Last year, Techland reinvigorated my love for zombies in games and in general with Dying Light, a parkour-infused open world action game filled to the brim with shuffling undead. It’s quite good, and remains one of my favourite games on PS4. Techland have built up a highly positive reputation in the twelve months since the game was released, and now the Polish developers have given us a chunky expansion for it; The Following, and remarkably, Dying Light is all the better for it.
Set after the events of the main game, protagonist Kyle Crane is on the hunt for a possible cure for the undead-making virus after a tip-off leads him to Harran’s countryside, a huge expanse of land that dwarfs the main game’s two maps. Once he arrives at the source of the rumoured cure, he is soon roped into helping out the locals in order to gain their trust and possible knowledge by running errands in a zombie-crunching road buggy. From there you have dealings with a mysterious cult and some new twists on the ghoulish monstrosities you’ve encountered before, but it’s the world itself that provides the biggest shift in how Dying Light plays.
Harran’s slums and old city were tight, compact and vertical playgrounds, full of nooks and crannies to ambush, or be ambushed by. Winding streets and towering buildings are replaced with rolling hills, windswept fields and isolated farms. There’s also a sun-kissed coastal area in there too, featuring a connection of cave systems. There are now rain storms that hit as well, creating some delightfully atmospheric scenes as you skulk about a darkened field with the lightning illuminating hordes of shuffling nasties.
In The Following, the wide open spaces of this Mediterranean-styled landscape present a new issue, getting from point A to point B in the open, with many a set of milky dead eyes centred on you along the way. The balance is brought by the use of the aforementioned buggy. You can cover great distances quicker and mow down zombies as you do, which is a bonus! That would render the undead pretty ineffective for the most part if it weren’t for various caveats that come with ownership of your new wheels. For a start, it has the same basic rules as Dying Light’s melee weapons, with parts needed to upgrade, repair and maintain it. Your engine can blow after heavy damage, or the suspension could end up shot. This makes for some truly intense moments if you end up stranded in a field,with darkness and lurching corpses closing in, trying to fix your banged up motor. You also need to scavenge fuel for it from the various cars, vans and trucks littered around the countryside (cars et al, also carry valuable parts for repairs and upgrades). Done wrong, this could have been aggravating, and it can be a little before you understand what’s required, but it recreates that panicked dashing for supplies of the early hours of the base game on a grander scale.
The buggy also benefits from crazy upgrades like the game’s weapons too. The buggy can be used as a lure with blaring, flashing upgrade for example. Or turning it into a rampaging zombie lawn mower is another. These upgrades are as mad and fun as the others found in Dying Light, and encourage you to tear about the map in the buggy (which is necessary as once again you won’t be fast-travelling anywhere). It handles considerably better than the vehicles found in other first-person open world games (I’m looking at you, game that rhymes with Bar Fly), but still suffers from the odd frustrating fillip where crashing into scenery is a little too frequent and the path to your objective isn’t quite clear enough without rechecking the map. Minor quibbles though.
Regular combat gets a facelift in the meantime, the regular walking dead are a bit harder to take down now without an accurate swing of your chosen instrument of destruction, and there’s extra spice to the more threatening bad guys out there (more on that in a bit). The buggy is of course, a weapon to even those changed odds, but you aren’t without a boost on foot. A crossbow and a submachine gun are the two earliest, and most telling, additions. The submachine gun is a viable solution to your bandit-based problems now thanks to the larger camps they hole themselves up in and the wider space you operate in. Guns were a bit riskier in Dying Light before, as you could end up attracting a horde (and those bloody runners) all too quickly, and complicate your situation. Now you have the room to maneuver, noise makes for a good decoy as you can more readily put bandits in the sights of the shambling mass of corpses by using sound to lure them to a specific location, then you’re able to pick off the survivors quietly with minimal effort.
The crossbow is obviously meant for more stealthy fare. The scenarios where it can be truly essential for just that don’t occur as often as they could do, but when you do use it, it’s glorious fun, even if it does mean the bow you might have picked up in the Bozak Horde DLC feels a bit pointless now. My particular favourite thing about it is the impact bolts you can make for it, that send enemies flying through the air at great speed, playing to Dying Light’s greatest strength, doing silly stuff with easily manipulated creatures. There are some cracking secret weapons to be found beyond that, for both you and your buggy, are best experienced by the player, such is their daft lunacy. It’s a nice thing to see Techland keep a vein of silly humour in the otherwise grimly serious narrative.
As I alluded to earlier, the enemies have received a bit of a tweak to counter your new playset. Runners are able to pursue your buggy at pretty high speeds, and leap great distances to latch onto it. Get yourself in a muddle whilst driving, and you can soon have several of them battering at the framework of your vehicle and swiping at you with their decomposing hands. They remain the biggest pests in the game, showing up exactly when you don’t want them too every time. Volatiles are back, more aggressive and more present than ever thanks to an abundance of their hives in the countryside (which you can attempt to enter and destroy to thin their numbers). With less in the way of hiding places in The Following, encountering them outside of your buggy is more perilous than before. The rest of the bad guy roster is generally just souped up a little, with a handful of ‘unique exceptions’ that might surprise you.
The Following is a really good expansion. It could easily be a standalone sequel considering its shift to wide open spaces and vehicle usage. It could well be a better attempt at Far Cry than Primal will be. The time and effort that has gone into creating this atmospheric addition to Harran is admirable, even if there are occasions that the game falls foul of some of the old Techland teething troubles (infrequent framerate dips, slow rendering). Overall though, The Following is a great addition to an already immensely enjoyable game.