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E3 2016 – Days Gone Preview

Sony Bend’s latest game was shown off at their press conference on Monday, surprising a few with some magnificent horde technology, and I got to see an extended version of that demo on Tuesday. With the zombie game market becoming ever more crowded, does Days Gone look like it has what it takes to become a standout title?

The demo started, as it did in the press conference, with the protagonist hopping on his motorcycle, and making the short journey down the hill to an abandoned sawmill. Our demo “pilot” then took the character through the old building in a slightly different way, with “The Horde” (their official name) swarming across every surface possible to munch on his brains.

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The purpose of the demo I was shown was essentially to prove that, with this being an open world game, there are numerous ways to complete your objectives. The environments are incredibly dynamic, with environmental kills always a possibility, and a number of ways to stem the flow of monsters eager to literally get a piece of you. One of the key tools and mechanics in the game will be the protagonist’s motorbike, which featured briefly in the stage demo. Being part of a biker gang means that the handling should be pretty impressive, and from the sounds of it, it will not only be key to getting around the map but also be a key area to upgrade and manage resources for. Let’s talk about the horde for a second, because it really is impressive. I was told that there isn’t any specific piece of developed technology (“We just have a really good coder”) and the game is running on UE4, which is certainly promising to see what can be achieved at this early(ish) stage in the engine’s life cycle. The sheer number of enemies on screen is a feat that’s been achieved on games such as Dead Rising before, but these enemies are fast, single minded and won’t stop coming at you. The option exists to stealthily make your way through levels if you see fit, but from the demo we’ve seen, it sounds like a bit of a fruitless option given just how many people you need to make your way past.

I’m not going to lie, there were definite moments where The Last Of Us shone through in Days Gone. From the crafting and scavenging elements, to some of the animations when one of the “Freakers” (The name for the individual enemies) pounces on you and you need to struggle free. It’s a shame that Naughty Dog’s epic casts such a long shadow, as Days Gone is on the complete other end of the spectrum to TLOU. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that this is basically TLOU if designed by Michael Bay. The adrenaline seems to be ratcheted up several notches, and the tension looks like it will be frequently broken by the horde as they infect every area like some kind of virus.

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Visually, the most impressive thing has to be the horde. From a distance, it almost looks like liquid as it flows over and under sections of the environment, although up close it’s hard not to notice that character models aren’t nearly as varied as you’d hope the to be. Honestly though, with the game at this stage in development it’s easy to pick holes in it, and I would hope that this is something that gets tightened up in development. Other than the horde, the game is looking quite impressive, with environments feeling suitably claustrophobic, and even when you’re outside, the ever-existent threat of the horde makes it feel like the edges of the map are closing in faster than your average interstellar trash compactor!

Days Gone’s extended demo left me in 2 minds about the game. It’s definitely got promise, and the expansion on a Last of Us style game into a more action-focused open world title is an interesting direction, but it was very easy to see the seams in the demo. There were moments when the horde seemed to dramatically shrink in number just at the most convenient point for the player, and the mindless nature of them definitely aids the player at some points in the map. My time with the demo can really be approximated by the final few moments. As the player is stood on top of a tower, the horde is swarming over the bridge that connects it to the sawmill. Funnelling enemies into kill zones is going to be key in this game, and there is an undeniable tension around making sure that you down every last one of them as they rush through. However, just before the demo ended, they all just sort of… fell down without being shot. I know it’s an E3 demo and it needs to finish on a big bang, but it’s clear that this game is still in the early stages. It shows an awful lot of promise, and the atmosphere is genuinely tense as you try to escape the massive swarms of half-humans thirsty for your blood. It felt like there was something missing though, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. No release date is currently set for Days Gone, but with Bend’s track record, it’s definitely one to keep an eye on.

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