It's not usual that a couple of programmers are responsible for the first presentation of a new game (creative directors, producers and the like are the traditional way to go in order to deliver the broader vision of a game), but if you try to understand how Days Gone works under the hood, it actually seems like a rather natural choice. The new open-world survival action game presents many unique and interesting features, but above all it's the new threat, the Horde, which sets it apart from other zombie/infected survival games.
This crowded swarm of hungry creatures will chase you down in several parts of the game as they search for food and destruction, trying to cover several escape paths, all the while dealing with your improvised traps and weapons. And it all plays out in real-time and everything depends on your actions. We've seen nothing like this before, and we think it can bring something new to the genre (it's much more nuanced than hordes of the past that we've seen, for example, in Left4Dead) . Behind the scenes there's a lot of custom code at work, hence the programmers talking about their achievements after more than three years of development.
The team at Bend Studio showed us a behind closed doors gameplay demo of an extended version of the section shown during Sony's PlayStation E3 conference (say, 20 mins of gameplay instead of the 10 minute video you can watch above). If there was any doubt, everything on show was in-game and live-action, a DualShock 4 in the hands of one of the devs. The extended demo meant more parts of the map were covered, and more resources were used before and during the chase. This meant a slight change of pace, with devs taking more time to search for loot, and new environmental obstacles, and even different escape options.
The most obvious question was brought up during the demo itself, when the Horde showed up and began overwhelming the player: why would you turn back and shoot? Isn't it better to just run for your life and gain precious seconds? Well, the purpose of turning back and firing some shots at the monstrous crowd was doubly-illustrative: first off, it shows this vertical slice as coming from the second half of the game, when you're stronger and have more weapons, abilities and resources at your disposal (during your first steps you'll have to escape much more often). It also turns out that the Horde is made up of fixed number of Freakers, so trimming it down at every possible opportunity via weapons, explosions and traps makes sense, as you'll ultimately be able to thin the herd to a more manageable size. The more you can fight them, the more you can loot the area for better equipment, find different routes, and try new environmental tricks on the fly.
There'll be several types of Freakers. We've seem the smaller Gollum-type, who loves to jump to your back screaming something that sounds like it should be 'preciousss'. There's adult-shaped runners, and due to the nature of the hive mind AI, the more curious among them like to leave the Horde behind and investigate nearby houses or shelters, usually the one you're using as a temporary hideout. It's in these 1:1 or 1:4 encounters where you can try the aforementioned finishers; a wall-mounted radial saw being the handy and gory tool of choice during our demo. But when the Horde breaks in (and they will - we saw them knocking down a metal door as well as assessing how to enter another workshop with wooden defences), a new dynamic chase sequence kicks off and you better be fast and imaginative when it comes to finding your way out.
It seems as though features built into the scenery are environmental aids rather than potential dangers, and it looks like Bend Studio has designed a selection of fun options for players to explore and experiment with. Let's see whether they keep innovating with this in the long run (so that potential dynamic obstacles don't become obvious red barrels too quickly), but the idea of having to scan the area in search of these features seems like it's going to be an exciting and interesting new layer on top of the hectic survival gameplay.
And hopefully the same care will be applied to the many weapons you can upgrade and the different makeshift items you can use in combat. Examples include the oil filter used as a suppressor for a pistol, the occasional Molotov cocktail, or the improvised air bomb shown during our extended demo. Crafting is thus crucial, and of course the materials and resources needed to make the really useful stuff will be pretty scarce.
Besides the Freakers and the variants we don't know of yet, the devs mentioned several times that perhaps the most deadly enemies are the non-infected humans, particularly because of the scarcity of resources. In this sense it looks like a promising blend between The Last of Us, DayZ... and Sons of Anarchy? Indeed, the bike will be another key feature, because it's not just used as a means of transport, it's also an invaluable storage solution thanks to its additional bags. Given what we've seen so far, we're assuming that the bike itself has to 'survive' too, and that you'll need to maintain it and feed it gas, but this is something that will be further explained closer to release.
In terms of setting and narrative, you'll play as bounty hunter Deacon St. John, who in this particular mission is looking for a wanted killer called Two Dog, with his search taking him to a sawmill that's naturally full of tools. We still don't know what caused the outbreak, and there's only a few hints as to our biker's past life during the titular "days gone". But zombies aside, the concept feels fresh and, above all, the choice of open-world setting (fittingly based on High Desert, Oregon, where Bend is located) makes for a beautiful and potentially varied landscape with forests, mountains and meadows to explore.
We still need to learn a lot more about world and mission structure, interactivity, the possibilities linked to the bike, potential online features, and the character progression system, but the 'hive mind' technology that drives the action sequences (which will happen from time to time to break up the pace, they won't happen constantly) and the way the studio is using the environment are promising foundations for a potentially exciting game in what's an increasingly crowded genre.