Days Gone Has the Potential to Be More Than Just Another Zombie Game
In the run-up to Days Gone's release, just how different is this post-apocalyptic title in the overflowing zombie genre? Is it just another 'The Last of Us' knock-off, or can players experience something they haven't before?
I’ve always been a sucker for zombie-esque games, even when the thought of real-life zombies scares the living hell out of me. But thankfully, at least unless 28 Days Later happens–let’s not even think about that–at least they are confined to my console, for now. My very first zombie gaming experience was all the way back in the early ’90s with the OG DOOM. Ok, so the “zombies” they had in that title weren’t exactly scary per se, but enough to give me a taste that I wanted more.
This, of course, followed up with much more undead styles of gaming with hours put into The House of the Dead at my local arcade, Zombie Nation, Resident Evil, and a whole host of other animated corpse-type titles. I’ve been constantly on the lookout for that one game that will scratch my zombie itch, so you can imagine my joy when I saw the first announcement for Days Gone.
I’ll be completely honest, once my initial excitement at seeing Days Gone calmed down, that dreaded slithering doubt started to snake into my thoughts: “I guarantee this won’t come over well in gameplay, where it will be painfully lackluster and the same old thing.” Like others, I pretty much pushed Days Gone off as what would probably be another failed attempt at tackling the zombie genre as a whole. As more news and trailers started to emerge in the years after, my feelings started to shift where I realized that I maybe jumped the gun way too soon on this upcoming title by Bend Studio.
Days Gone isn’t “just another zombie game,” in my opinion. Yes, it has “Freakers” running around doing what zombies do, and that’s causing fear and inducing an overwhelming protection for your own skin that you never knew you had. But what really drew me to this title is what I look for in so many games – the all-important emotional undercurrent that lets players connect to the characters they are playing as.
When developers ingrain sorrow, pain, loss and/or anger into a game, it anchors the player firmly into its core. We relate to it in some way either through personal experiences or something we have seen happen, and in doing that, players aren’t just controlling a character on the screen – we become the character, and there’s that instant relatable connection bringing them closer to us.
I feel this real human connection has often lost its place within the zombie genre, which is why Days Gone seems refreshing. We observe the game’s protagonist Deacon St. John trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world where not only is he challenged with the relentless Freakers and marauders on his tail 24/7, but also from the loss of his soul mate and wife Sarah who he lost along the way. This, for me, is the emotional pull that entices me to want to pick up my controller and dive in.
From what we’ve seen of the game so far, I want to know what drives Deacon to endure his life in this horrific world without his wife by his side. What measures does he take to carry on and not give up? How does he channel that profound grief? This for me is probably the most important aspect of Days Gone and I really think that the storyline will scratch my Last of Us itch.
Now in saying that, I don’t believe Days Gone and The Last of Us are the same, as the two games have been compared very often. Yes, they both have that similar heart-breaking and moving narrative, and they’re both set within the post-apocalyptic genre. But TLOU has the Infected — humans who have been contaminated and subsequently mutated into horrific forms by the Cordyceps Brain Infection — that move and behave in a totally different manner, whereas in Days Gone, we see “Freakers,” aka zombies that have their own completely separate set of mannerisms that I’ll go into more further on.
In Days Gone, there seems to be an XP system in place rather than TLOU‘s item-based progression, not to mention that The Last of Us was a lot more of a character-driven title than the brasher, in-your-face open-world approach that Days Gone seems to have. Another key difference is that there also isn’t multiplayer in Days Gone, unlike The Last of Us‘ Factions-based multiplayer mode.
Personally speaking, I’m glad that Sony turned down Saber Interactive’s multiplayer proposal for Days Gone because they wanted to focus on the story. That probably comes as a surprise to anyone that knows me and how much I love multiplayer elements to my games, but I feel this was a clever move by the studio in highlighting the importance of single-player titles. Plus, not every game needs that multiplayer add-on as sometimes it can be to its demise: I mean, look at Tomb Raider’s abysmal multiplayer, do I need to say more?
Last year, Days Gone creative director John Garvin was interviewed by Game Informer in which he was asked if he was “sick of The Last of Us comparisons,” to which he just replied: “Yes.” But when prompted to get a little bit more out of him, the interviewer expressed “Well, it is a bit like it though, right?” Garvin cheekily replied, “No, except that it’s a third-person action-adventure game where you’re killing creatures that aren’t zombies.”
Lifting the lid some more on the Freakers in Days Gone, we will notice how uniquely different they really are from what we usually witness in the typical zombie title – here we see zombies with some sort of intelligence or embedded instinct. I don’t remember the last time I came across a game like this where zombies migrate as a group, actually drink water, and hibernate. This would lead us to think that they have some kind of “thought” pattern in how to survive themselves, something that the genre rarely (if ever) approaches.
In most games of this genre, we see the typical “zombie class types” like in Left 4 Dead, for instance, where there is the Hunter, the Jockey, the Smoker, the Witch, and the Tank. We also notice this in the survival horror action-adventure game Dying Light, but these were all programmed with a rather simple AI system – most had some kind of ability or weakness, but rather common unambiguous mechanics.
In Days Gone, however, the developers implement something distinct. Gone are the things you thought you knew about the average flesh-eater and in place there is a more complex structure: zombies that drink water seemingly due to being thirsty. This is something players aren’t accustomed to — a zombie with some kind of humanistic need? They move in packs, maybe because they know they are safer like this – again another apparent human instinct. It seems that humans in Days Gone aren’t the only ones who are trying to survive here, which makes this title to me all the more intriguing and compelling.
I’m really excited to take the journey with Deacon wherever that road may take us, and I guess by writing this article, I’m essentially asking players to give Days Gone a chance. In my opinion, it’s definitely not your usual run of the mill zombie-style title that so many of us are tired of seeing, nor do I think the developers at Bend Studios are “cashing in” on an already successful title i.e. The Last of Us. I think Days Gone has a lot more to offer than meets the eye, and if players can peel back the layers that have been stacked against it, I believe they will eventually discover that.
Now, if the game somehow turns out to be a smoldering, hot pile of cow turd that ruins your gaming experience forever — don’t come crying to me!
You can grab Days Gone when it launches exclusively for PS4 on April 26. If you haven’t pre-ordered the game, you can do so right now over at Amazon. A collector’s edition of the title was also revealed last month, alongside some of the pre-order bonuses that day one buyers can expect.
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