Sony's zombie shooter is about much more than shooting zombies.
On the surface, Days Gone looks like another opportunity for players to open hordes of flesh-eating freaks from brain stem to belly button. And we're not complaining.
But while the PlayStation 4 exclusive will no doubt feature its fair share of gore-soaked combat, its retina-searing visuals, deadly open-world environment and motorcycle traversal are just a few of the things that might help separate it from the post-apocalyptic pack.
Our recent hands-on session with the game gave us a glimpse of these elements and more. And while the details of the Days Gone storyline were well guarded during the demo, our time behind the controller proved there still might be some fresh life in the undead genre.
Our twenty minutes with the game unfolded in the evergreen wilderness of Oregon, a scenic spot that wouldn't look out of place on a postcard...if it weren't infested with zombie-like “Freakers.”
Even with the persistent threat of having our brain eaten, however, we couldn't resist ogling the beautiful sights surrounding us. Patches of grass dotted with dandelions, lush forests, lengths of quaint railroad tracks, and snow-capped mountain peaks were just a few of the things that had us hoping the final game gets a photo mode.
Of course, toss in the day/night cycle, dynamic weather system, and immersion-ramping effects – from lighting and shadows to particles, water, and fire – and these gorgeous locales further spring to life with variety and stunning realism.
If you've allowed yourself to get lost in recent PS4 exclusive beauties, like Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War, you'll feel right at home exploring Days Gone's eye-popping open-world.
One of the more unexpected treats of our demo was protagonist Deacon St. John's main mode of transportation. The former outlaw biker is welcome to walk the land of the living dead, but it's far more fun to tool around the world on his hog.
Responsive and intuitive, the bike's nuanced controls make it a blast to ride, whether you're flying down the freeway or carefully navigating a wilderness trail.
In addition to handling great, its speed and maneuverability prove invaluable for getting out of tight spots. During one of our demo's objectives, we fired up a generator to restore power to an electronically locked door. While the mission was a success, the machine's loud grumbling attracted more attention than we could handle.
Upon being overrun by Freakers, we hopped on the bike, hit the throttle, and navigated a swarm of hungry mutants with relative ease.
Before our play session, Bend Studio's creative director John Garvin stressed how dangerous Days Gone's open-world is. “It's a world that comes for you.” he said. “It's always dangerous, so no matter what else you’re trying to do, you’re always trying to survive.
While we took Garvin's warning seriously, we assumed he was referring to the walking corpses that wanted to turn us into fleshy confetti. So it genuinely surprised us that one of the most terrifying things we encountered during the game was an empty gas tank. We were having so much fun tearing up the blacktop on Deacon's bike, we barely noticed its depleting fuel gauge.
Upon leaving our ride behind – in a heavy rainstorm – we encountered a horde of Freakers before finding any fuel. Thankfully, using a rag and some kerosene we'd picked up earlier, we were able to craft a Molotov cocktail and fry the foes real good.
When returning to our ride – fuel in-hand – however, we were ambushed by a disturbing woman wielding a bat. The attack caught us completely off guard, ultimately leaving us face down in a pool of our own blood.
This brief stretch of gameplay began with an empty gas tank, but ended up spawning an emergent mini-adventure that was easily as engaging as any of the more traditional missions we tackled. If this sort of dynamic encounter is representative of what happens regularly in Days Gone's dangerous sandbox, we look forward to digging in deeper.
PLAY YOUR WAY
We didn't get to dive too far into Days Gone's character-shaping progression systems, but what we saw showed plenty of promise.
Shortly after powering up that aforementioned generator, we found an injector we could stab ourselves with to improve Deacon's stats. Given that we'd just attracted a horde of Freakers, we used the device to increase our maximum health.
If we weren't about to be devoured by a pack of undead creeps though, we might have used the injection to increase our stamina or focus, which allows Deacon to slow time for more accurate shooting.
While we love the idea of progressing Deacon in a way that suits are specific play-style, we're even more excited to get our hands dirty upgrading his motorcycle.
By collecting resources in the world, players can tweak the ride with a number of cool, performance-enhancing perks, from faster engines and noise-reducing exhaust systems to more durable frames and even larger fuel tanks.
Given how much fun we had behind the handlebars, we can't wait to make Deacon's ride apocalypse-proof with customization options and upgrades.
DAYS GONE FIRST IMPRESSIONS
We were hoping our first hands-on with Days Gone would have provided a bit more narrative meat, but, in an interview following our demo, Garvin assured us the story is there: “Story is a huge part of the game," he said. "We’re just not talking about it yet".
Still, while the narrative's yet to hook us, we really enjoyed the emergent nature of the open-world's survival-focused gameplay. The striking visual presentation, excellent bike traversal, and promising progression systems further suggest Days Gone is more than just another zombie shooter.
We look forward to finding out for sure when it infects PS4 early next year.