I’m not an open-world person, and I normally have zero patience for zombie fiction. But Dying Light: The Following executes its story and mechanics flawlessly, in a way that compels even me. And for that, it deserves to be in your library.
In the original Dying Light, you spend your time running along the rooftops of the Turkish city of Harran, assisting different factions of survivors and gangs as they attempt to fight off the zombies that have infested the city. It’s open-world zombie-fighting parkour with an intelligent day/night cycle and clever mechanics, including light seasonings of crafting and RPG elements with a QTE reduction, and it is excellent.
Critically, the parkour responds well to every available surface. As beloved as Mirror’s Edge is, it does suffer from a bit of a bullfighter’s-cape effect, highlighting different surfaces as you approach them and saying to the player, You Can Parkour Here. But in Dying Light, every rooftop, pipeline, and bit of scaffolding can be a platform for free movement, which is… well, freeing.
As well, there are bits and pieces of story here that are truly, truly compelling. The side missions are outstanding, presenting unforgettable moments of humanity against a backdrop filled with moral quagmires. The first one, “Mother’s Day”, still burns in my mind. The rest make the game worth playing on their own.
Those trends continue in Dying Light’s expansion, The Following.
You’re outside of Harran now, in farmland that has more putrescent limbs and flaps of flesh waving in the breeze than fields of golden corn. You’ve heard rumours of a strange cult that’s immune to the zombification hereabouts, and since you have friends that you would like to remain not-zombies, here you find yourself, fighting to gain the trust of a faction of sun-worshipping cultists.
And you’ve got a dune buggy. The buggy is key.
So, here’s the thing. I have two ways I analyze games:
- The Sid Meier method: if “a good game is a series of interesting decisions”, how interesting are the decisions I’m making here? Do I matter?
- The verb method: if we think of the game as a sentence, and I’m the subject, what are my verbs–my actions, the different ways I can affect the game world? Do they feel good or bad? Are there many specious choices, or do they all have their place?
Dying Light nails the Sid Meier analysis by simultaneously giving me two streams of decisions: the thrilling, moment-to-moment action of simply getting from one place to another, against the longer-term choices of crafting, RPG progression, and others. And the verbs always feel good in the game, from vaulting off of zombies to the satisfying crunch of grabbing on to that one ledge just in time.
The Following gives me a big, meaty, crunchy, seriously satisfying new verb to play with: a dune buggy. I have an object that is both transportation and weapon, now, and boy does it feel good. There’s nothing quite like repainting the front bumper with a fresh coat of zombie insides. It’s so satisfying, I want to do it every five to eight seconds — and, beautifully, The Following lets me do just that.
But in keeping with the rest of Techland’s design philosophy, there’s complications here. The buggy is not an invulnerable bubble of zombiegeddon. It gets damaged. It breaks down. It has separate sets of internal systems that require an array of new, scavenge-able parts to fix. And it requires fuel, which you can grab from the cars that litter the landscape.
The net effect is that I have this absolutely wicked new object, but there are brief moments of terror when I need to venture outside of its loving, slightly-rusted, bouncy, creaky embrace in order to fix it. The decision trees surrounding the buggy echo the decision trees within Dying Light and The Following‘s white-knuckle-inducing day/night cycle — and, awesomely, that day/night cycle is still present, forcing me to choose between completing a mission now and trying to drive through packs of Volatiles, or playing it safe and completing it during the day like a plebe.
I will never play it safe. And I want more.
BASELine: If you’re a fan of blood-pumping action with virtuoso graphics and a story that’ll pull you along like a carcass impaled on the front bumper of the world’s deadliest dune buggy, Dying Light and its expansion The Following are absolutely worthwhile additions to your library. If you’re a fan of any kind of zombie fiction at all, you’ve already played the base game and are nodding your head right now.
Dying Light: The Following is available on Steam for $19.99 CDN.
Jesse Mackenzie is the Managing Editor for AYBOnline.com. He often writes while listening to the gentle hum of Star Trek engine cores. He can be reached at email@example.com, and his opinions are his own.