The Following brings the series forward one big step, only to take a similar step back, ending right where it began, which was already a pretty good place to be.
Dying Light: The FollowingPublisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 2016-02-09
Before talking about how good The Following is, it's worth taking about just what The Following is, exactly.
It's a piece of add-on content for Dying Light, a piece of DLC (downloadable content), but in all its promotional materials it has been described as an "expansion". The semantics matter in this case, as The Following is a huge piece of content that adds more environments, mechanics, and story to Dying Light. In this way it has more in common with the expansion packs of the '90s, which were essentially sequels, then it does to any piece of modern DLC. And that's a good thing. The Following is Dying Light 1.5, continuing the story in a meaningful way while adding new systems and skills for your character.
It also might be a little too much like those expansion packs of the '90s. Those packs were not sequels because they required you to own the original game. In other words, you couldn't just buy an expansion and play it. You had to buy both it and its base. The same goes for this expansion, as well. You need to own Dying Light in order to play The Following. This is weird because the larger DLC packs of today are being released as standalone content. Assassin's Creed: Freedom Cry did it, Infamous: First Light did it, and this is an extremely consumer friendly thing to do. Indeed, The Following is not a standalone game, and this is certainly something to keep in mind if you're thinking of buying it, and you should be thinking of buying it because it's pretty great.
The Following takes one step forward and one step back, improving upon Dying Light while also ignoring some of the best aspects of Dying Light. It's not better than its base game, but it's certainly not worse. It feels the same, and considering that Dying Light was already a great game, that's a pretty impressive accomplishment.
When we begin, our protagonist Kyle Crane is crawling through the sewers in order to escape the borders of Harran, the infected city from the original game. He reaches the countryside, which is still overrun with zombies, but there are rumors of a religious cult with a cure. Your job now is to make friends with the locals, learn more about the cult, and return to Harran with the cure should it really exist.
The cult is a fascinating addition to the game's mythos. In the same way that Dying Light mashed together zombie tropes with '80s man-on-a-mission action movie tropes, The Following mashes together two horror tropes, creepy cults and zombies, pitting them against each other. The cultists are creepy and suspicious, they’re named the Faceless, and all the acolytes wear a sun mask. However, they’re also helpful and practical. They do, in fact, have a power over the zombies, so it’s hard to argue with people’s worship of them. The story takes on more of a mystery vibe than a horror vibe as we try to figure out just how these acolytes keep the undead at bay.
I’m also happy to say that the ending lives up to the mystery. The Following doesn’t pull any narrative punches, and its ending has major ramifications for this universe. It’ll be interesting to see where subsequent games/expansions go from here.
On the gameplay side of things, the major addition here is your own personal dune buggy. The countryside that surrounds Harran is spacious, with lots of farmland and fields and open roads. That means that there’s a frightening amount of distance between safe zones, and you’d be mad to try to run it. Your buggy will become your buddy.
Also, it's surprisingly customizable in practical ways, like adding a new suspension or brakes, and in cosmetic ways, like new adding new paint jobs or dashboard knickknacks. There’s even an entirely new skill tree dedicated to driving with upgrades like a reinforced cage for better durability or UV lights for safer night driving (the vicious night zombies are weak to UV light). What begins as a purely utilitarian vehicle will eventually take on sentimental value. This is your buggy, and there’s no other quite like it. It’s also damned satisfying to plow through a crowd of zombies and damned terrifying when a Runner jumps onto the front and slashes at you through the bars.
Driving is a lot of fun, but the downside to that fun is that it means that there’s not much parkour in The Following. The base game had a similar issue. Dying Light was split into two maps. The first was a relatively flat set of slums, but the second was an urban city crowded with rooftops. Suffice it to say that the second map was more fun than the first, and sadly the environment of The Following is more like the former than the latter.
I always found the first-person platforming to be exceptionally fun and thought it helped Dying Light stand apart from its peers. However, Dying Light has always seemed wary of this standout feature, and The Following continues this trend. There’s still stuff to climb, including one dense pocket of urban sprawl and a wonderfully tense mountain climb, but it’s clear that driving is the priority here.
In other improvements, there’s a bit more emphasis on co-op this time. The occasional farm is guarded by a super zombie, a giant armored monster that must be fought with a partner. There are only a handful of these creatures, but considering how the co-op in Dying Light felt pretty perfunctory, even a handful of focused co-op missions like this are a welcome addition.
The Following is a great piece of content. While it’s disappointing to see Dying Light once again shortchanging its best feature, at least it’s shortchanging the parkour for something equally fun. The story remains good, and the co-op is slightly better than before. It brings the series forward one big step, only to take a similar step back, ending right where it began, which was already a pretty good place.