Last year, Bend Studio showed off a first look at Days Gone, in which hero Deacon St. John fled and fought his way through a desperate escape from what appeared to be zombies. After that early demo, many aspects of the game remain undetailed. This year’s E3 presentation painted a far different picture, and made it clear that Days Gone is in fact an open world action and survival game, filled with brutal violence, constant danger, and a variety of solutions to any encounter.
Bend showed off one version of its 2017 E3 demo at Sony’s press conference, but it was only after I saw the game played behind closed doors the next day that the real sense of the game emerged. That second demo showed off the same major beats of encounters as the one that was presented on stage, but a different time of day, weather, and pathing vector into the battles made the experience feel totally different.
With the cold of winter snow, the freakers (infected humans) are more powerful, and at night there are more of these freakers moving through the world. Setting off to save his friend from some marauders, Deacon rides on his signature motorcycle; Bend says that Deacon’s connection to his bike is a central aspect of the game experience, and it seems like there will be ways to improve it over time.
Deacon moves out into the spruce trees and battered roads of the game world beyond the settlement. Days Gone takes place in the high desert of the Pacific Northwest – an environment that is familiar to the game studio, as the developers are based in Bend, Oregon. Even in the brief demo, the juxtaposition between natural beauty and man’s destruction had a powerful effect.
Because this second version of the demo had snow falling, the infected wolves that might have distracted Deacon weren’t there, so he didn’t fall into the trap of the bandits on the side of the road at a nearby bridge. Instead, Deacon sighted down the trap, and instead circled around the murderers from behind, easily taking them out as they waited for prey.
Later, instead of unleashing a horde of zombies to kill off the marauders who had taken his friend, Deacon moved close to take them out one at a time. Combat has a visceral feel and brutally realistic edge, with cries of pain, intense animations, and plenty of gore; the game’s approach to violence may be too much for some players.
Sneaking through shrub and taking out enemies, the encounters are reminiscent of Naughty Dog’s work in The Last of Us or Uncharted, with plenty of opportunities for changing up your attack style from stealth to open combat. Unlike those games, Days Gone is built as an open world action game. While set missions and encounters exist, large sections of the game are about driving or running through this large wilderness, which represents a part of the world two years after a viral apocalypse.
Bend also made clear that the infection at the heart of the game is about real living and breathing creatures – not undead zombies. In addition, it’s more than humans that can get infected – other creatures like wolves and bears also succumb to the illness, making them crazy, powerful, and hungry.
Days Gone is targeting a release on PS4, but it remains to be seen how long we’ll have to wait for a final version.
To see a version of the demo that I witnessed, check out our earlier write-up from the PlayStation press conference, complete with video.