With Days Gone finally out tomorrow, we thought we’d take a look at the history of Sony Bend Studio, the developers behind the open world survival adventure. From their early days working on the PlayStation, to their stellar work on portable games, to their return to consoles.
Originally called Eidetic, the studio was set up by Marc Blank and Michael Berlyn, with their first game, the 1996 PlayStation platformer, Busby 3D. While not as fondly remembered as contemporaries such as Crash Bandicoot or Mario 64, it helped give the young studio vital experience in developing a game for the PlayStation.
Next came a proposal from Sony’s 989 studios. They wanted the young studio to work on a game called ‘Syphon Filter’, which at the time had no plot. In an interview with the PlayStation Blog, Bend Studio’s creative director John Garvin said: “From the beginning it was to be a “stealth action” game (in the days before there was such a genre) that focused heavily on weapons, gadgets and stealth. Our goal was to make the player feel like a super spy.”
When the game came out in 1999, it did exactly that, although the road to release was a particularly bumpy one. Garvin was bought on to work on it halfway through its development and explains how he changed what the game would become. “The studio directors liked my ideas and midway through development I rewrote the entire thing, coming up with the idea that the phrase “Syphon Filter” actually was a code word for a deadly “programmable” virus. None of that stuff was new, science fiction and film had explored ideas like these for years, but it was new to games.”
The rewriting worked, as it became an instant PlayStation classic. Following spy Gabe Logan on his quest to thwart terrorist Erich Rhoemer, its blend of stealth action and globe-trotting adventure helping it earn rave reviews (it currently holds a 90 on Metacritic) and super sales. Naturally, a sequel was immediately put into the works.
Syphon Filter sequels
A year after the first entry in the burgeoning series, Syphon Filter 2 hit shelves. The story followed Gabe’s continuing adventures in trying to stop terrorist attacks across the globe, while a multiplayer mode gave you the chance to pit your stealthy skills against a mate. While it didn’t change the gameplay too much, it captured gamers’ imagination once more and Sony were impressed enough to buy Eidetic after the game was released, where their name was changed to Bend Studio.
Bend’s first game was Syphon Filter 3 in 2001, which continued to please fans with its unique action and top-of-the-class production values. However, Gabe’s next adventure would land on PS2, and a change of console wasn’t the only major change. Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain hit Sony’s console in 2004, and instead of playing as the series’ protagonist-to-date, you created your own character to play through the game’s story.
Bend Studio then turned their attention to Sony’s portable consoles.
If Sony Bend had established Syphon Filter as one of Sony’s premier series, they solidified that reputation on the PSP. Porting over an action title to the handheld console was tricky because of the singular thumbstick it had, but the studio’s debut on the PSP, 2006’s Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror, made it seem effortless. It looked just as good as many games on PS2, while maintaining the enjoyable blend of stealth and action the series had become known for. The follow-up in 2007, Syphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow, proved their handheld debut was no fluke, although it remains the final game in the series for now.
Bend’s next game saw them move to a different franchise, Resistance. Insomniac’s alt-WW2 first person shooter launched on PS3 in 2006, which presented Bend with an intriguing conundrum. How do you take a series that was utilising next-gen graphics and first person shooting and convert to a handheld console, one that was using older tech? Their response to that was Resistance: Retribution. They eked out every ounce of power they could from the PSP, and crafted a thrilling single-player campaign that ditched the first person for an over-the-shoulder camera, as well as managing to create some thrilling online multiplayer modes.
If Resistance: Retribution was one of the PSP’s most technically accomplished games, then their next game, 2011’s Uncharted: Golden Abyss, is even more remarkable. The PS Vita spin-off is an Uncharted game you can take on-the-go, with its presentation, action, and stellar voice-acting (Nolan North returns to voice Nathan Drake) comparable to its cousins on PS3. The fact it remains one of the best looking games on PS Vita despite being a launch title is a testament to how well Bend Studio understand Sony’s portable consoles.
Back to consoles
Which leads us to this Days Gone. Announced back at E3 in 2016, it marks Bend’s first PS4 game (and first console game in 15 years), with players stepping into the biker boots of Deacon St. John as he tries to survive in a world ravaged by a mysterious virus. A massive open world, huge crowds of Freakers that will swarm the player, along with their signature stealth action, are just some of the reasons we can’t wait to take our first steps into the Farewell Wilderness. More importantly, we can’t wait to see what’s next in the Bend Studio story.
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