It’s a well known fact that games released early in the year are very likely forgotten by the time those all-important “games of the year” lists start appearing in the last weeks of December. This was certainly the case with the excellent Dying Light, which was released in February, 2015, and subsequently off the radar by year’s end. Dying Light was yet another zombie survival game in a field that was already oversaturated, but it distinguished itself by adding some parkour mechanics, a crafting system that made excellent use of environmental objects, and a real degree of tension as nightfall approached. While the story was generic and none of the characters -- including the leading man -- terribly original, the fictitious city of Harran was chock-full of things to do, zombies to avoid, and places to explore.
The Following is the first major expansion for Dying Light and it’s a big one, adding a huge countryside to navigate and a dune buggy that is not only an indispensable mode of transportation but an effective mobile weapon as well. Additionally, The Following cleans up the vanilla game’s code, tweaks its melee combat and movement, and just generally makes the game feel more polished.
In the broadest possible strokes, Dying Light is about a paramilitary character names Kyle Crane, airlifted into the middle eastern, zombie-plague infested city of Harran on a mission of espionage and retrieval. When he is infected by the plague, the game becomes a story of survival. In The Following, Crane sets out beyond the walls of the city to look for a rumored cure, only to fall in with a religious cult whose members seemingly are immune.
Like the vanilla game, The Following has a series of main story mission and dozens of side missions. Again, although they are well written and there are some very effective, well-acted moments, the characters aren’t incredibly memorable. What was interesting about Dying Light was exploration and crafting and trying to stay one step ahead of the zombies, especially at night. Out in the countryside, the inky darkness is especially terrifying.
The new map is immense, and although certainly not as big as the landmass in the recent Just Cause 3, it feels a little similar. Almost immediately, Crane is given a dune buggy to use and like any other piece of gear, it can be modified to become a deadly zombie smasher or projectile launcher. The downside is that the buggy needs frequent refueling, and stopping for any length of time in open ground invites a horde of alert undead to attack. Equipment, weapon degradation and the constant need to craft new gear was a significant mechanic in Dying Light, and it remains so in The Following, and it seems like there is always something useful to pick up.
The Following looks great, trading the congested, beat-down city spaces of the vanilla game with a wide variety of beautiful and decaying rural environments. The audio design remains an important element in ensuring player survival as hearing the zombies -- especially at night -- is as important as seeing them, when it’s usually too late.
While the stoic main character, new countryside environments, and open world structure of The Following might suggest Just Cause, in fact things are less silly and much more dire in this zombie infested landscape. Dying Light wasn’t neglected when it was released, but it was overshadowed by all the big games that crowded the end of 2015. If you skipped the original, now is a great time to drop in and see what you missed, and The Following adds dozens of hours of new missions and things to do outside the city.