I loved Dying Light. It took the light-RPG slashfest that was Dead Island, stripped out most of the bad bits, and added a really fun parkour system to make easily one of the finest zombie games we’ve had in the last few years. It’s one of the few games where I’ve completed every single side-quest and loved every second of it.
Sadly its first major expansion, The Following, feels like a hell of a step back.
Dying Light: The Following – Enhanced Edition (PC [reviewed], PS4, Xbox One)
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Released: February 9, 2016
The Following takes place in the countryside bordering the city of Harran. Mr. Kyle ‘Generic as Hell’ Crane goes to investigate rumours of people who are somehow immune to the zombie virus plaguing the city, and in doing so he gets caught up in a story of cults, bandits, and lots and lots of cars.
The vast majority of the gameplay is just as it was in Dying Light, and your character and all his abilities can carry over from it. The parkour is still great, the grappling hook still adds a whole new layer of movement, and the combat still feels adequately brutal.
The Following feels a lot like the core game’s fantastic side-missions expanded out into a full campaign. You’re treated to a mystery revolving around a cult: why are they immune? Who is the Mother? What are the Faceless? It’s all really exciting stuff, and it’s certainly a step up from the generic military guff we had in Dying Light’s main campaign.
If that was all The Following was – a few more missions in a new map – I would’ve been incredibly happy with it! Unfortunately, there is one major thing that returns from Dead Island that drags down The Following in a major way: driving.
I don’t like driving in games at the best of times – usually they control poorly, and not very many games actually do interesting things with them (car chase missions need to just stop forever, please). It often feels like vehicles are just placed in a game because it’s what is expected instead of being a fun and worthwhile feature, and nowhere is that more painfully obvious than The Following.
The few pockets of built-up areas where the already excellent parkour mechanics can shine are separated by miles and miles and miles of absolutely nothing. When there is stuff to explore, it’s great: power plants, watchtowers, water pumping stations, and farms are all enticing and detailed enough to make worth checking out. But if you want to actually get to any of them, you’re going to have to drive to it in your rickety, unresponsive buggy that slows to a crawl if you so much as graze a zombie.
Most of the missions seem built around it too: drive to the needlessly faraway place, do X, then drive all the way back again to turn the quest in. Things do get switched up a bit with forced racing segments, but thanks to the awful driving controls they still feel like an unnecessary slog. Nothing seems new or interesting here – if you’ve played a driving mission in Grand Theft Auto, Saint’s Row, or Sleeping Dogs, chances are you’ll experience the exact same things in The Following.
That on its own wouldn’t be particularly egregious, but then in stumbles the poorly planned out vehicle degradation system. Crash into a tree: vehicle damage. Crash into a car: vehicle damage. Crash into a zombie: vehicle damage. Don’t even think about driving through those big, tempting pockets of squishy undead found scattered on the roads, because there’s a chance the buggy will break or run out of petrol before you come out the other side.
Once the buggy does give up the ghost, having to scavenge around for car parts on foot in that big, empty map feels like more hassle than the buggy’s actually worth. It’s nothing more than irritating padding that actively prohibits the player from having fun, and it doesn’t thematically make sense when elsewhere in-game you can stick a battery onto a machete and then drop-kick a zombie to its death.
When it’s good, The Following feels just as good as the core game. Its characters and missions are consistently more engaging than any of the main game’s nonsense, and the urban areas are perfectly designed to make the parkour as fun as ever. If that was all The Following was, it would be great!
And then that buggy comes along and ruins everything. The world is made huge and empty just to fit it in at the cost of the already great set of mechanics Dying Light has. That problem’s made worse when even the slightest bit of fun that could’ve been had from it is let down by an arbitrary vehicle degradation systems that punishes the player for daring to have fun with it.
Sometimes ‘just more of the same’ is a good thing.