The scariest thing we encountered during our recent demo of Days Gone, Bend Studio's open-world zombie game, wasn't a flesh-eating foe or pistol-packing human. It was an empty gas tank. As outlaw biker-turned-apocalypse survivor Deacon St. John, we found ourselves in the middle of the Oregon wilderness with few resources and even less fuel in our motorcycle's tank.
We've all experienced the dread that comes with wondering how many more miles we can travel once our vehicle's gas gauge goes red, but most wouldn't associate the feeling with fear. In the upcoming PlayStation 4 exclusive, however, something as simple as a stranded bike can rapidly go from a mere inconvenience to a final stand for your life.
Following our hands-on session, SYFY WIRE asked creative directive John Garvin what Days Gone is doing to stand out from all the other games pitting players against hordes of walking corpses. "I think the number one thing that makes us unique, is the fact we've created an open-world where, no matter what else you're trying to do, you're trying to survive. It's a world that comes for you," he said.
Garvin's response mirrored exactly what we experienced when our bike came to an unexpected stop on a dark path in the woods. While we'd already fought a swarm of the game's zombies — or "freakers," as Days Gone refers to them — and stood our ground against a rival group of gun-toting humans, we were no match for our own carelessness and complacency. We'd picked up guns, gathered medical supplies, and crafted Molotov cocktails, but never paid much attention to our gas gauge's dropping needle.
In our defense, we were distracted by what a blast it is to take in the game's sprawling, post-apocalyptic world from behind the handlebars of Deacon's bike. Whether you're tearing up the blacktop at high speed or carefully navigating a backwoods' trail, the motorcycle feels fantastic. Vehicles in sandbox games are typically afterthoughts, secondary elements existing solely to get you from point A to point B. In Days Gone though, you get the sense Deacon's bike isn't so disposable, but rather an extension of his character.
Much of this comes from the fact the ride and its functions are organically woven into the gameplay in ways that go beyond transportation. During our demo, for example, we used it to escape from a pack of infected freaks. The screen swelled with hungry mutants, but the bike's intuitive controls allowed us to navigate it passed the threats with relative ease. Of course, the few we couldn't weave through satisfyingly smacked the pavement as we plowed through them.
When not playing chicken with the living dead, players can customize and upgrade the hog with a variety of performance-enhancing items. We didn't get to tweak it during our session, but apparently, everything from quieter mufflers to peppier engines can be purchased and installed. Deacon's transport of choice also serves as a mobile camp, where inventory items can be stored and managed.
One of our preview's most rewarding moments came when we nearly collided the bike with a group of walking corpses. As we were speeding down the highway in the dead of night, our front tire came within inches of a pack of Freakers hidden beneath an overpass. With a super-satisfying, smoke-emitting skid, we turned on a dime and sped away in a fashion that'd stretch a smile across Daryl Dixon's grimacing mug.
We rode from this encounter feeling pretty badass, but a rainstorm — and that aforementioned empty fuel tank — ensured our buzz was short lived. By the time we'd realized we were on empty, Deacon was in the middle of nowhere without much ammo or medical supplies. An unexpected meeting with a pack of wolves siphoned our remaining resources, while the pouring rain and darkened sky left us desperate for shelter.
Some hope, so we thought, came in the form of a fellow survivor emerging from the shadows. Sadly, this figure turned out to be an insane woman wielding a pipe. Apparently as desperate as we were, she took advantage of our lack of weapons and low health, and unceremoniously introduced her blunt object to our brain.
While we tackled a more scripted, traditional mission during our time with the game, it was this final, emergent encounter – that all began with our failure to refuel Deacon's bike – that showed off the promise and potential of Days Gone's dynamic, dangerous world. We look forward to getting back on the bike, after topping off its tank, of course, when the game shuffles onto PlayStation 4 on February 22, 2019.