I sat down to play Days Gone with little in the way of expectations. I remember the E3 2016 reveal of the game, with the main character avoiding a literal horde of zombies. That idea, surviving against a giant, fast-moving pack of the undead, was a unique one. Dead Rising offers a horde to kill or avoid, but those are relatively-slow Romero-style zombies. Days Gone looked to turn that on its head with 28 Days Later-style runners.
Days Gone is the first major project by SIE Bend Studio in some time. Long ago, Bend offered the original Syphon Filter franchise on PlayStation and PlayStation 2 before being relegated to portable spin-offs of other developer's titles, like Resistance: Retribution on PlayStation Portable and Uncharted: Golden Abyss on PlayStation Vita. I enjoyed Syphon Filter, so I was looking forward to a return to form. Instead, I find myself a bit underwhelmed from the section of Days Gone I played at a pre-E3 event last week.
Days Gone drops you into the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse as Deacon St. John (former Starkiller Sam Witwer), a biker and bounty hunter who is roaming the new landscape of this United States. The title refers to how many days its been since the outbreak. Cities are dangerous now, a mire of former citizens that have been turned into zombie-like creatures called Freakers. So what's left of humanity is forced to carve out a living in the wilderness; some band together, some stay alone, some prey on the weak. St. John is an outlaw who wants to be left alone, but isn't above doing the right thing. He and his bike are here to bring some post-apocalyptic zombie justice.
In the demo, Deacon wanders a large open-world section of the Pacific Northwest, specifically Oregon. Deacon begins in a survivor camp, where he's able to sell items, buy weapons, or upgrade his bike (visually or mechanically). He's on the hunt for first aid for his friend, so you clamber onto the motorcycle and head out of the camp. The bike is a signature part of Days Gone; it's how Deacon gets around and you have keep the bike maintained for the length of the game. It handles pretty well—don't forget to tap O for those sharp turns—and I'm looking forward to seeing further customization options.
I ride to a camp formerly related to the National Emergency Response Organization (NERO), the organization previously tasked with stopping the zombie outbreak. Now they're gone, but their camps offer up high tech supplies, including the first aid I'm looking for. The door to a NERO trailer is locked by a keypad that won't work because there's no power. I can power it up, but that requires a hunt for some gas. I kill some freakers with my handy baseball bat, saving the bullets for a rainy day.
I find the gas, fill up the generator, and drop the rest in my bike. (Don't waste gas!) I power the generator on, but this causes a pre-recorded warning message to come blaring over the camp's speakers. I hop into a nearby trash bin as the freakers come pouring in, clueing me into the fact that they track heavily by sound. Some sneaking, distraction (rocks!), and stealth kills later, I'm inside the trailer. I get the first aid I'm looking for and a syringe of secret government drug that improves Deacon's state. The camp also becomes a fast travel point, with a helpful Bend developer pointing out that there are multiple NERO camps out in the world.
I distract the freakers outside again and get on my bike, tearing out of the camp and into the wilderness. I stop for a moment to chill and get my bearings, only to get attacked by a wolf. (Come on, wolf. It didn't need to be like this, we could've been friends!) I shoot the wolf, only to find out that wolves come in packs (I know, I should guessed this). Cue several minutes of me running around in huge loops: I don't have the firepower to take on the pack and my bike fell over, meaning I need to pick it up to start it, which I don't have time to do on account of the wolves. Eventually, I lead the wolves into some freakers, which gets the heat off me.
It's here that I get the feeling that maybe there's something under the surface in terms of Days Gone. There's the potential for a more systemic style of play, balancing your personal objectives with ping-ponging against live packs of freakers, animals, and hostile humans. The Bend dev points to this being the idea, but a lot of that wasn't available here in the demo.
Instead, I head back to Deacon's friend and give him the first aid, quest complete. I jump onto the second quest which sees me going up against a hostile encampment of humans. Before I head out, I repair my bike and stock up on resources. Resources—mechanical and chemical—are scattered everywhere and you collect them to craft ammunition, bandages, and more for Deacon. If you err on the wrong side, you can actually dismantle your crafted items back in material. I craft some bullets, thinking that going up against people is going to require some gunplay.
Actually taking on the camp is pretty straightforward, with Deacon hiding in bushes and behind cover. I use stealth kills to thin the herd before a mistake calls down the entire camp on me. Then it's all cover shooting, basic straight-up cover shooting: Headshots for easy kills, shotgun for up-close punishment, and a molotov to clear out hiders. It feels like an Uncharted game at this point.
That's really the problem with this demo of Days Gone. A few years ago, this would've been great, but in 2018 it feels familiar. Well done, but familiar. If you look at screenshots or video, Days Gone looks and plays like other games: The Last of Us, Uncharted, State of Decay, Mad Max, Far Cry 5. It looks similar to popular TV shows like The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy. What I saw in the demo doesn't stand out, especially in terms of PlayStation exclusives that keep raising the bar like Horizon: Zero Dawn, Uncharted: Lost Legacy, and God of War.
Perhaps Days Gone has more of the larger freaker hordes, as the Bend dev confirmed they still exist in the game, alongside infestation areas. Freakers come out in force at night, but right now there doesn't seem to be a risk-reward reason to face them in the dark. Maybe the characters will shine a bit more once I spend more time with Deacon and his supporting cast. Perhaps there are more systemic options available in terms of play; the developer hinted that I could lead a group of freakers into the hostile human outpost to soften both groups up. Maybe I'll grow to care more about the bike in actual play. There are hints here and there of Days Gone being something more, but they were just hints in my demo.
Right now though, Days Gone just feels overly familiar. I've seen this before, I've played it before. It looks good and plays well, but it currently lacks that spark that makes it unique. Luckily, SIE Bend Studio has a year to polish up those aspects and put Days Gone next to its peers.