Days Gone goes out of its way to make it feel like you're in an oppressive and bleak setting. With many scattered survivors, bandits lurking in the streets and dense forests, and undead roaming among the remains of civilization--the zombie-apocalypse is a constant struggle to survive in. And the only thing keeping you going are the meager resources you can scrape together, and a motorcycle that's seen far better days. Coming from Bend Studio, the same developers behind the Syphon Filter series and Uncharted: Golden Abyss, the upcoming open-world game is a massive departure for its creators, which shows some solid signs of ambition.
We recently got to check out the early hours of the PS4 exclusive, and saw some promise in the large open-world of this zombie shooter. You take on the role of Deacon, a motorcycle-riding drifter who's lived through two years of the apocalypse and counting--the game literally has a counter that shows how many days have passed since the outbreak. As he travels deeper into the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, he'll encounter bandits, gangs, dangerous wild-animals, and other ruthless factions seeking to claim what's left of the world, all the while finding out just how far the infection has spread.
In order to stay alive, you'll have to stay prepared and on the move, and Deacon's most valuable tool to do just that is his motorcycle. Not only is it his go-to mode of transport, but it also allows him to haul materials to various safe havens. During our session, we started out in one of the many safe-zones scattered around the world. In these areas, Deacon can meet up with several NPCs who can give him quests, trade resources, and upgrade much of his gear--including his bike. In familiar open-world fashion, you'll be able to explore the map and take on a number of side-missions from NPC characters, as well as minor encounters that lead to some minor rewards. With a world size that's similar in scale to Horizon: Zero Dawn, the map encompassing the six regions that you can explore will gradually become more diverse in layout and design, while also slowly growing more hostile.
I enjoyed the way Days Gone presents its world, but I couldn't get over how familiar it all felt. With the fantasy of the zombie apocalypse being a very common premise--survivors being pushed to their limits while dealing with life in a chaotic post-civilization where bandits and the undead are out to kill you--it was hard to find something really unique in Days Gone. It often traversed a very well-worn path in the hour I spent with the game. Moreover, the exploration was constantly bogged down by some noticeable performance drops and odd bugs throughout, most of which occurred during moments of heavy action.
Eventually, we found ourselves searching an abandoned laboratory facility operated by NERO--Days Gone's more sinister take on the CDC--which happened to be filled with the undead. While bandits and other hostile factions will be on the look out for other survivors--the larger threat to everyone are the numerous 'freakers' lurking about in the world. The freakers are essentially traditional zombie fodder, and can be easily taken out when only dealing with one at a time. However, they can be especially deadly in packs. In one of the game's more interesting moments, large swarms of freakers moved in unison like a ravenous wave shifting through the woods and streets of the world. Even when driving your bike at high-speed, they'll literally throw themselves at Deacon to knock him off--resulting in him getting swarmed by others when he's left scrambling.
In most cases, it's best to stick to the stealthy approach when entering areas swarming with bandits and zombies. Much like any other open-world action-game, Deacon has an assortment of skills that range from crafting, melee, long-range, and stealth. As he collects experience from quests and taking out enemies, he'll level up and gain skill-points to unlock new perks and buffs. These upgrades includes longer use of breakable melee weapons, improved aiming, and more efficient crafting skills for better rewards. With resources being so scarce, Deacon will have to scavenge supplies found out in the wilderness, and from derelict buildings and vehicles left on the side of the road. An ever helpful survivor-sense also allows him to hone in on points of interest in the immediate area, such as hidden caches and hostiles.
In recent times, the survival aspect has become a key pillar in many open-world games. Whether it's managing your character's intake of resources like food and water, or simply just trying to keep them in one piece while exploring the land and trying to make it back to safety. Days Gone tends to stay within that middle ground. Not too overbearing, but still placing you in situations where you're against a swarm of zombies with low ammo and healing. Deacon, while resourceful and capable of handling himself in a fight, isn't able to sustain himself for long out in the wild.
Days Gone shows a lot of potential when it comes to offering a large world to explore. There are some trace echoes of other Sony exclusive titles like The Last of Us and Horizon to be found in its presentation and environmental design, which aren't bad influences to have on this open-world title. Even though it was a brief demo that only scratched the surface of what we can expect in the final game, I was impressed with how much of content and sights there were to see. While you can follow the story missions pretty closely, there are a number of cool side-objectives and challenging moments to be found off the golden path--such as trying to sneak through a freaker-infested lumberyard, which went horribly wrong in my case and resulted in me having to high-tail it back to my bike.
But we still have some concerns about whether it can find a more meaningful way to distinguish itself, apart from some cool moments riding the motorcycle and the amazingly detailed zombie swarms. With a release in early 2019, there's still some time for Days Gone to get itself into shape on the technical side of things, and hopefully show us a stronger sense of its own identity.