Days GOne

Learn­ing to con­trol an un­happy crowd in post-apoc­a­lyp­tic Ore­gon

Games Master - - Contents - Robert Zak

Rid­ing a mo­tor­bike through nests of zom­bies while light­ing them up with Molo­tov cock­tails never gets old.

Un­til a cou­ple of years ago, the zom­bie genre was sat­u­rated to near-pan­demic lev­els. But things have slowed to a sham­ble lately, sadly ear­marked by the clo­sure this month of the stu­dios be­hind the Dead Ris­ing and Walk­ing Dead se­ries. Has the zom­bie bub­ble fi­nally burst like a crum­bling skull? Sony’s open-world zom­bie (okay, ‘Freaker’) ad­ven­ture Days Gone should have a few things to say about that, though we’re still not sure what that is. In fair­ness, play­ing a cou­ple of sep­a­rate se­quences prob­a­bly isn’t the best way to get a feel for an open-world game. Our first task was to re­trieve some bits and bobs for our mo­tor­bike – the main means of trans­port around the Ore­gon wilder­ness where the game takes place. We take con­trol of bat­tered-leather biker Dea­con St John, who rocks up with a fel­low tat­tered-denim type to some road­side ser­vices in search of sup­plies.

Un­happy eater

Whip­ping out our binoc­u­lars, we spy some crea­tures in the mid-dis­tance. Get­ting closer, we dis­cover from their ap­pear­ance and shrieks that they used to be chil­dren, driven can­ni­bal­is­tic by what­ever af­flic­tion’s taken hold of this world. These so-called ‘Newts’ are ter­ri­to­rial, so won’t at­tack un­less they feel threat­ened. “Maybe we should leave them alone,” we con­tem­plate. They are sort-of kids af­ter all, the killing of whom re­mains pretty much the last un­bro­ken taboo of games. But we need to test out the com­bat me­chan­ics on some­thing, and these are as close as we’re go­ing to get to train­ing dum­mies, so we dive in.

You can ap­proach com­bat via stealth, melee at­tacks, and shoot­ing, piec­ing to­gether things you find ly­ing around to im­prove your weapons (we went with the clas­sic ‘nails-in-a-bat’ rou­tine). There’s an over­pow­ered x-ray vi­sion which lets you see the out­lines of Freak­ers through walls, and a ra­dial menu sys­tem for switch­ing up and mod­ding weapons. Bat­ting zom­bie kids to death feels fine, if you care to en­vi­sion such a thing, though the an­i­ma­tions leave a bit to be de­sired and the gore is vir­tu­ally non-ex­is­tent for a game in this splat­tery genre. It’s a lit­tle weight­less for an os­ten­si­bly gritty game.

Work­ing our way through the aban­doned build­ings, we silently knock off a few Freak­ers – your reg­u­lar run­ning zom­bie types – and chuck a Molo­tov to clear out one of their nests. But then we get care­less. Things can es­ca­late quickly in Days Gone, and a twitchy shot­gun blast on our part causes Freak­ers to come stream­ing out of all nearby build­ings. It’s a tense mo­ment, but noth­ing Dea­con can’t han­dle with a shot­gun and some dodge-rolls. But that doesn’t pre­pare us for what comes next: the part of the game where Days Gone shows signs of be­ing more than a by-the-num­bers zom­bie romp. As the screen fades in for the sec­ond bit of the demo we’re look­ing down into a log­ging camp filled with 100 or more zom­bies – and have free rein on how to tackle them. Of course we try the silly stuff first: run­ning at them and mosh­ing out with a bat and shot­gun (and dy­ing), fol­lowed by speed­ing up on the mo­tor­bike and see­ing how far we could plough through them (and dy­ing). Both meth­ods prove in­ef­fec­tual as we’re ra­pa­ciously rav­aged by the rab­ble. Vic­tory re­quires us­ing that one thing zom­bies lack: brains. Af­ter pok­ing around, we find that the en­tire area can be set up as a gaunt­let for zom­bies, filled with booby traps, nar­row ravines to fun­nel the horde into, and

ex­plo­sive bar­rels. First, we chuck all our Molo­tovs into the fray, and while this riles them up it also gets them dy­ing. Slowly.

Log­ging off

They take a lot of hits, these blighters, but send a stack of logs rolling onto them and they quickly col­lapse into a gi­ant omelette of necrotic flesh. Af­ter util­is­ing ev­ery log-stack and ex­plo­sive at our dis­posal, and spend­ing a lit­tle too much time kit­ing the zom­bies around like some grisly reimag­in­ing of that chase scene from that Bea­tles movie, we’re vic­to­ri­ous.

This idea of hav­ing play­ful are­nas like this within the open world is a good ’un, and be­ing chased by hordes, where faster zom­bies of­ten break away and come at you from un­ex­pected an­gles, makes for the kind of teeth-grit­ting in­ten­sity found in 28 Days Later.

Days Gone will pro­vide some great mo­ments, where ammo is scarce and you’re stum­bling away from a horde swarm­ing out of ev­ery build­ing. But we’ve yet to see what this game is beyond these flash­points, and the me­chan­ics don’t feel strong enough to prop up the game by them­selves. For that, Days Gone will need a story of sub­stance, and an open world to get truly lost in.

“these zom­bie kids are as close as we’re go­ing to get to train­ing dum­mies, so we dive in”

Days Gone is great at cre­at­ing a sense of panic – noth­ing like leg­ging it from ath­letic zom­bies to get the adren­a­line pump­ing. For­mat PS4 Pub­lisher Sony De­vel­oper SIE Bend Stu­dio ETA 22 Fe­bru­ary 2019

Meet Dea­con St John – a biker out­law in civilised so­ci­ety, he’s just a rough-ridin’ sur­vivor now civil­i­sa­tion has col­lapsed. Clearly Freaker-in­duced an­ar­chy isn’t a bad thing for every­one.

Freak­ers are a tough bunch to take on fisto-a-fisto, and you can quickly get swamped by their fast-run­ning friends.

The land­scapes of Ore­gon look beau­ti­ful. The ques­tion is: can we go over those moun­tains on the hori­zon?

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