During the E3 2016 trailer for Days Gone I felt like I wasn’t watching another trailer for a zombie game, which was a refreshing. But that feeling turned into disappointment after I saw that there were tons of infected.
The concept of zombies is cool, don’t get me wrong. I love movies like Pet Semetary and Zombieland, but the way movies portray zombies is different than video games. For the most part I feel like the film industry has developed enough techniques to keep the zombie concept fresh; switching up the speed and origins of the zombies in different series is crucial to keeping the undead idea alive. I just don’t think that video games have perfected those nuances, and the overwhelming hordes of zombie titles have sadly made me audibly sigh, and lower my expectations when I hear the words “zombie game”.
I was at the edge of my seat while I was watching this trailer, and looking back on that moment, I’m not sure why. It was probably because I was entranced in that E3 hype, but watching the trailer again with a Post-E3 lens on was truly a disheartening experience. The environments look similar to just about any zombie action-adventure survival horror game: plain, abandoned and plant-ridden, which doesn’t interest me anymore. The worst part about the trailers are the characters, they seem so bland and uninteresting. I know that there’s only a trailer and a bit of gameplay to analyze, but I’m curious how Days Gone is going to make me care about an angry guy who has a motorcycle.
The motorcycle he has is probably the most riveting in that trailer, and that isn’t a good sign. In the oversaturated market of zombie games the only way to stand out among the masses is to either have an intricately produced impactful story, or to have amazing, groundbreaking gameplay. The Last of Us is one title that did both of those things exceedingly well. The narrative told a story about the people living in a zombie-ridden world, a story that made me truly care about the person I was playing as and the characters I was protecting. I can still remember how scared I was for Ellie and I the first time I was introduced to one of the clickers (a zombie with super-hearing), and how that fear made me carefully plan out my movements around those nasty enemies, without making it seem boring. The scavenging elements were sparse, but fair. I felt like I earned whatever scraps or scissors I found, and it also put me in situations with difficult choices. The ingredients to craft a Molotov that can clear out a substantial amount of infected were a rag and alcohol; the same components needed to make a health pack, so I regularly had to choose between betting my survival on damaging enemies or healing myself. It crafted a meaningful experience, and I’m afraid that Days Gone won’t be able to deliver that.
I’m skeptical of Days Gone after watching the live E3 demo, which was basically SIE Bend Studio being like, “Hey check out how many zombies we can have on the screen at once”. While it was an impressive tech demo, it didn’t really try to make me care about the narrative or the boring main character. The beginning was the protagonist talking to someone else on a walkie-talkie who lets him know that it’s gonna get dark soon (which we can assume is the time that the freakers come out), and then going to meet up and hunt down some guy. Once he meets up with this guy, the largest group of zombies I’ve ever seen all simultaneously pop up and start to chase the two unlucky guys. It pumped me up with adrenaline and curiosity as to how anyone could have survived whatever apocalyptic even that could’ve conjured up those ghouls, and why the survivors are fighting each other.
The trailer showed its similarities to The Last of Us, but the demo showcased its differences. Days Gone is a more action-based and has an open world for you to explore, while also including scavenging elements and crafting. The goal of The Last of Us was to make an experience in confined areas where players had to think up a functioning plan of action on the spot if they were going to escape a situation, and I think that Days Gone is emulating that idea in a larger sense. It’s an open world and it has tons more zombies. From the demo it’s obvious that there are still traps and planning, it’s not just the guy standing there and mowing down all the brain-eaters. He’s running and maneuvering through this barn area while he’s setting off a bunch of traps and explosive I’m sure he set up beforehand. Days Gone is definitely taking a huge risk by slightly altering The Last of Us’ award-winning formula to create a new experience, and as of right now, we don’t know enough about the game to definitively decide if it worked or not.
I don’t want it to get lost in the piles of unwanted undead games, because that genre needs more life, but from the from everything I’ve seen in the trailer and demo I’m just not sold yet. We’re still many days away from the unannounced Days Gone release, but hopefully, somehow, this game will have a meaningful experience that shakes the zombie concept up and inspires other titles to do the same.