Having fallen off the grid following the release of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Bend Studio made a surprise return at Sony’s E3 conference with an ambitious new IP, Days Gone, their first game for PlayStation 4.
Once again, the studio is walking in the shoes of fellow Sony developer, Naughty Dog. For those who didn’t catch the reveal, Days Gone is a third person action game set in the Pacific Northwest following a global pandemic. While it claimed the lives of many, others infected by the strain began to mutate into zombie-like creatures dubbed “Freakers”.
Right away, lines can be drawn between Days Gone and Naughty Dog’s post apocalyptic masterpiece, The Last of Us. In fact, up until the name reveal, I was convinced this would be a spinoff of sorts, taking the unique setting and populating it with a new cast of characters.
Beyond the two games’ similar look and core theme, there are several key differences keeping them apart. The first, and most notable, is Bend’s plan for a sprawling open world for players to explore. Instead of carefully designing one combat encounter after the other, this allows the team to sculpt combat scenarios which make creative use of the player’s surroundings.
The Freakers themselves also have a few distinctive quirks too. Zombies in video games have been done to death (tee-hee), forcing developers to think up new and interesting ways to present them on-screen. According to Bend, the Freakers are more feral and instinctive than your generic Day of the Dead shambler. Aside from being far more nimble, they’ll travel and think in pack-like Hordes.
If anything, it adds a fantastic visual effect during gameplay as dozens or hundreds of flesh eaters dynamically swarm the environment, similar to World War Z’s sea of zombies. However, although they look brilliant, such a high volume of enemies presents a challenge for Bend as they attempt to make their set piece encounters both playable and fun.
During the team’s stage demonstration, protagonist Deacon St. John would mow down dozens of Freakers only to run on ahead, pivot, and do the same again. Aside from lighting up the occasional red barrel, there was little else for him to do besides running and gunning.
Of course, this is only a tiny slice of what to expect from the final release. The lack of information in regards to a release date suggests that Days Gone is quite far off, with Bend still having plenty of time to work on its in-game systems and show off more sides to the game.
One final point worth mentioning is the Drifters. Before the world went down the pan, Deacon ran with a crew of bikers who have adapted their skills to become mercenaries and bounty hunters. One of those skills, presumably, is how to handle a bike through all sorts of rough terrain. Although we only caught a few seconds of motorcycle action, we’d like to think there’s more to this side of the game than a convenient means of travel. If not, at least fans of The Walking Dead can still live out their Daryl Dixon fantasies, capping zombies while riding on two wheels.
From what we’ve seen, Days Gone looks promising but has plenty of barriers to overcome. Chief among these is the constant barrage of survival action games, most of them using a similar kind of setting and atmosphere. To counter this, Bend will need to instill its latest project with character, a certain X factor to help Days Gone stand out amongst the horde.