Plenty of people might be sleeping on Days Gone, but PlayStation's zombie RPG has genuinely threatening enemies - wait until you meet the pint-sized Freakers called ‘newts’ - a clever motorbike mechanic, and, it turns out, truly metal sections where you'll need to take on hundreds of freakers at once. I went up against 500 of the bastards, armed with my wits, my bike, and what turned out a very misplaced sense of confidence.
The arena was an a piece of grassland littered with abandoned trucks, cars and large storage containers, and at its center was a pit containing a churning mass of enraged arms, legs and gnashing teeth. The good news was that they weren't going to attack until they spotted me, so I had time to prepare. The bad news was that once I alerted them to my presence by straying too close or letting off a shot they weren't going to stop coming until I'd picked off every last one.
Going with the Freaker flow
Actually, picked off isn't the right way to put it. That makes you picture our hero, the grizzled Deacon, finding a nice safe vantage point and sniping at the enemy. But there is no safe vantage point. Once the Freakers are on the move they flow around the environment like water, very quickly flooding every pathway and route, flanking you, scaling every obstacle. My first attempt lasted just minutes - my plan to stem the flow with molotov cocktails - the veteran zombie fighter choice - fell apart the minute I realised they were moving faster than I could throw, and some lizard part of my brain panicked and had me just run, aimlessly hunting for safe ground, until they overwhelmed me.
On my second attempt I avoided the pit as long as I could, searching the abandoned cars - you can pop the locked trunks with your knife - for crafting supplies and weapons, and making proximity mines and napalm molotovs until my explosives wheel was full. I set up proximity mines wherever I thought I could bottleneck the monsters, and and started the whole process by hammering the pit with napalm to pick of as many as I could. It all seemed so promising, but I very quickly realised I hadn't thought beyond the initial explosions. The proximity mines took out some (but not all 500) of my targets, and now I was back to looping around the trucks and storage containers, my stamina dropping, waiting for the moment I'd misjudge a corner and end up as Freaker entree. Again. Of course all this was happening in the PlayStation corner of E3, so there was the added bonus of people being able to witness my humiliation everytime they wandered over to sample the booth catering.
Figuring out the Freaker formula
Still, I was sure there was some secret formula I was missing, and with each attempt I got a little better at predicting and managing the horde. I could blow up barrels with well aimed shots to take out a dozen Freakers here or there, I could use my bike to store extra ammo or race from one side of the area to another. The storage containers were great when my stamina was flagging, I could run into one and then squeeze through a gap in the other side, something the Freakers couldn't figure out. Log piles could be blasted to take out handfuls of enemies, and my inventory wheel was stocked with stamina boosters I could use to get an extra burst of energy when things looked really bad. It was like a very deadly logic puzzle, and I could almost feel the fireworks in my prefrontal cortex as I swapped between weapons, guns, and attempts at cunning.
The twist in this tale? I never managed to figure out how to defeat all 500 Freakers. On my best attempt - and with a combination of luck and dedicated resource management - I culled the horde to around a third of its original size. I raged, I did that thing where I personally threatened the game - "seriously, if I don't do it this time I am done with you" - but ultimately it was an incredibly fun way to die. I can't wait to perfect my horde strategy, and to wreak terrible revenge when the game is released on February 22, 2019.