Playing survival game Days Gone at a recent preview event, I was struck by a particular class of enemy called a Newt. These zombie-like enemies were once human children. Following a global pandemic, they’ve become dangerous enemies to the player character. Killing them made me feel queasy. Even though these little creatures are vile and scary, I found it difficult to let go of the idea that they had been innocent children.
Newts are smaller and weaker than other enemies in the game. They collect on rooftops and other areas, where they evidently feel safe. They will only attack if they’re sure the player is weakened and vulnerable. They also hide in unexpected places, and will launch surprise attacks.
When they attack, they must be killed — just like the other, larger enemies, known in the game as Freakers. The player uses a variety of weapons, including guns and bludgeons.
In the Days Gone world, these Newts are what’s left of human children and teenagers who were victims of the plague. They survive by working together. From what I’ve seen so far, they do not expect protection from older Freakers.
Although zombie kids have appeared in shows like The Walking Dead, they’re something of a rarity in games. In the first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead game, the discovery of a zombie child elicits a moral crisis among the human protagonists, who treat the child differently than they would an adult zombie.
Children are rarely portrayed as killable characters in any kind of genre. I asked Days Gone’s developers about the decision to include Newts.
“It’s not about how old they are,” said writer John Garvin. “It’s about how the virus has to affect everybody. It affects everybody in horrible ways. The storyline of the Newts is not gratuitous. It’s connected to the story in a super-important way.”
Still, there’s clearly some discomfort at Sony about Newts. The developers insist that they were “adolescents,” and that their humanity is now gone.
“They’re Newts at this point,” said game director Jeff Ross. “They’re Freakers. They are animals.” He said that they add variety to combat because “they don’t go on the offensive but [...] as soon as you let down your guard and you’re not paying attention and you get close enough to them, they’re going to come out of nowhere. So they’re — they’re really sinister, kind of evil.”
Days Gone is out for PlayStation 4 on April 26. For more on the game, check out our hands-on impressions.