The Day Before | Cutting-edge survival game or vapourware? 

It was one of the most wishlisted games on Steam. But The Day Before has also been shrouded in uncertainty since its reveal in 2021. Ryan Lambie takes a closer look…

The Day Before

Update: After this article’s publication, we received a response from The Day Before developer Fntastic. It reads:

“Unfortunately, at this time, we are unable to grant any interviews due to recent events. Our legal department has advised us to refrain from making any public statements until further notice. However, we would like to express our willingness to conduct an interview at a later time, once the situation has been resolved.”

Our original story follows.

On 2 February, a new trailer landed for The Day Before, showing ten minutes of murky, zombie-survival gameplay footage. It contains plenty of elements you’d expect from the genre: exploration, scavenging for supplies, weapon customisation, and bouts of gritty combat against crowds of undead ghouls. It all seems fairly normal for a much-anticipated game building up to its release later in the year.

However, since its unveiling just over two years ago, a cloud of uncertainty has hung over The Day Before. As polished as it’s often looked – polished enough to make it the most wish-listed game on Steam for a time – questions about its veracity have grown. Is it possible for a small indie team to make such an ambitious game? Can we really trust what we’ve seen in the footage released so far? Could it even be a high-profile instance of vapourware?

The Day Before first burst into public view with a flourish in January 2021. Its announcement trailer was a slick, five-minute window into what its developer, indie studio Fntastic, had planned: a post-apocalyptic survival MMO that takes place in a devastated US city. The environments it depicted were detailed and beautifully lit, with puddles reflecting the neon glow of street signs and strings of lights illuminating the husks of abandoned cars.

Immediately, there were questions as to whether a game that supports multiple online players could possibly maintain this level of visual fidelity; it seemed more likely that what we were seeing was a ‘vertical slice’ of gameplay designed to show the concepts in their best light, rather than accurately show what would be possible in the finished build. Compare early footage of Forspoken with the final release, for example, and you’ll see a dramatically different-looking game.

Visuals aside, The Day Before looked convincingly like a next-gen survival game, with all the scavenging, zombie-slaughtering and PvP shootouts a player could want. But didn’t the whole thing look a little… familiar? In a YouTube reaction video on Gameology Forecast’s channel, developer Chase Kolozsi noted, “It reminds me a lot of The Division. It’s like if State of Decay was married to The Division but it had a little side fling with The Last of Us.

As we’ll see later, this wouldn’t be the last time people would see elements from other games in The Day Before.

Are you experienced?

Considering how technically accomplished The Day Before’s early footage looks, it’s striking how little experience its studio has in making games of this scope. Prior toThe Day Before, its previous games were The Radiant One (2018), a short but well-received isometric adventure, and The Wild Eight, a survival game put into Early Access in 2019 and seemingly left unfinished (on Steam, its release date is pegged for 2023).

Nor does The Day Before have a major publisher providing the millions of dollars a game of its scale would surely cost; instead, it has MyTona, a purveyor of free-to-play mobile titles. What Fntastic does have in its favour, though, is a team of around 140 or so “volunteers”. While most do receive salaries, according to the developer, a large percentage of other people working on the game are unpaid and instead receive “cool rewards, participation certificates, and free codes”.

In a post on Medium, Fntastic founders Eduard and Aisen Gotovtsev wrote in poetic terms about the virtues of voluntary work (“If you help a stranger carry heavy boxes into their house willingly, you enjoy it. If you carry those heavy boxes unwillingly, every moment will be like torture”). 

Even with a staff headcount of 140 or more, you’d think a project like The Day Before would be large enough for them to be getting on with – particularly given it was initially targeted for launch in late 2021. Somehow, though, the studio managed to surprise launch another game in 2021 – a horror-themed, four-on-one multiplayer title called Propnight. Quite why Fntastic decided to throw out another game while there was so much attention on The Day Before is unclear; at any rate, they received a mixed response, with criticisms levelled at its long wait times between bouts and lack of balance by players.

Through 2021 and 2022, The Day Before went through a cycle of delays and occasional new footage drops. One such delay was due to a last-minute decision to pivot from Unreal Engine 4 to UE5. A more recent spanner in the works was a trademark dispute; curiously, the studio neglected to secure the name to its own game, despite having worked on it since 2019. Instead, someone else bought the trademark, resulting in the game being delisted from Steam (at the time of writing, it still hasn’t been reinstated).

An intended March 2023 launch has now been pushed back to 10 November. That announcement was made on 2 February – the same day Fntastic launched The Day Before's latest 10-minute gameplay trailer. By this point, the game was beginning to look distinctly pared back compared to the glittering footage seen in early 2021. The lighting was less intricate, the environments were more sparse, and other players were nowhere to be seen. Even the zombies seemed to be fewer in number.

Online commenters also began to notice some mildly suspicious details in the trailer. YouTube channel Force Gaming points out that many of the background objects seen in the footage, such as ambulances and pickup trucks, are off-the-peg assets available from such companies as Prop Haus.

In fairness, developers buying pre-built assets is hardly new. The team behind The Day Before is relatively small, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t have the bandwidth to build everything from scratch, and many more prominent developers don’t build every asset themselves in any case. However, there have long been signs that The Day Before team is unafraid to borrow design cues and ideas from other games.

The Day Before title is nakedly modelled on The Last Of Us’ typography, right down to the distressed look at the foot of each letterform; meanwhile, the opening teaser at the start of the February 2023 trailer is closely modelled on a promo for Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. Some individual shots are almost identical. 

It remains to be seen whether The Day Before can live up to all the bold promises it has made over the two years since it was first announced. Will it offer the kind of cutting-edge survival experience it advertised? Given how bare-bones the mechanics look in the latest trailer, will it meet its latest 10 November release date or get pushed back again?

For its part, developer Fntastic has condemned the rumours and stories swirling around The Day Before as “disinformation”.

“Anything can say anything for views,” the studio wrote in a statement on Twitter, “and everyone will believe it.”

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