Dying Light was one of my favorite games of 2015. Sure, the game was a little clunky in some respects, but it also had a perfect mix of survival and action that few zombie games have come close to. It also had some of the best parkour-style gameplay since 2008’s Mirror’s Edge, and a ridiculous amount of upgrade options for your character and his weapons. Dying Light’s major expansion, The Following, takes all of the great systems of the original game and places you in a brand new area with a dune buggy and more weapons. It’s a lot more of what made Dying Light great, but there are still some odd design choices and technical hiccups that hold the game back from being a true classic.
The basic gameplay of The Following, with its emphasis on hand to hand combat and using your surroundings to your advantage, is exactly the same as in Dying Light. Supposedly Techland has made a few tweaks for the controls to feel even better. I didn’t really notice this, but then again, I didn’t really have any complaints about the controls in the original game.
The big new addition to The Following is a dune buggy. The dune buggy is almost like a second playable character, or a customizable suit of armor. Much like how you upgrade your character and weapons throughout Dying Light and The Following, you can upgrade your basic dune buggy with guns, flamethrowers and ramming bars until it’s the ultimate deathmobile, plowing through dozens of zombies with ease. It takes a lot of what made the base game so great and just adds more to it, although just like it was frustrating leveling up Kyle Crane the first few hours of Dying Light, it’s not a lot of fun starting off with the basic dune buggy in The Following.
The new storyline focuses on a cult, The Children of the Sun, and their worship of The Mother, a deity that they claim protects them from the zombie virus. It’s an OK story, at least on par with what’s in the original Dying Light. Getting to the end requires going through a lot of side quests though, for better or for worse. It’s not that The Following’s quests are bad, but they do get repetitive. Then again, Dying Light wasn’t known for great story missions. It’s more about upgrading your skills and and alternately fighting and running from hundreds of zombies.
Therein lies the problem with the new setting of The Following. It’s called The Farmland, and it’s an absolutely massive game world. But it’s also very wide open, with much fewer buildings than what’s found in Harran. This means there are not many opportunities for running and climbing to get away from the undead. In fact, no matter how powerful you’ve made Kyle from the base game, it’s very easy to get taken down by a large group of zombies if you don’t have your handy dune buggy nearby. I suppose that by incorporating a vehicle, Techland had to do away with the more crowded city setting so you could actually drive around The Farmland, but this is still disappointing for those of us who enjoyed the parkour-based action in the base game.
The dune buggy controls well-enough. There are definitely some similarities to the recent Mad Max game, also from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, such as the types of upgrades you receive, and the need to constantly re-fill your vehicle’s gas tank. Driving and vehicle combat were some of the highlights of Mad Max, and they’ve translated smoothly into the world of Dying Light. One issue I have with driving though is the lack of a GPS. GPS has pretty much become standard in open-world driving games, and given how difficult it can be to navigate The Farmland’s roads, the lack of a GPS can make reaching new locations more complicated than it needs to be, especially during time-based missions.
So just like with the base game, The Following has its issues, but just like Dying Light proper, those issues matter less and less when you’re drop-kicking zombies off of cliffs and chopping off their heads with flaming swords. Adding a dune buggy to Dying Light isn’t quite as much fun as I imagined it would be, but it still gave me a good reason to put a couple dozen more hours into one of my favorite games of 2015.
Dying Light started in development for last-gen consoles like the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 before shifting exclusively to the current-gen. Like a lot of games with ports on the older systems, Dying Light doesn’t quite match the best of the best that Xbox One has to offer, but it is a very pretty game. And similar to how Wolfenstein: The Old Blood looks just a little bit better on Xbox One because it ditched a last-gen port, The Following also looks just a little bit better than the base game. The sunny tropical setting is both beautiful thanks to some great lighting, and terrifying because of the constant threat of zombie hordes and the shadows they cast. Unfortunately, there is some terrible slowdown at times when too many zombies are on-screen at once. Hopefully a patch addresses this issue soon.
The Following doesn’t change what wasn’t broken about Dying Light’s music. Taking a cue from the original Mass Effect, Dying Light’s soundtrack is made up of vaguely creepy synth tunes that sound straight out of a classic ’80s horror movie. That might not sound appealing to everyone, but I grew up on those movies, so I’m a little biased, and it definitely seems to work here. Zombies still sound like… well, zombies. There was nothing wrong with how they sounded in the base game, so The Following keeps that too. Voice acting is very solid. Roger Craig Smith does a great job as everyman Kyle Crane, trying to survive in the zombie apocalypse. NPCs also do a good job of making you feel like you’re stuck in a tropical hell filled with the undead, though sometimes they seem to be trying a little too hard to have the perfect Middle Eastern accent.
So many developers and publishers push out DLC that’s little more than character skins for $5-10, that it’s refreshing to see Techland put out what’s almost a sequel to Dying Light for only $20. The map of The Farmland is absolutely massive (Techland claims that it’s twice the size of Harran in the base game). Just going through the main story will easily take you between 10 and 15 hours, and if you want to complete all the side missions and max out your character, you’re probably looking at closer to 30 hours of content. And then you can take all your new skills and weapons back to Harran. Just like the inevitable real zombie apocalypse, the fight for survival never really ends in Dying Light.
Reviewed by Chris Freiberg