When you think about it, your common garden zombie is quite a rubbish monster. They’re slow, they’re actively decaying in front of you and, owing to their dead state, they’re dumb as bricks. If there was a zombie in your house you could simply keep moving and remain entirely safe all the time. Seriously, you could be making dinner with the zombie shambling around the kitchen and you’d be able to knock up a Sunday roast with no problems. No, the zombie isn’t scary, it’s just pathetic.
Now, zombieS are a different story. Hundreds of zombies moving in a pack will turn you inside out in a matter of seconds. The terror of the zombie lies in sheer numbers, with a pandemic infection rate based on bites and scratches, one zombie can turn into two, then into thousands in no time at all. That, my friends, is scary.
Developed by: Techland
Published by: Techland
Release date: February 9th, 2016
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (Reviewed on PC)
Launch Price: 19.99 USD
In the world of games, zombies have always been traditionally misused. Resident Evil may have been master classes in tension and atmosphere building, but the undead residents of the Spencer estate and Raccoon City were never really enough to overwhelm, they were more like roadblocks than serious threats. Dead Rising got the numbers right but the cartoonish action reduced them tolittle more than industrial lawnmower fodder. Left4Dead’s creatures were simply too fast to really be zombies (I don’t prescribe to the “fast zombie” trend of the early 2000s. They’re dead, they shouldn’t be able to outrun a healthy human). No, zombies by and large have always been used poorly. That is, until Dying Light.
Techland’s zombie-parkour-em-up was a surprise hit in the early months of 2015. Dropping you into the fictitious middle eastern city of Harran, you played Kyle Crane, an agent for a shadowy corporation who was sent to the doomed city to track down some stolen research on the zombie infection, which had turned most of the population into flesh hungry husks and, in an inspired twist, you get bitten in the opening cutscene. This leads to a mad panic through the city to secure supplies of Antizen, a drug which suppresses the infection and stops people from turning. Between the vast hordes of zombies, the solid free running system, in depth crafting and a generous levelling up framework, the game was widely praised and is considered one of the best zombie games ever made. It’s not without its flaws, but it is a superb game nonetheless.
Almost exactly a year on from the original release, developer Techland is about to give us a generous expansion in the form of The Following and the accompanying Enhanced Edition bundle.
The Following takes place sometime after the events of the main game. Once again you’re in Crane’s shoes as information comes to him that there is not only a way out of Harran, but there is a settlement nearby where the people are immune to the infection. Even those bitten don’t turn. Obviously, this news is too important to ignore, so you’re dispatched to get more information. However, when you arrive, things aren’t quite as rosy as your informant made out. The area is still overrun with zombies and infected, there are bandits roaming and pillaging as they see fit and the immune locals aren’t willing to talk to strangers. Before they’ll open up to you in any way shape or form, you have to help them and build up your own following (do you see what they did, there?).
The first thing that strikes is that you’re definitely not in the city any more. The urban sprawl of Harran is a long lost memory as you emerge from a sewer system into an absolutely gorgeous rural landscape. There are rolling hills, fields and trees as far as the eye can see. Whereas Harran was almost claustrophobic in its design, you now have open spaces to play in and vast tracks ofland to explore. The expansion’s area is easily as big as Harran and there’s just as much to do to keep yourself busy. However, this in itself changes the core gameplay mechanic, the parkour system. Without hundreds of buildings of varying sizes, you’re pretty much ground based for most of your time with the game. There are a few buildings dotted around, pipelines which will carry you above the shambling hordes below and even a networkof hunting towers you can use for moments of quiet reflection and safety from having your face eaten. However, to make your life easier, you’re going to need some wheels.
Fortunately, one of your primary objectives in The Following is to retrieve a car. After all, with miles of countryside around you, you’re going to need a way to get around it. The driving has been integrated into the game very well and acts as one of the biggest changes the DLC makes. The buggy you’re given (well, take), is fast, powerful and rapidly becomes your new best friend. Several of the early quests actively encourage you to blast around the world as quickly as possible, even in some cases under some very tight time limits.
You should never underestimate the visceral joy of lining up the buggy with a group of zombies, hitting the nitro and watching them fly over the hood of your vehicle. It provides endless fun. I can almost guarantee that you’ll spend a good amount of time perfecting your handbrake turns into undead victims and watching them fly in all directions. It really is as fun as it sounds. There controls can be slightly twitchy (especially if you’re playing on the PC with a keyboard), however the fun factor far outweighs the limitations of the control scheme.
There is also a need to keep your buggy fueled up. Driving around costs gas and without it you’rea sitting duck, so the game encourages you to spend time looting fuel from every car you can see. Scavenging was a huge part of the main game and it’s just as important in The Following. You’ll need to find components to upgrade and repair weapons, craft consumables and even upgrade your trusty vehicle. If you thought Fallout 4 went overboard with the amount of items you need to steal to survive, then Dying Light will turn you into a kleptomaniac. No house, cupboard, chest, duffel bag, car or ambulance should be left untouched. You never know when your favourite weapon is going to break and you’ll need some string, a battery and several nails to put it back together again. Moments like that tend to result in a very swift death if you don’t have the right materials to hand.
One of Dying Light’s biggest draws was its day and night cycle. Butchering zombies during the day is one thing, but at night things get significantly more dangerous. When the sun sets the volatiles come out to play and they are not tobe trifled with. They’re faster, stronger and more aggressive than the normal zombies and they will give chase with little to no provocation. However, one of the criticisms levelled at the main game is that it could be very easy to outrun them. You simply had to keep running and eventually they’d give up. With The Following DLC, the enemy AI has been given a boost and the volatiles will now take some serious effort to shake. They’re smarter and more persistent than they ever were and as result, they’re even more terrifying.
A new class of enemy has been introduced as well, the Freaks. These giant behemoths are zombies that have been exposed to toxic waste and have mutated into some pretty intimidating boss monsters. There are several of them dotted around the world and wherever the appear, they make that particular area uninhabitable for humans. These creatures have specific weaknesses and are almost like a Dark Souls boss, in that you need to learn their moves, identify their weaknesses and exploit opportunities if you’re to stand any chance of coming out of the fight alive. Once you kill them, you’ll curry favour with the locals and create new safe zones.
One of the greatest improvements on the main game is the story and characterisation, which are orders of magnitude better than in the past. One of the criticisms levelled at the main game was its story, with the muddled up and unclear directives, one dimensional characters and cliched dialogue. With The Following, the player is treated to a small but diverse cast of characters. From the wheeling and dealing Kaan, to the stoic faith of Jasir, via the attitude and sass of Ezgi and the friendly swagger of Bilal, the group you’re helping are weak, vulnerable but always suspicious of you. You’re an outsider and they’ve survived long enough to know that outsiders aren’t to be trusted. You need to earn their trust before they will give up the secrets of their resistance to the zombie outbreak. It gives the game a new dynamic as rather than working to a secret agenda as Crane was in the main game, your actions are directly helping those in need. Whether you’re reconnecting a water supply or locating the remains of a long missing camp member, you are making a difference to the small community of survivors.
It’s worth mentioning that the difficulty curve of The Following is slightly different to the main game. This is, after all, endgame content so there is an expectation that not only will you have mastered the controls, but you’re capable of navigating the environments efficiently and you’ve reached anappropriate level to get yourself going. Bandits are by and large armed to the teeth and regularly shoot on sight, however, shooting also attracts virals, the faster, more aggressive form of the normal zombies, meaning that if you’re caught outside in a fire fight you not only have to pay attention to those shooting at you, but to the sprinting undead coming from all directions. The special enemies, freaks and hardcore bandits all take persistence and dexterity to take down. After all, you’re one man, who is unlikely to be wearing armour and is rather weak against bullets. You have to fight smart to stay alive and progress. The difficulty isn’t as savage as, say, Bloodborne: The Old Hunters, but The Following will definitely challenge even the most seasoned of Dying Light players.
Overall, The Following does a great job of not only refining the Dying Light formula, but actively building on it. The area you’re given to play in is huge, the new toys are supremely fun and the changes to the enemies make them a significant, but welcome challenge. It’s very rare that I would consider DLC to be a worthwhile investment however if Dying Light is your thing, then The Following is definitely a worthwhile purchase. If you haven’t played Dying Light yet, then now is the perfect time to pick up the enhanced edition of the game, which comes with The Following and all of the other DLC that was released in the past year. Either way, the value for money here is fantastic and one of the best games of 2015 gets even better.
Now, where did I leave my buggy?
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