fashion, and without the comfort of always having a nearby building to clamber up in order to escape, it’s no place to try and get around on foot.
And then there’s just the fact that the distances you need to cover in order to get from a village to a water pumping station, for example, would take an awful lot of time, even if there weren’t zombies to worry about. So it’s a damn good thing that you’re able to get behind the wheel of a buggy, shortly after getting started with the expansion.
This is where you’ll find most of your character progression going forward, as you level up a new Driver skill tree which adds new perks to your car, whether it’s the basic turbo, more metal plating or even flamethrowers. Additionally, you have to repair and replace brakes, suspension, the engine, and so on as they suffer from wear and tear, with steadily improving parts becoming available in quick succession. You’ll also find yourself scavenging for fuel, to keep the engine ticking over, but this is a concern that, as with scavenging in the main game, fades into the background as your resources balloon and only deplete slowly.
Techland are no strangers to having vehicles in their zombie games, and Dead Island did have a few open spaces where you could hammer the throttle and career around the streets, but it was nothing compared to the sheer fun and joy that can be found in this expansion. Again, there’s just so much more open space for you to drive around, and the buggy takes it all in its stride, with a handling model that is genuinely a pleasure to play with. It’s just so easy to be following the roads one second, then decide to head to your waypoint or objective as the crow flies, cutting across the thick grass, clattering through wooden fences and weaving through trees, or at least trying to.
The game engine handles this new found pace with relative ease, with fields full of tall grass that mask zombies causing no more problems on PC than the main game did. Admittedly, being able to see further did expose some minor weaknesses in how the game spawns in zombies, and for whatever reason, they could often suddenly pop in or out of view as you see the game populate the world. A fairly minor complaint when it’s an ordinary walker, but more worrying if it’s an exploding zombie.
As with so many games that are designed specifically with co-op in mind, it really comes together when you have someone else playing alongside you. You can play with up to four players, and each can have their own buggy – though you can give someone else a lift in a back seat – but even with two players, it adds the potential for so much more chaos and fun to the game. You’re far more likely to get yourself into a tricky situation when there’s someone who you can rely on to at least try and revive you if you’re downed, and that change in mentality is a big part of Dying Light and The Following. Then there’s just the pure madness that can occur when you find edge cases of what’s possible in the game, as in this video:
However, while driving around has superseded the parkour in many ways, the visceral combat remains. Zombies are more numerous and feel to be tougher outside of the city – the game advises you to have a level 18 character before picking The Following from the main menu – but when you land a hit, limbs come off, heads are brutally smashed and gore is spattered everywhere in an amusingly over the top fashion.
The Following adds to this with a handful of new upgrades to find, building upon the already wide range of blueprints and the same elemental weaponry found in the main game. However, Techland have also put a greater emphasis on ranged weapons, first with a bow and arrow – the explosive arrows are a hysterical cacophony of explosions and flying zombies – then with the more precise and deadly crossbow, but you also have uzis and shotguns, which will quickly bring at least half a dozen of the running Viral zombies right to you.
Those also pose a threat when you’re in a buggy, and are surprisingly capable of keeping up with you or leaping and grabbing on. A swift pulse of the turbo boost will knock them off, but it helps you to not feel invulnerable when in the thin tubular frame. The Volatiles that come out at night are another kettle of fish entirely, with a full radius of hearing able to pick you up, compared to their cones of vision when on foot. Suddenly, as they appear at night, you’re crawling around the world at slow speed, doing your best to avoid detection, lest you have to spend the next few minutes frantically racing away into the darkness.
You can wrestle control of the night from them by venturing into the Volatile Hives to take out their spawning nests, something that’s best done during the hours of darkness when they’re on the prowl, with a countdown timer added to the side of the screen to add pressure. That doesn’t just help you, but also helps the Children of the Sun and gains you favour with the cult that you’re in the countryside to investigate.
The story of The Following is fairly straightforward and it’s easy to see some twists coming, as Crane has to get progressively closer to this cult. It’s a less linear path compared to the main game, as you must complete side quests to earn higher ranks and favour with the small commune that you first meet and then with the Faceless who represent the Mother.
It’s all in the name of finding out how they can successfully ward off the zombies and prevent infections, but it never really latches on and takes you for a ride. I never felt like I was doing anything special to help them, because I was simply playing the game, driving around, getting distracted from one objective by a closer icon on the map time and again. Without even realising, I had reached the maximum level and entered the final stages of the story.
That point came for me around the ten hour mark, but there’s still plenty more to do in the world, from races to side missions to dynamic events, and even people calling you over the radio and asking for help in a manner which lives up to Dying Light’s first gameplay reveal.
Completely changing the environment that you play in and the way in which you get around that world was a bold move by Techland, but they’ve taken the challenge in their stride, and created something which is often just pure fun to play. If you’re a fan of Dying Light, then The Following is a near essential expansion.
Version tested: PC