Dying Light: The Following - Enhanced Edition (PC) Review

By Jordan Hurst 02.07.2016

Review for Dying Light: The Following - Enhanced Edition on PC

Remember Dead Island? Probably not, because the list of that game's memorable features began and ended with its trailer. It was a straightforward merger of Dead Rising and Borderlands - a melee-focused zombie murder sandbox with an emphasis on RPG mechanics and four-player co-op. It was also exhaustively banal. Nevertheless, it was popular enough to receive a series of spin-offs, an upcoming sequel, and a spiritual successor in 2015's Dying Light. Earlier this year, Dying Light was expanded with The Following, which is also included in this Enhanced Edition, along with several pieces of DLC and some gameplay and graphical tweaks. The package offers tons of quantity, but it's doesn't do much to improve the base game's spotty quality.

Calling Dying Light a simple pairing of Dead Island's existing gameplay with the parkour of Mirror's Edge would be perfectly adequate as a literal description, but it would ignore the interlocking nature of those two pieces. This is a zombie parkour game, not just a zombie game with parkour in it, or vice versa. Part of that is the ability to include the zombies in the free running by vaulting off them and using them to break a fall, but there's more to it. The undead are genuinely dangerous here and rarely appear alone, so it's often recommended to avoid rather than confront them, especially early on. This, combined with the fact that movement abilities get their own skill tree separate from those of combat and general survival, means that the parkour isn't just an unorthodox method of travel; it's an integral tool for overcoming obstacles. Plus, with a few exceptions, it's a fast, exciting way to get around.

One such exception is the late-game grappling hook item, which, while fun to use, undermines a lot of the gameplay's sense of danger by turning the player into Batman the Zombie Slayer. Furthermore, there's no clear distinction between objects that are and are not climbable, especially in the game's second half, when a new map filled with extravagant architecture is introduced. Parkour in Mirror's Edge worked to the extent that it did because of its linear level design and "Runner Vision" feature that highlighted optimal paths. Alternatively, Assassin's Creed gets away with it in an open world because of its dedicated "free run" button. Dying Light expects the player to manually execute each action while also making split-second navigational decisions, which means the flow of movement is frequently broken by moments of impotently hopping in the direction of a ledge that looks no different from the previous three grabbed.

These sorts of "everything at once" design decisions plague Dying Light. Combat features upgradable melee weapons, martial arts techniques, throwing weapons, firearms, and traps, but it still feels shallow, because none of those tools work together. Guns are the only reliable way to take on similarly armed opponents, but they are otherwise just a "get out of screw-up free" card. Throwing attacks are so weak and traps so situational that both are highly impractical, and the special moves discovered with acquired experience (stealth takedowns, finishing moves, and so on) are only ever effective against the most basic enemy types. This means that the majority of the adventure will be spent swinging melee weapons around, which would be acceptable if there were depth to the melee combat beyond "click to attack" and "don't click to not attack."

Screenshot for Dying Light: The Following - Enhanced Edition on PC

The combat feels great, at least. Connected hits have a cathartic sense of impact thanks to forceful sound effects and slow-motion gore physics so satisfying it feels like a therapist should be told about it. It's a shame so much of it is governed by invisible RPG statistics, including a random number generator that makes the player's damage output wildly inconsistent. While it's a little frustrating that two identical zombies will either be decapitated in a single stroke or take four good whacks to silence, it feels downright absurd against large enemies, who can take between a couple dozen and several dozen hits to bring down. Similarly, despite the lack of a decent defensive manoeuvre for players, human enemies can block attacks seemingly at random.

Conversely, the other RPG systems present - the skill trees and crafting mechanics - are oddly addictive. The protagonist touts a "survival sense" that highlights collectible objects with a key press, and those highlights are colour-coded based on rarity. These features make it feel like the last ingredient for that next weapon upgrade is always just around the corner, and it's difficult to tell whether this is a good thing or not. The game could legitimately be considered part dumpster diving simulator due to the amount of time spent rummaging through piles of junk, but it's so inexplicably absorbing that there are times that players will have to forcibly pry themselves away from the endless stream of loot to focus on the actual game. The skill trees are more definitively positive, as they are balanced well enough that all three advance at roughly the same rate unless the player actively chooses to focus on evasion or strength.

To add to the ever-increasing tower of genres, Dying Light also features heavy horror elements realised through a persistent day-night cycle. When the sun goes down, super-aggressive and powerful zombies wander the map. Some tools are given to hold them off, but killing them is out of the question 99% of the time. Nevertheless, there is encouragement to brave the darkness, because experience earned at night is doubled. It's all very admirably designed to create tension, but it's crippled by two things. For one, the super zombies are still zombies. No matter how ugly they are made, zombies have been so overexposed that their horror value is extinguished forever. Second, it's possible to bypass the entire night by sleeping until morning. This is an utterly bizarre design choice; any chance of horror disappears the moment there is the option of saying, "Hey, Faceless Monstrosity, let's do this sometime when you're not here."

Realistically, though, it's a testament to how talented the developers must be that any of this game's mechanics work well. The ideas informing its creation seem like they were loaded into a shotgun and blasted onto a stack of papers rather than written down in a sensible design document. It's the epitome of AAA game development - a technically gorgeous and well-constructed product that tries so hard for broad appeal that it doesn't have any specific appeal at all. It is action, platforming, stealth, and horror. It is an RPG, a shooter, and a sandbox exploration title, all with zombies, multiplayer, and a crafting system. The final boss even introduces Quick-Time Events out of nowhere. Most games struggle to execute one of these things effectively.

Screenshot for Dying Light: The Following - Enhanced Edition on PC

Most of Dying Light's problems come from its designers' apparent belief that a good game can be made out of a bad one if enough new features are piled on top of it. While this is definitely a better game than Dead Island, it could have been good by more absolute standards if it had been built from the ground up, instead of from Dead Island's foundation. The first-person perspective is the most obvious lingering flaw. It still artificially limits the spatial awareness required for melee combat and distorts the perception of attack ranges, but now it also makes the parkour mechanics even more unnecessarily uncooperative. The other obvious holdovers (the bikini-clad zombies and sampler of world accents justified by Dead Island's tropical resort setting) aren't a significant problem, but they are distractingly out of place against the new Middle Eastern backdrop.

Specifically, the plot takes place in the totally-not-Turkish city of Harran, which has been quarantined following the outbreak of a zombie virus. Despite the variety of character backgrounds, the player controls yet another generically handsome American everyman named Kyle Crane, who is contracted by the Global Relief Effort (GRE) to retrieve classified information from within the quarantine. From there, events progress in fairly predictable directions - corrupt corporations, humans being the real threat, and so on - but it's otherwise serviceable. The writers deserve a certain amount of respect for 1.) not shoe-horning in a hackneyed romance subplot, despite the opportunity staring them in the face, and 2.) having the nerve to kill off unexpected characters to drive home the grisly reality of a zombie apocalypse.

Additionally, as straightforward as Crane's character is, he's still genuinely likeable, if only because he seems to be the only moral entity in a world of corruption and insanity. Granting him RPG progression in gameplay seems odd because, as a GRE operative, he's perfectly capable in combat and evasion situations from the start, but that's the sort of discrepancy that arises from the kind of bloated development team that a game of this size needs. Similarly, the antagonist is written in a way that suggests that half of the writers wanted to create a thoughtful, charismatic villain in the vein of BioShock or Far Cry 3, while the other half just wanted a straight conflict of good vs. evil. The result is a pile-up of "villainous stupidity" tropes flimsily justified by philosophical rants that have nothing to do with the rest of the plot.

In contrast to the main story's more localised flaws, the story in The Following is pretty much entirely flawed. In it, Crane goes off to the countryside surrounding Harran to investigate a cult that's rumoured to have a cure for zombie infection. Things get off to a rocky start when the countryside turns out to also be filled with the walking dead, because apparently no one in this setting knows how a quarantine zone is supposed to work. After the introductions, the plot largely takes a backseat until the final few missions, leading to the most nonsensical and unnecessarily depressing ending imaginable. It feels like fan fiction written by someone who insists that all zombie stories must end negatively, and who doesn't realise that retcons are supposed to reduce plot holes rather than add them. The narrative as a whole is actually worse for the expansion's existence because the most significant plot points are isolated within those additional few hours, forming a kind of antagonistic deus ex machina.

Screenshot for Dying Light: The Following - Enhanced Edition on PC

The Following's gameplay is much more agreeable. The primary addition that it offers is an upgradeable buggy, complete with a dedicated skill tree, because obviously, when a game already contains eleven different genres, why not make it an even dozen? The buggy controls well, but not too well, and it's actually better for that, because evading and mowing down special zombie types would lose its hectic appeal if smoothly zooming across the map was possible. The expansion may actually be better as a sandbox than the base title, as outside of missions, undead enemies are mostly relegated to open fields that players can choose to wade into at their discretion. The map could be more obligingly laid out, however; the buggy can only be summoned at specific locations that are usually very far apart, and parkour is neither engaging, nor expedient in the spacious natural environment of the countryside.

This Enhanced Edition also introduced a "legend" experience system to both the main adventure and the expansion, which is unlocked once a skill tree is maxed out and can potentially raise the level cap to astronomical heights. It's a decent way to extend the play time for dedicated fans, but the challenge level of the entire package is artificially inflated to accommodate it, alienating those who are trying to jump in for the first time. This version also features some graphical improvements. They are not really needed because everything was already stunning, with enormous environments filled with incredible detail, but they are appreciated nonetheless. The music - a surprisingly memorable collection of mournful strings and simple electronica - on the other hand, has been left untouched.

Lastly, the DLC pack Be the Zombie has been included, and it's a highlight of the entire collection. It's an asymmetric multiplayer mode where one player invades others' night-time games as the powerful, but fragile, Night Hunter, who can swing from tentacles, shoot unique projectiles, and instantly devour unaware prey. The mode often manages to be viscerally satisfying for both parties because it accomplishes the impressive feat of making all players feel like vulnerable underdogs overcoming difficult odds. The humans have reduced mobility and are susceptible to the aforementioned one-hit-kill attack, but they have the upper hand in a straight fight, so there are lots of strategies available to both teams. It's too bad the mode is integrated into the main part where it can be unbalanced by the RPG mechanics and larger teams of human gamers; it could have really shined if given its own space with dedicated maps and regulated abilities.

Screenshot for Dying Light: The Following - Enhanced Edition on PC

Cubed3 Rating

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

Zombies have been a great shorthand for describing AAA franchises for several years now, but with Dying Light that epithet has become more 'literal' than ever before. The game is a collection of malnourished pieces held together just enough to achieve some level of functionality. It's possible that its indecisive identity and weirdly addictive qualities will be able to hold any player's attention across the Enhanced Edition's huge amount of content. Most play to be entertained, however; this merely empties out a toy box at the feet of those in control and asks them to figure out their own entertainment.

Developer

Techland

Publisher

Techland

Genre

First Person Shooter

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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