Hitting someone with your car is rarely much fun. The self-proclaimed 'victim' screams in agony, promises to sue, and whinges about his legs no longer working or being attached to his body. Meanwhile, the poor driver has go through the hassle of burying a body and lying to the police. Not a fun way to spend an evening.
Weird then, that hitting a zombie with your car feels like winning the lottery on your birthday. A giddy, visceral thrill that hasn't dulled after hours of play. Dead Rising 3 may have beaten it to the vehicles and there are more zombie games out there than there are grains of sand in the Sahara, but that's been Dying Light's M.O. from the beginning; taking an unoriginal concept and executing it so well, you remember why the idea was so good in the first place.
This expansion leaves the city of Harran for its neighbouring countryside. Fans of the brilliant first-person parkour (rough-and-tumble climbing with a wonderful physical feel that Assassin's Creed should really spend its year sabbatical ripping off) might be disappointed. There are far fewer structures to clamber over this time round. But considering how much parkour made the base game stand out, it's impressive how little I missed it. Once you get your car, powering down long country roads is a worthy replacement. Not that I ever saw the roads. Experience is awarded for fast driving and landing jumps but come on. There's only one true way to level up your driving.
Speeding through a field of groaning zombies rewards you with a chorus of squelching with a blood-splatter crescendo. It handles like a dream, responsive steering meaning no undead has a hope of escaping the underside of our tyres. Counter-attacks from average zombies are laughably weak, letting me rip apart entire country lanes. Occasionally one would get stuck on my hood, its head exploding and its insides spraying over us at sixty miles per hour. Brilliant, addictive carnage.
Unlike Dead Rising's weapon degradation, which tended to snap your favourite toy over its knee the moment it sensed you were starting to have fun with it, The Following encourages reckless driving. Hit a horde with your hood and XP flies up. Ramps are everywhere, with experience awarded for even the loosest interpretations of the word 'landing'. The car takes damage and needs refuelling, but you can get away with kicking it down several mountains before the game recommends a tune-up. Techland gets that being behind the wheel is 8000% more fun than grumbling over the engine. By the time I'd upgraded my car with a flamethrower, I realised why I'd been huffing silver paint for hours – this is the real Mad Max game I've been waiting for.
Just because you're on four wheels doesn't mean you don't feel vulnerable. At night, Volatiles, ferocious zombies that are practically instant death if they catch you, stalk the fields and roads. Get spotted, and your car might as well be a hearse. Your only hope is blasting full speed in the other direction, inevitably attracting more Volatiles along the way, constantly aware that the worlds deadliest conga line is right behind you. It's not quite as intense as the panicked parkour escapes that kept pulses racing through the main game, but it's undoubtedly exhilarating. Rare is the game that gives you a landmine-dropping car and still has you worrying for your life around every turn.
Out of the car, combat continues the rhythms of the base game, an up-close-and-personal affair that never lets you feel safe. One zombie is easy enough, but three or more should have you worried – as it should be. Weapon upgrading and crafting are all easily achieved thanks to a clear, helpful UI. Again, Techland doesn't rock the innovation boat, just gives it a lick of paint and makes sure it runs (screaming in terror) like a dream.
Your reason for decamping to the countryside is to investigate a religious cult that seem somehow immune to zombieism. While that main mystery is fairly compelling, The Following is held back by dull, unlikeable characters speaking to us live from the uncanny valley. What's the point of giving NPCs such detailed faces if they're barely going to move? A frustrating slip in an otherwise luscious looking adventure. Even a chugging framerate can't spoil the awe of a gorgeous sunset drive.
A generous number of varied quests keeps the pacing strong, until it sends you inside. Overlong swimming sections can be forgiven, but one boss fight with a Demolisher makes other games' big battles look about as stressful as putting on mittens. The first-person view that gives driving such a great sense of speed is terrible here, making attempts to dodge exercises in tedious guesswork. Getting stuck on out of frame scenery annoyed me, but that had nothing on attempt 63, where the Demolisher could somehow hit me even though I wasn't in the same room. When there's no more room in hell, that'll be acceptable collision detection.
But at any moment you can abandon the frustrating bits, hop in the car and vent your frustrations by turning the walking dead into fresh road jam. Accelerating through the countryside, saving civilians, killing monsters and solving a mystery; it's World War Z meets Scooby Doo with a dash of Wacky Races. If you don't think that sounds worth your time, then maybe I should dedicate an evening to running you down after all.
This review also appears in Official Xbox Magazine (opens in new tab).