We were recently able to play two different demos for the PS4 exclusive, Days Gone, each one showcasing a different scenario taken from the game. Sony's own Bend Studio is named after the city in Oregon, and it's in precisely this area that the story of Days Gone is located, which certainly contributes to the authenticity of the impressive landscapes that have been crafted by the studio.
Protagonist and ex-biker Deacon St. John rides on his heavy motorcycle through the forests and settlements of a post-apocalyptic world. What exactly happened to this place is to be clarified over the course of the story, which is set to last about 30 hours. One thing that you'll have already worked out if you've seen any of the gameplay footage that's been doing the rounds since the game was announced more than two years ago, is that a large portion of the population has turned into bloodthirsty 'freakers', zombie-types who mercilessly hunt down all humans and who also like to tear each other apart at times as well.
At the beginning of our first mission, a very cinematic CGI-sequence reminiscent of The Walking Dead explains the situation. Deacon needs a new fuel pump for his ride, but the workshop where the valuable spare part is located is currently besieged by freakers. His companion, however, agrees to serve as a decoy and steers a large number of the monsters away from the scene with the loud diversion. Using a combination of stealth and action, spiced up with some light puzzles and the collection of crafting materials, Deacon makes his way towards fuel pump heaven.
Encounters with so-called newts are particularly tricky, as while these young freakers look innocent, they use lightning-fast movements to jump on Deacon and injure him with their razor-sharp fingernails. Despite everything, they almost look like human children, but Deacon, of course, clears them out of the way without batting an eyelid... often accompanied by cynical one-liners. This encounter provided us with our first glimpse of the hard and merciless world of Days Gone, where we found a mood that reminded us of more serious zombie films or, for a more direct video game comparison, The Last of Us.
The latter, however, is a comparison that the developers can't even hear anymore since the game has been repeatedly compared to Naughty Dog's modern classic since its first E3 appearance. However, the similarities actually do end with the post-apocalyptic world and the third-person perspective; if you look beyond the setting and camera angle, the two titles are doing entirely different things.
Days Gone has been designed around the open world aspect, and not for more linear exploration. In Bend Studio's adventure, the human factions play a big role because as the end of our mission aptly demonstrated, the freakers are perhaps not the cruellest opponents that you'll face in the game. We've seen it before - humans are the real monsters.
When out exploring the open world there is, as you would expect, a lot to do and discover. A second demo let us tackle one of the typical recurring tasks that have already become the trademark of the game: the extermination of a huge freaker horde. First Deacon stands next to his motorcycle on a hill and looks down, seeing freakers in the pits and canals of a former construction site. There are hundreds of them, and even from a distance, this is an impressive and threatening sight. A bar gives us information about the size of the horde, and we know that we have to decimate it if we're to be successful.
Our first attempt, this time while riding into the horde on the back of a motorcycle, went wrong surprisingly quickly. The heavy machine - which can also be upgraded and painted in the finished game - crashes into the onslaught, and although the first couple of freakers lose out and die in the collision, the physics of all those undead creatures ensures that the vehicle soon tips over and Deacon is literally overrun.
Our next attempt is to take a closer look at the weapons hidden in the crates. Of course, Deacon can carry several things at the same time, and we used a metal truncheon on nearby enemies, before eventually busting out a pistol, an assault rifle, and then a heavy machine gun. The latter, with 300 rounds and incredible power to punch through approaching enemies, almost has us feeling like we're in control, awakening a feeling of superiority - this is far from the case.
Due to the almost unbelievable scale of the horde, the freakers quickly make up for even large losses and it's not long before they're closing in on Deacon. He can only turn the tide by clever use of environmental factors, which in the case of the construction site are conveniently positioned explosive barrels, tank trucks, and stacks of tree trunks that can be sent tumbling down on the swarm.
During the onslaught, the PlayStation 4 Pro kept its cool and didn't show any sign of sluggishness, which is very impressive when you consider the number of animations on screen, and that's not forgetting the big explosions and other environmental actions that are taking place. Of course, impressive physics and a smooth simulation won't mean much if the game around it isn't up to scratch, but we have to say that the feeling of satisfaction after several failed attempts - when we finally succeeded in dispatching the last of the freakers - was considerable. We wanted to find out more about Deacon St. John and experience more of his world. We'll have to wait until February 22 of next year, when Days Gone lands on PS4.