It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War took home the lion share of player’s attentions at E3 2016. Guerrilla’s new IP looked amazing and fans were itching for a new God of War game. Less were excited about Bend Studio’s new IP, Days Gone. The game looked too much like The Last of Us with a protagonist that was too much like Nathan Drake. Even the zombies, called Freakers in Days Gone, felt derivative of past PlayStation efforts. E3 2017 was a chance for Sony Bend to reset the narrative, but after viewing a private demo, Days Gone just can’t seem to separate itself from its contemporaries.
The demo shown to us was like the one presented at the PlayStation Press Conference. Deacon St. John sets out to rescue his friend, Manny, from a group of bandits. However, this time, Bend Studio’s changed things up to showcase the game’s dynamic systems and how they can affect strategies and gameplay. For our demo, there was snow and the time progressed from day-to-night. When it snows in Days Gone, Deacon’s motorcycle has less traction and visibility significantly decreases.
As such, Bend approached the scenario differently. This time, Deacon noticed the clothesline and was able to circle-around and kill the bandits without raising the alarm. The demo proceeded to the small camp where Deacon placed a bear trap. After pulling them all into one place, Bend pulled open a crafting menu and created a Molotov cocktail that they then used to burn the bandits.
At this point, the demo we saw diverted from the conference demo. There is no Freaker horde, so the developer chose to sneak around a different way to the camp. Despite the low visibility, Deacon was spotted and an all-out battle ensued. This was also where the demo started to fall apart. Gunplay didn’t look as exciting as a game like Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, or as brutal as The Last of Us or Horizon Zero Dawn. There also appeared to be hit detection issues where a few enemies, despite having lead pumped into them, wouldn’t register as hit. Takedowns also have a view visual problems. The knife, which should have been inserted into the victim’s body, instead appeared several inches above their head. The demo ended the same way with a virus-infected bear stumbling upon Deacon and Manny.
This was a typical infiltration demo, which is seen a lot at E3 nowadays, and so many other games have done it. Days Gone is a beautiful game with stunning graphics and animation work, but so is Horizon Zero Dawn, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and The Last of Us. The real problem with Days Gone is that it has, so far, been unable to establish its own identity. The setting, gameplay, enemies, or characters feel like they could have been pulled from any game. Filled with Health and Stamina bars, crafting menus, bullet time, and survival vision, Days Gone doesn’t do anything to distinguish itself from the masses. There’s no robot dinosaurs, unique characters, or interesting scenarios to make it its own. Add on top of that technical issues and you have one of the weakest games in Sony’s otherwise stellar lineup.
What could have made the game feel more unique were the things that Bend and PlayStation weren’t ready to talk about yet. The Freakers and their mob-like AI, the virus and how it spreads and what happened to the world are all fascinating points that could have made this world feel unique. Unfortunately, neither PlayStation or Bend were willing to discuss these points that could have differentiated them from so many other titles.
It’s still too early to say how Days Gone will end up. Wolfenstein: The New Order and Doom demoed poorly at E3, but turned out to be fantastic games in the end. It also helps that Days Gone has plenty of development time left. As of this writing, the game is currently not scheduled to launch in 2018, which will give Bend extra polishing time. That also means that the team can prepare other demos for other shows that highlight Days Gone’s strengths. This is what the game needs, because, right now, Days Gone doesn’t have an identity of its own.