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One of the first and most popular zombie games was Resident Evil. That name is as synonymous with zombies as Night of the Living Dead is but much like the genre-defining “Of The Dead” franchise the Resident Evil series eventually buckled under its own weight and has only recently begun to lurch forward once more. Now with the release date of Days Gone – yet another zombie apocalypse survival simulator – being teased for this year’s E3 it’s time to start asking if we really need another of these games or if it’s just another cash cow?
Zombies have appeared in all forms across all mediums. The Walkers of The Walking Dead. The clickers in The Last of Us. The pretty-not-at-all-zombie-like-zombie of iZombie. The list of fast zombies, fungal zombies and even cute zombies goes on. Zombies have never really gone away which is ironic considering how often earth has been saved from the living dead. Maybe it’s just me but I’d say that although zombified media is at an all time high the interest in said media is at an all time low. Everything I see about The Walking Dead on pop-culture sites or Twitter seems to be about slogging through the last few seasons. That’s what all this zombie stuff is: a slog. Which makes the idea of Days Gone all the more difficult to be interested in.
How many films, games and books have we had where a damaged, middle-aged man goes through the motions of survival in a cruel, unforgiving world waiting for some better purpose to reveal itself? Too many. The Last of Us defined this kind of character and remains top of my list in terms of the many mediums that have told this kind of story before. With that said Days Gone seems to offer more of the same, more of the same that will admittedly look amazing on a PS4 Pro but more of the same nonetheless.
Checklist: Simple crafting? Check. Grizzled main characters? Check. Apocalyptic doomsday cult? Check. Bloody, occasionally extreme violence? Double check. I could go on but you get the point. Nearly every single game that has presented us with the setting of a zombie apocalypse can be guaranteed to have at least three of the above especially on console. PC games generally have a little more variety but even then they’re still full of generic dead things to shoot or run from.
Days Gone tells the story of Deacon St. John, no he’s not a Ghostrider character, and his friend Boozer – neither is he – as they endeavour to ride north and escape the Pacific north-west setting. In their way are the various gangs, cults and zombie-like ‘Freaks’. Deacon is tortured by his past mistakes just like all the characters that have come before him. He has done terrible things to survive and will do more terrible things in his journey. We have heard this story before. We will hear it again. If there’s one thing about zombies in media it’s that they always come back (sorry).
To say the gaming industry risks stagnation by investing in more zombie themed games would be wrong. The games industry is already stagnating by investing in these games. DOOM invented the first-person-shooter and all of a sudden there were thousands of them. It wasn’t until Call of Duty made it fun again before it’s annual doubling down killed the interest once more that the industry took notice. Indie games were on the rise before indie became the new mainstream. Now indie games are synonymous with quick money spinners and scams on the Steam and Humble stores. There are more battle royale games out there right now than I care to count. But what can be done?
When it comes to the post-apocalypse genre we often see the world from white male perspective. Women, people of colour and other minorities are often relegated to being supporting characters. The likes of Bill in The Last of Us and Lee in Telltale’s The Walking Dead game prove that there’s space for male characters that aren’t just straight and white. Elsewhere in The Last of Us and it’s DLC Left Behind players must play as Ellie but there is more to gaming than The Last of Us. If the apocalypse genre can flourish as it once did than it needs to drag itself out of the mire it’s stuck itself in. Days Gone just seems like its entrenching itself deeper and deeper in.
The people that make the massive games that are advertised as the next gaming revolution are mostly men. Those in position’s of narrative and creative power all seem to be men anyway. Neil Druckman, Cory Barlog and David Cage are all names that have become synonymous with games that are driven by their characters more than they are by their gameplay. Women in gaming are plentiful but few are trusted with the responsibility that comes with making games that cost millions of dollars. Women and people that aren’t just straight and white deserve their place in the games industry and in games themselves. The likes of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and the female characters in the recent Battlefield games are hopeful signs of an industry slowly waking up to change.
When I first saw gameplay footage of Days Gone I was struck by how unnecessary it all felt. I’d spent all my sympathy on Joel in The Last of Us. Why would I want to see the same thing again moving at a different speed dressed in different clothes? No matter what the eventual review scores are for Days Gone it will just ultimately feel, look and sound like more of the same. This is not what the industry needs and considering recent rumblings it’s something the industry and audience will no longer accept.