Days Gone didn’t blow us away at E3 2016, looking a bit like a zombie Benny Hill chase at times, but how is it shaping up at E3 2017?
Upon first impression, you might feel nonplussed: greys, browns, greens, a Pacific Northwest vibe that’s got to be reaching saturation (Alan Wake, the Fall chapter in The Last of Us, Life is Strange), a gruff Sons of Anarchy-esque protagonist with a hesitant bad-ass lilt.
After a closer inspection, however, there is more to Days Gone than first meets the eye. There’s plenty to like here, and let’s give credit where it’s long overdue: Sony’s Oregon-based Bend Studio is a group of skilled, hard-working mercenaries that consistently deliver mostly overlooked, quality games under IPs they have to jump into like moving cars.
Days Gone looks to showcase a well-oiled hinge between open-world exploration and set-piece-sultry enclosed environments. This is something that Uncharted and The Last of Us didn’t do; delivering the kind of rich, curated level-design Naughty Dog is known for comes at the cost of shuttered linearity. From splashy power-slides on a beefy hog through damp canyon forests, to disembarking into intricate, more personal spaces, the transition looks seamless.
From what’s there in the trailer, Days Gone irrigates the flow of action into several possible outcomes, all of them bristling with popcorn pulp action: a bear snarled in barbed wire with knives jutting from its back, a literal opening of the flood gates to a wave of zombies, an impasse with a hostage and a hair-trigger standoff (pop-quiz hot shot!). Bend Studio has played The Last of Us, but they’ve most definitely seen Mad Max: Fury Road as well.
There are reasons, too, to be weary and wary: QTE fisticuffs, genre ground stampeded over enough to wake the dead, a thoroughly uncompelling protagonist. But Bend has a proven track-record of injecting existing franchises (Uncharted, Resistance) with fresh blood and new ideas, and it’s been far too long (Syphon Filter in 1999!) since they last struck out on their own. It’s perhaps odd then, and a little ironic, that they’re treading such familiar ground with Days Gone.
Still, what’s there, despite the familiar touches, could bring new life to a shuffling, tired genre.