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Days Gone For Good

Why there isn’t going to be a Days Gone 2

The internet had Sony in its sights recently, following a Bloomberg report by Jason Schreier that revealed all manner of things, including a remake of The Last of Us and the fact that Days Gone 2 isn’t happening. Coming shortly after the news that Japan Studio was being closed down, many were questioning what exactly was going on at Sony Interactive Entertainment, with President and CEO Jim Ryan, in particular, coming under fire.

“Where’s the risk-taking Sony gone?!” people exclaimed (apparently ignoring completely the existence of Returnal). How could they cancel their own franchise?! However, to me, this came as no surprise at all.

The reviews of Days Gone were obviously middling, with the game sitting at a much lower than usual score on Metacritic, when compared to their usual first-party output. But even so, there’s no denying the game garnered a sizeable and passionate fanbase. Many people insist it was one of their favourite games of the last generation. I can’t think of a game where there was such disconnect between the critics and players. Why is that?

Perhaps playing these sorts of games for review takes something away from them. There must be a certain monotony to riding a bike and shooting Freakers around the forests of Oregon when playing for 40 hours over the space of a week. I think I’d review anything badly that I had to play for that much over a few days, which is probably one of the reasons why I don’t review games for a living. But when playing it normally, an hour or two a night over the space of a few weeks or months, then maybe the flaws aren’t quite so apparent and you can focus more on what’s enjoyable about the game.

Either way, there was predictable uproar at the news that Sony declined a sequel. Over 120,000 people have currently signed a Change.org petition demanding that Sony change tack and make one after all. The audience clearly exists, especially if Bend improved on some of the game’s flaws.

Why then would there be no sequel? I believe the real reason is not down to the reviews or sales figures – look, if Knack can get a sequel, anything can. I think it’s because Days Gone just doesn’t sit well within Sony’s overall portfolio of IP.

Think of what Sony has managed to do with PlayStation Studios during the PS4 generation. Put aside the complaint that their games tend to fit a certain story-driven third person action adventure template, which seems a bit of a moot complaint to me, given how popular these games are. They’ve created a hugely diverse line up of content. There’s so much variety there in the world-building: Japanese samurai, robot dinosaurs, Alien-inspired horror, gods and mythology, Pixar-style cartoon adventures, superheroes, Indiana Jones-style adventures, and yes – post-apocalyptic zombie games. The issue Bend Studio had is that The Last of Us is the undisputed king of the post-apocalyptic zombie game. Not only that, it’s arguably PlayStation Studios’ flagship IP.

Perhaps Bend Studio pitched a game based around a motorcycle gang, something that would have a very distinctive feel. Development on the game probably started around the time Sons of Anarchy was at the peak of its popularity, so having a motorcycle gang-based game made great sense. But all games need a logical form of endless enemy you can dispatch, and there are only so many other rival gang members you can plausibly murder in a game whilst still maintaining a narrative where the protagonist is a ‘goody’. I can see then how, in development, Bend Studio would have settled on zombies as the obvious answer. Everyone loves shooting zombies, right? Just look at how popular The Walking Dead was back then.

As a result of the zombies though, to me at least, it plays as an open world version of The Last of Us. It has a very similar feel, with some overlapping gameplay elements, right down to collecting rags and bottles of alcohol for crafting. I swear picking up a bottle even has the same sloshing sound effect.

There’s nothing in this game that’s bad, as such. It’s all perfectly playable and enjoyable in a kind of mindless, map-clearing kind of way. Crucially though, in most areas it simply isn’t as good as The Last of Us. Its characters aren’t as well written or likeable. There’s no real innovation beyond the hoards of zombies, which aren’t even a part of the game until later on. The zombies themselves, or ‘Freakers’, are the infected victims of a virus, much like the enemies in The Last of Us. They even stalk about in the same twitchy manner, letting out pained cries of rage and despair, exactly like Clickers looking for you.

Picture the scene at Sony HQ – you’ve carefully crafted a diverse line up of leading characters and worlds. PlayStation Studios makes distinctive games, featuring the sorts of protagonists or settings you don’t see anywhere else (notice how there are no military shooters in the first party portfolio). Your marketing is on point – each game you release is clearly recognisable and stands out from the crowd. All except one – Days Gone.

I therefore wasn’t shocked to learn that a sequel wasn’t being worked on. The popularity of The Walking Dead has waned, with AMC finally ending the main series. Zombies have become over-saturated and Sony’s main concern would be to keep The Last of Us as popular as possible, not compromising it by contributing themselves to zombie-fatigue. People acted like this was a huge betrayal by Sony, but no one seemed to consider the fact that there was no announcement that Sony was closing down Bend Studio – something which wouldn’t be out of form for the sometimes ruthless publisher. Even though there would be no Days Gone 2, it was obvious that Bend Studio were working on something. And remember that the same Bloomberg report that revealed there would be no Days Gone 2 also suggested there was a remake of The Last of Us currently in development. Would Sony really have two zombie games in development alongside each other?

It’s worth noting that Days Gone allegedly took a lot longer than planned to develop. Bend Studio had to scale up their headcount and grow as a developer. They would have picked up invaluable experience from creating Days Gone, by far their most ambitious title to date. Sony wasn't going to allow all of that investment to go to waste. They no doubt recognised that the core fundamentals of the game were sound, even if the setting didn’t quite work for them.

We got the confirmation recently that Bend Studio are in fact working on a new IP which the developer naturally “can’t wait to show” us according to their statement on Twitter. Sony is incredibly strategic with the types of games they are putting their resources into with PlayStation Studios, so what might this new IP be? I obviously have no idea, but if I had to guess, I’d suggest that one of the only real big gaps in their line up is a sci-fi open world game in a kind of Mass Effect-like setting.

Now that Starfield has been confirmed as an Xbox exclusive, it wouldn’t surprise me if Sony had sent Bend Studio away, turning down their offer of making Days Gone 2, but instructing them to come up with something with a sci-fi setting. It would be so easy (he says breezily, with no idea of the complexities of game development) – swap zombies for aliens, a motorbike for a Star Wars speeder-bike, the forests of Oregon for the surface of an alien planet. You’d have the same core game design but a much more interesting world to explore it in, and, crucially, a more distinctive one to market.

I’m probably way off the mark. Perhaps Returnal and Rachet & Clank have the ‘outer-space’ setting taken care of and it’ll be something completely different. Whatever Bend Studio is working on though, I can’t wait to see it. They are clearly a talented developer, and while Days Gone didn’t do it for me personally, I can still acknowledge that there were solid foundations for them to build upon to create something truly special with their next release.

As for the Days Gone franchise? I can’t see it continuing while The Last of Us games are still being made. But who knows. Maybe one day Naughty Dog will insist on winding up that franchise so they can work on something new. There could then be a space once again for Deek to grab the keys to his beloved motorcycle for one more ride.

Laurie Eggleston