For Amber Waves of Braaaaains
*NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: This pre-release review is based on a preview copy provided to Cheat Code Central for review purposes by Evolve PR. It allowed reviewers to access two hours of The Following ‘s story mode, followed by the ability to explore the open-world setting and complete quests there, without limits. As is standard with pre-release copies, the retail product may differ.
Zombies, zombies, zombies. I still don’t understand why y’all like them so much, but I’m prepared to do my bit as your friendly local participant observer embedded in modern gaming culture. Thus, this weekend I found myself loading up a preview copy of Dying Light: The Following to see what open-world zombie dismemberment is all about. After a few missteps getting my requisite heroic white guy out of the intro area (“Oh, wait! I have a grappling hook!”) I started having more fun than I thought I would, albeit with some caveats.
My preview copy allowed me two hours of story-mode playtime before sending me into the open world to explore, but what I saw of The Following ‘s tale was pretty interesting. Our hero has managed to escape the plague-ridden city of Harran, and discovers a surprise in the surrounding countryside. Although zombies stalk the fields, the remaining locals seem to be immune to infection. They’re none too friendly to strangers, though, and there’s something weird going down, what with all the ritual shrines dotting the hills. Kyle will have to earn their trust in order to discover the truth behind their weird cult, and the premise at least seems pretty interesting.
When you’re not following the main story quests, you get to ramble around the open countryside, doing side quests in order to salvage equipment and improve your standing with the locals. It’s quite expansive, certainly enough for this to be considered a full expansion, but an awful lot of this rural real estate is taken up by crowds of zombies hanging out in fields, like moaning, menacing stalks of corn. You can sneak around them, run through them, mow them down like so much chaff (sickle weapons are plentiful!), or wait until nighttime and earn double skill points for taking on their more-powerful nocturnal versions. Personally, I found it more interesting to take on human foes, who tend to be holed up in more interesting places and have far better AI. Given the story, it feels like The Following is a bit more interested in humanity than zombinity, anyway.
What the zombies-in-fields level design is good for is the dune buggy, which is definitely the highlight of The Following ‘s gameplay changes. It’s not the easiest vehicle to control, particularly when too much motion blur kicks in, but it’s super-fun to drive around splatting zombies with your new ride. Driving is also a must to simply go from place to place quickly, unless you really want to fight or sneak around the same fields of corn-zombies over and over again.
The one thing that drains the fun dry from your nitro-powered death machine is the need to constantly scrounge for gas. I know, I know, this is an open-world survival game, but the joy of flying over hill and dale is severely hampered by how quickly your ride guzzles fuel and how often you have to hop out of it and hold down a button while searching the tank of every abandoned vehicle you find. It’s not really challenging, it’s just tedious, and seeing how much of The Following ‘s gameplay is centered around driving your buggy, it seems weird to limit its use in such a way. I was less bothered by the survival gameplay elements that have carried over from the base game. Your weapons get worn down and eventually break permanently, but there are so many weapons to scavenge and so many ways to improve them via crafting that you’ll be drowning in potential implements of destruction simply by playing the game.
Whatever your feelings about its survival gameplay elements, you can’t deny that The Following looks and sounds great. Sneaking through the fields of long, swaying prairie grasses made me feel like a kid playing hide and seek, and the colorful ribbons the cultists have strung up look fantastic as they flutter in the breeze. It’s nice to see a zombie game with this much color, as the lack of the usual grey-brown filter actually makes the zombies themselves look even more gruesome in contrast to their environment.
The only glitch in audio-visual quality is that the accents of the various locals are not particularly consistent. Some of them sound close enough to the desired Turkish accent to pass muster, but others sound like they were transplanted directly from Mexico City or Bombay. Since all the signs in the area are in English anyway, I guess accurate local flavor just wasn’t Techland’s top priority.
If you enjoyed the original Dying Light , The Following keeps its base gameplay but adds a fresh perspective with the wide-open rural setting, mysterious story, and the dune buggy. There’s plenty to see and do here, though you’ll have to look off the beaten path to find the most interesting bits. If I had some good fun as a dyed-in-the-wool zombie game naysayer, I’m sure you z-fans will appreciate it quite a bit. Techland definitely put in a ton of time and effort to give the popular Dying Light the kind of expansion it deserves.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
Evocative and technically excellent, only a bit of excessive motion blur during driving mars the visuals. 3.5 Control
Combat controls are fluid and easy to pick up – parkour and buggy controls are a bit more dodgy. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Strong sound design, especially effects, but uneven accents from voice actors. 4.0 Play Value
This is a real, old-school, meaty, expansion-sized addition to Dying Light, albeit with some design flaws that can reduce long-term enjoyment. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best