Tuesday 16 July 2019

Dying Light: The Following

Kyle Crane has helped defeat Rais and bring some measure of relief to the plague-infested city of Harran, but supplies of the drugs needed to control the plague are running low. Following rumours that some people living just outside the city have found a cure, Crane finds that the infection is also spreading into the countryside, and he has to ally with a religious cult and help out the local survivors before he can learn the truth about what's going on.

Dying Light was a splendid game, an open-world, zombie survival game with added parkour. The Following is an expansion to the game, rivalling the original in size, and changes things up by taking Kyle out into the countryside. Wide open fields replace the dense urban jungle, but to get around faster Kyle has the added ability to drive a souped-up buggy around. Harran's backwater includes a chemical plant, a granary, a lighthouse, a coastal town, a dam, mountains and forests among other attractions, which makes for a nice change of scenery from the original game.

Your progress from Dying Light carries over to The Following (and vice versa, as you can return to Harran at any time to address any left over business there), meaning that if you've completed the base game you will already be a relatively skilled and badass zombie-slaying, wall-running hero. The Following is a tougher game than Dying Light, so I would not recommend tackling it without having finished off the base game first.

The setup is pretty standard. Early in the game you befriend a bunch of survivors holed up in a farm, who give you missions. As you complete missions, your standing with the community grows. As it grows, the "Faceless" (acolytes of the mysterious "Mother," a religious figure) get in touch and give you more dangerous tasks, which eventually culminate in you learning more about their alleged cure to the plague. Unlike Dying Light, which had you frequently running into the main villain or his henchmen, the story in The Following is much less dominating to the narrative. Instead, the game encourages you more to go off-script and deal with side-missions, help out random survivors in the wilderness and take part in optional activities like time trials and races (amusingly, Crane is as bemused as the player that people are setting up races in the middle of a zombie apocalypse). A completionist approach makes The Following almost as long as Dying Light itself, so you get plenty of game here for your buck.

Despite being an expansion rather than a sequel, The Following has a different feel to the base game. The wild open spaces means that you'll be relying more on the buggy and less on your parkour skills. Indeed, it's only in the coastal town area and the granary and adjacent industrial plant that you'll be making a lot of use of your old parkour skills from the base game. Combat is also different, as guns are much more commonplace and you should have some meaty high-value melee weapons from the end of the original game as well. This takes away some of the incipient, claustrophobic terror of the original, particularly when your buggy is seriously upgraded and becomes capable of mowing down hordes of Volatiles with flamethrowers, an electrified cage and UV lights, but it does make the game's power fantasy much stronger, especially given that the rate of progression through the game remains modest, and it's still unlikely you'll max out the skill tree in any one playthrough.

The gameplay loop remains compelling, the graphics are effectively gory, combat is more satisfying and the buggy is fun to drive around. But The Following has several weaknesses, some of which it shares with the base game. The game regularly gets context-confused about what you're doing, resulting in you jumping off a wall to your death instead of pulling yourself over the top of the roof. A good 50% of my deaths in the game were from the game getting itself into a tiswas rather than my own errors, which is frustrating. The game also carries on the tiresome modern gaming phenomenon of making your character "respawn" rather than actually reloading an earlier saved game, sometimes resulting in you dying and reappearing halfway across the map for no discernible reason, or being able to cheese a challenging fight by constantly dying and charging back into the fight (as the zombies you killed previously are still dead). The rather odd ability to fast-travel around the map by dying and respawning in a tower closer to where you're trying to get to also remains intact. The buggy is also not entirely well-integrated with the base game. It's too easy to get the buggy stuck in an unrecoverable position which the "reset buggy" command won't fix, forcing you to walk on foot to the nearest garage to summon the vehicle back again. The buggy is also hungry on petrol, making the early game a bit boring as you constantly stop to loot gas from cars until you finally start unlocking the gas station safehouses, at which point you never need to worry about petrol again.

These niggles make The Following (****) occasionally frustrating, but when the game lines up and everything starts working as it should, it becomes a genuine joy to play. The combat is crunchy, the story is unobtrusive until the very end when it suddenly asks the player some very tough questions, the environment is fun to explore and at 20-25 hours in length, it's neither too short nor outstays its welcome. It is available now on Steam for PC and via the relevant online stores for X-Box One and PS4. Dying Light 2 will be released in the spring of 2020.

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