Days Gone's absence from Sony's E3 2018 press conference was conspicuous. Despite the game's no-show, it was playable behind closed doors at E3, and after our first hands-on opportunity with the zombie title, we were left a little worried.
The first level in my play session was a stealth-focused fetch quest: sneak into an abandoned garage, steal an engine part, get out. The stealth gameplay was basic, containing nothing more complex than simply avoiding the zombies' gaze and remaining quiet. The AI, meanwhile, was easily fooled by simply running away--the zombies refused to investigate my last known location.
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Far more enlightening was the second mission I played, which presented me with a mass grave within a more open valley locale. Festering inside the mass grave were hundreds and hundreds of zombies, ready to pounce the moment I revealed myself. This level, developer Sony Bend told me, was more about preparation: collect materials, craft traps and plant them around the grave near environmental hazards, then let hell break loose.
So away I went, collecting everything I could find in the area. Despite the crafting element to Days Gone, it contains no real form of inventory management--there's no limit to the amount you can carry and everything is simply stockpiled under your weapon wheel with no way to view your whole backpack. I therefore found myself with an aching thumb and a creaky square button by the end of the demo--and combining them to make molotovs and proximity mines. However, when the horde noticed my presence, these items dealt very little damage, perhaps only taking out a zombie or two from the many hundreds chasing me.
So, I turned to my guns. This level was later in the game's campaign, and so I was more heavily armed than in the first mission. My LMG seemed the perfect tool for the situation, and it was: zombies fell with ease. In fact, they fell too easily, and I got no sense of completion or satisfaction from killing them. Seriously, one hit anywhere in the body and they were down.
The game encourages you to use your environment--specifically, the handily-placed red barrels and myriad oil tankers that happen to fill the small valley--to harm the zombies. But there were no more complex or interesting objects in that environment, so to be pushed so heavy-handedly towards using it felt frustrating. For the purposes of the demo, I was trapped in the valley and surrounding hills, so escape was not an option. Every attempt at fighting the crowd--no matter how well prepared I was--ended with one eventuality: me running in circles with half the world's population of undead chasing me, endlessly, until I either finally got overwhelmed or I managed to sprint long enough to gradually pick my pursuers off.
My hope is that this was a bad demo, rather than a bad game; the meta-game of character progression--as well as most meaningful narrative content and the entirety of the open world--was not accessible in the version I played. There's also, of course, another eight months until release, so there's plenty of time for Bend to refine the game's core. However, on present viewing, Days Gone will need to improve a significant amount in that timeframe to become more than the relatively basic zombie shooter it currently appears to be.