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Days Gone May Not Reinvent the Wheel – And That’s Okay

In hindsight, to say that Sony came out swinging during its E3 showcase may read as something of an understatement. Trumpeting one of the strongest first-party lineups in PlayStation history, the platform-holder kicked things off with a Nordic bang thanks to Sony Santa Monica’s God of War, followed in quick succession by Days Gone, The Last Guardian, Horizon Zero Dawn and Detroit: Become Human, the latest narrative-driven adventure arriving by way of Quantic Dream.

Sandwiched in between such an impressive roster of heavyweights, Sony Bend’s PS4 exclusive didn’t necessarily light up the stage in the manner of, say, Horizon in 2015, even when you factor in the extended gameplay demo that brought the curtain down later in the evening.

Crowd Control

Indeed cast one eye over your go-to forum or Reddit thread and you’ll find that the Days Gone unveiling has garnered a mixture of apathy, curiosity and tempered excitement. That’s not all that surprising either, considering that Bend’s long-anticipated new IP has been pitched as a post-apocalyptic zombie-infested action game — a post-apocalyptic zombie-infested action game in 2016, that is.

Point is, we’ve laid eyes on countless variations of the Doomsday scenario across practically every creative medium, and coming out of E3 2016, there was a general feeling of ‘been there, done that’ directed at Days Gone.

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But just as The Last of Us had its roots in the apocalyptic genre — and in particular Cormac McCarthy’s The Road — Bend’s upcoming PS4 title doesn’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel to become a sure-fire hit.

Situated in the Pacific Northwest, Days Gone chronicles the story of one Deacon St. John, a wayward biker and former bounty hunter who stalks the backwoods of Oregon two years on from a global pandemic.

The exact specifics of that pandemic remain shrouded in mystery — is it airborne? Perhaps some form of viral mutation? Who or what is patient zero? — all we do know is that the vast majority of humanity has been wiped out; either killed off or reduced to flesh-munching creatures.

The Pacific Northwest Awaits

First and foremost, this is not your typical zombie game. Coming out of E3 2016, Sony Bend stressed that the enemies you face in Days Gone are a different breed of flesh eaters known as Freakers. They eat. They drink. They sleep. And, as that extended gameplay demo teased, come in different varieties; Newts and Hordes being the two types that we’ve clocked eyes on thus far.

Infected by a virus strand that keeps their blood pumping and bellies hungry, on paper, the Freakers make for a formidable foe, and we’ve seen what happens when Deacon comes face to face with a seemingly relentless swarm. It’s one of the reasons why Bend places Days Gone “on the other end of the spectrum” to Naughty Dog’s magnum opus — more “extreme;” more “over the top” — and if we’re sticking to tit-for-tat comparisons, so far, the studio’s new IP is shaping up to be the lovechild of World War Z and Sons of Anarchy.

Opting for life on the road over the relative safety of quarantine zones, Deacon has the lush open world of Oregon at his disposal, with the game’s crafting system allowing players to fall back on a MacGyver mentality as they carve out a means of survival in the Pacific Northwest.

From what we understand, this is an outlaw biker trying to make ends meet in a brutal, dangerous world, and Bend notes that Deacon also happens to be shouldering an identity crisis as he comes to terms with a life without the safe haven of his motorcycle gang.

Themes of brotherhood and family appear to be integral to Days Gone, and in a recent post to PlayStation Blog, Creative Director Ron Allen outlined how Bend’s new IP is really about the human condition.

“It’s about the human condition — this guy’s a broken man. A lot of us are motorcycle riders. It’s a really vibrant culture. It’s often associated with criminals, mayhem, and violence, but it’s also about brotherhood and family. Because Deacon has suffered so much loss he holds on to that aspect of his past, and cherishes those relationships. It’s about him finding himself, because he no longer has his motorcycle gang.”

How the developer plans to construct a story around this core premise is up for question, but that narrative nugget — one of a broken man living it out in a broken world — is intriguing right off the bat. Is Deacon licking his wounds from a family loss? Perhaps our new hero is on the hunt for a missing loved one?

Days Gone may be packed to the rafters with post-apocalyptic tropes — the desolate world, the sense of hopelessness — but here’s hoping that Sony Bend’s PS4 debut skates around those genre conventions at risk of cliché.

A Pacific Northwest setting is downright fascinating and even at this early stage, Days Gone is certainly easy on the eyes. But why place a stranglehold on originality by having players spend much of Deacon’s journey searching for some form of cure? Days Gone would be better served if it really doubled down on a disbanded motorcycle club at war with itself and those humans still clutching to the last vestiges of life. Fight the dead, fear the living.

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It’s this dynamic that will instil a sense of character drama into the post-apocalyptic action, and though Deacon appears to fit the lone wolf archetype on first glance, the extended gameplay demo teed up a potential riff with another survivor (possibly from the same motorcycle club?) which ought to offset the thrill garnered by mowing down waves upon wave of the undead. 

For now, it’s merely conjecture. Three weeks on from Sony’s overly successful E3 showcase, the general consensus on Days Gone remains mixed. It is, much like many of the games showcased, still without a release date at the time of writing, with Sony’s concluding title card simply stating that Days Gone is, much like God of War and Detroit: Become Human, currently “in development for PS4.”

No matter the case, Days Gone represents Sony Bend’s first console release since Syphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow in 2010 and if nothing else, for me, that’s reason enough to get excited.

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