What struck me about the gameplay demo Sony debuted at their E3 2016 press conference for new open-world post-apocalyptic action-thriller, Days Gone, is the fevered mob tenacity of the so-called "freakers", its zombie-like enemies. The hero was hunting a wanted man, and, in a matter of seconds, went from chasing a human to fleeing for his life. The moment these once-human abominations became aware of the player's presence, an unending stream of them burst forth from every entrance – and, like the mythical hydra, the more the player took down, the more seemed to appear to take their place. The sheer amount these monsters, simultaneously on screen, is the kind of technical achievement that gives people entrenched in the Sony camp of the current console wars ammo to levy at their rivals.
After seeing said impressive demo, would you believe the studio that made this is the same firm that, 20 years earlier, gave us Bubsy 3D? Of course, much has changed in the two decades since. Days Gone is the work of Bend Studio, located in the city of the same name, in Oregon. Sony bought the developer, originally named Eidetic, after the success of the original Syphon Filter on the first PlayStation. Since then, Bend Studio has been kept busy, mostly with portable ports of major Sony franchises like Resistance and Uncharted. Days Gone is their first project for a home console since the halcyon days of the PS2, and it's a big effort indeed.
The premise of Days Gone is a familiar one: a global pandemic has brought about a terrifying disease, a deterioration of civilization, and ravenous hordes of vicious, infected humans. Lead character Deacon St. John is one of the "lucky" ones – while he's still alive, his life is the dangerous one of a bounty-hunting vagabond, roaming the US Pacific Northwest. He could stay in one of the remaining enclaves of humanity, where things are mostly safe, but he willingly eschews it to face the freaker menace head-on. His motivation for doing so is still rather murky – we see glimpses of an old life with a girlfriend and a bike in the trailer below, and there will most certainly be more backstory provided within the game itself.
'Days Gone', E3 2016 announcement trailer
There's a constant feeling of pressure that comes through from even watching the game, as the undead close in from almost every possible direction, forcing St. John to constantly be on the move and the defensive. Every time he overpowers one of his assailants, it looks like a vicious struggle, not simply another paper-thin mob to blast through without a second thought. His tools of combat are practical, makeshift things found in the environment and hastily cobbled together to create some manner of effective weaponry. He can also make use of things in the environment to give him an advantage: at one point in the demo, St. John ducks into what looks to be an old lumber processing facility, and can utilise the hanging saws as weaponry to slice apart his assailants.
The end of the demo features St. John stranded on a lookout as the camera pulls out, revealing a terrifying amount of freakers very, very quickly closing in on his safe haven. It looks as though his luck has run out – and that's where it ends. A cliff-hanger straight out of a TV drama. Given just how hard the struggle against the hordes looked, I'm genuinely curious if it was even possible for St. John to escape. Will there be more events like that in the complete game? How can a player possibly handle so many resilient, persistent enemies at once? I'm very eager to find out.