A thunderous roar and the battle-worn motorcycle crests the hill, skidding haphazardly over cracked asphalt. Straddling the throbbing engine is Deacon St John, post-apocalyptic, biker bounty hunter supreme. He’s armed to the teeth and surveys the scene before him. Hundreds, possibly thousands of Freakers storm towards him in the growing gloom of dusk.
He skids violently to a halt and climbs off the bike, every bit the gunslinger swinging down from his rippling stallion. He grips his assault rifle, and steels himself: he’s ready to fight, or to die.
Days Gone emerges on to the PS4-exclusive scene after almost six years of development and instantly makes an impact. The early gameplay trailers reveal a sprawling world, torn to shreds by some unknown yet entirely familiar zombie apocalypse. Hordes of World War Z-style zombies roam the forests, hills and mountains of Oregon, looking for their next meal and what little human survivors remain are locked in a tense fight for survival.
It’s everything we’ve already seen as gamers: open world, customisable, survival elements and tactical combat.
So why does it look so damn good, and most of all – refreshing?
The brand-new title comes from SIE Bend Studio, a development team who have – quite simply – made nothing of worth for seven years, and even that was a PS Vita title. They haven’t developed a game for a console since the PlayStation 2 days: the Syphon Filter franchise. All-in-all, since their conception in 1993, SIE Bend can boast a grand eleven games made… Am I suggesting something? Of course not.
They’ve been documented as working extremely closely with Naughty Dog on this title, and any gamer worth his salt knows that they’re one of the greats, with titles such as Uncharted and The Last of Us under their belt. The latter alone offers an encouraging thought, as the 2013 heart-wrenching PS3 (and subsequently PS4) epic was statistically one of the best post-apocalyptic games ever constructed.
Small-time developer aside, what can we hope to really expect in Days Gone?
The recent Q&As and gameplay demos show a multifaceted world that can be approached from many different angles. If you’re a stealthy gamer, then, by all means, go quiet. Do you prefer the guns blazing approach? Go for it. Are you tactical and enjoy rigging up traps and tricks? No problem. Bend have promised an open-ended gameplay style with no one specific way to solve a mission.
However, they’ve made one point abundantly clear: this game will be H A R D. There are no difficulty sliders, there are no easy-medium-hard selections and there’s no way to mitigate it: Days Gone is simply nails. This is an apocalypse; the undead roam the Earth. Supplies are scarce, combat is challenging, the player can become stranded and overwhelmed at the drop of a hat and the enemies are smart. The engine that Bend have integrated into Days Gone enables hordes of thousands to load and attack at any given point and as a player, you must prepare for this. It will happen.
I understand what you’re thinking: how are some of these aspects different from any other zombie title? Dying Light, or Dead Rising?
Allow me to explain a little further.
As I mentioned previously, Deacon St John (your character) is a biker – a mean, burly, cut-wearing biker. Naturally, he gets around the map on his motorcycle – a super-awesome, all-terrain beastmobile. However, this element has been designed with a slight twist: it’s an extension of Deacon and in a way, a lifeline. It’s your sole means of transport, a roaming inventory and in some cases, a weapon. It must be maintained, tactically positioned and customised if you’re to keep it running smoothly throughout the title. If you get detached from your motorcycle in a sticky spot, it’s most likely going to mean certain death…
The (approximately) 30-hour long story looks set to take you on a gritty and brutal romp across the Oregon countryside, complete with biker-on-biker battles, an intuitive choice and karma system and a dynamic, evolving world. We’ve been promised, and have seen in gameplay, an AI that leads to sporadic and smart enemies that attempt to outwit the player and set traps and ambushes, meaning the world is never truly made safe. An active weather system and day/night cycle keep the environment moving and offers different approaches depending on the weather. Heavy rain? Muffled approach, but harder to ride your motorcycle. Hot, sunny day? That slows down the Freakers who thrive in the cold.
As you can probably imagine, Days Gone is set to be brutal and oh-so-very violent. There’s a respect system built around your interactions with the world around you. Kill indiscriminately, make the hard decisions and slaughter the undead in droves and you’ll receive a different reaction from your compatriots and enemies alike. In fact, the Freakers’ (zombie-like enemies) ears act as a form of currency. The more you kill, the more riches you’ll have. You can burn, stab, slice, blow up and run over any enemy you come across and look badass doing it.
The world itself is alleged to have a “Metro: Exodus” style approach to the layout: six individual regions all different and ripe for exploration. To cover the distance, you’ll need to keep your motorcycle close and your weapons closer. The map will unfog with basic exploration, but you’ll need to track down in-game maps to truly locate all the world has to offer. At the beginning, the landscape is smeared with a red tint – infection and Freakers. As you progress across the map and clear them out, you’ll slowly begin to liberate the area and make some spaces a little safer.
Ultimately, Days Gone looks like one hell of an experience. It’s graphically pleasing, has a great UI and seems to be well animated and voiced. The developers have promised a wealth of side content, but the story is a decent enough length for the casual gamer to enjoy. It’ll be interesting to see how truly open-ended the approaches to missions are and to see the ingenuity of the AI at work.
Days Gone launches exclusively on PS4 on April 26th – I’ll be following this article up with a review, so keep your eyes peeled!