Developer Bend Studio turned some heads at this year’s E3 when it revealed an upcoming open-world zombie game, Days Gone. The post-apocalyptic thriller follows a biker and bounty hunter who navigate the hostile remains of the Pacific Northwest in search of a reason to live (and zombie skulls to crush under their boots).
At a glance, the title might appear to ape some of the more popular video games from recent years. It’s already drawn comparisons to Naughty Dog’s enormously popular The Last of Us, for example. Yes, in 2016, the idea of a game featuring slobbering undead is hardly novel, but before you dismiss Days Gone outright, just consider this: when does zombie-killing ever really stop being thrilling?
For real, though, initial reports indicate that Bend Studio has done its homework and really worked to provide an experience that separates itself from the literal horde of titles that pit a stoic hero against the risen dead. Days Gone is going for a more empowered, fast-paced approached to zombie combat that’s a rarity in the industry.
Naughty Dog Doesn’t Own a Real World Aesthetic
From what little we’ve seen of Days Gone, there are certainly elements that seem to echo popular games of the past. The most obvious comparison — and the one most frequently mentioned — is The Last of Us, a zombie survival horror game from developer Naughty Dog that … well, it fucking rocked. It was harrowing and bleak and incredibly addictive.
It also looked quite a bit like some of the stuff we’ve seen from Days Gone. To be totally honest, a comparison between the titles speaks more to the excitement surrounding Days Gone than anything else.
Senior staff artist for Days Gone Brian Pape, however, vehemently disagreed with that notion, saying that Days Gone operates on a grander scale than The Last of Us. Where the 2013 title saw the main characters running from a handful of undead at a time, Days Gone arms players with machine guns and melee weapons and throws them directly at the horde. Though there are absolutely similar narrative themes of hopelessness and determination, Days Gone is more focused on blowing shit up than Naughty Dog’s game.
Let’s Talk About the Horde
The recently released gameplay demo for Days Gone features the main character, Deacon St. John — who is a biker and not a doctor on The Young and the Restless, as his name would indicate — creeping through an abandoned mill is search of supplies. Unfortunately for the hero, it’s not terribly long before the horde arrives. It’s a scene that elicits a similar tense excitement as 2008’s hit Left 4 Dead, a multiplayer experience that gave four players the unsavory task of getting from point A to point B in a world infested with hundreds and hundreds of zombies of all shapes and sizes. As the zombie crowd surges forward like a carnivorous ocean wave, Deacon scrambles through the facility setting off traps and trying desperately to escape.
In Days Gone, however, the scant resources and sense of overwhelming fear so popular in the zombie genre is replaced by a frantic need to claw your way through to the other side of the fray.
It seems that Bend Studio has gone the unlikely route of providing gamers with plentiful ammunition and an objective they can tackle in any way they see fit. The number of zombies on the screen might be similar to what we’ve seen in previous titles, but Bend Studio is working to create an interactive environment on a level like none we’ve ever seen.
In the demo, Deacon is able to manipulate the environment around him on the fly. The dozens of zombies crowding the screen are able to do the same. Walls crumble, bridges collapse, barrels explode, and fire spreads realistically as Deacon frantically tries to stem the oncoming rush of Days Gone’s zombies, dubbed Freakers. This is no linear gauntlet, this is a real sandbox that earns its horror through its unpredictability.
Unpredictability, and a shit load of zombies.
An Interactive Open World
Xbox players have long enjoyed a few choices of open world zombie games in the Dead Rising and State of Decay series, but open world infestations is something moderately new for Sony’s machine. Even still, Days Gone is promising a larger, livelier world than anything previously on offer. Days Gone will find Deacon traveling through the wildly varied territory of the Pacific Northwest on the back of his motorcycle, a fittingly piecemeal collection of parts, taking on jobs and searching for a reason to keep on moving.
Days Gone promises the same foraging mechanics so common in open world games of all types, combined with a level of frantic action that seems to place it in the open world sandbox universe of a Just Cause … only with zombies … pardon, Freakers. However, Days Gone distinguishes itself from the herd by offering a kind of twitchy strategy that promises to make every encounter something wonderfully tense and unique.
‘Days Gone’ is for Action Lovers
Bend Studio has been pretty straightforward about its intentions with Days Gone. There will absolutely be some sort of emotional hook, something haunting Deacon as he hunts for some kind of meaning in a world gone awry. However, it seems as though this isn’t the existential slog that was The Last of Us. It’s also not the straightforward survival game that was Left 4 Dead.
Sure, at a quick glance, Days Gone may look like another member of the pack, but this is a title that’s working hard to chart its own territory.