REVIEW – Days Gone is Sony Bend’s first mainline console game since the last Syphon Filter on the PlayStation 2 back from 2007, and even after that they made side games for other franchises like Resistance and Uncharted for the PS Vita. Day’s Gone seems to be this generation’s most divisive product where critics and gamers seem to disagree on whether the game is horribly generic or pure fun. A zombie game which I initially went in with hesitation, as the initial E3 reveal, and previews just made it feel like a copy of Last of Us, but with a mix of Sons of Anarchy. It did not instil confidence in me for this game’s release, especially with such a long development time.
In the editorial staff here at the website, I was the most sceptical of the game. As to whether this will be a fun game to play, and how the story will turn out, plus if it will have any hooks that the game can sink into me. Especially after playing World War Z a week before Days Gone’s release date. The previews felt like it is going to be another Sony cinematic game with lots of hand-holding, and a short story. The release date came, and boy I was wrong about the game, and it has exceeded all my expectations and Sony Bend created something unique – if a tiny bit controversial.
Just one more job and we ride north!
Fair warning, but minor spoilers ahead. The story of Days Gone is a rather simple one, where humanity gets overrun by Freakers. These are similar to the zombies seen in 28 Days Later (or the latest World War Z game), where the zombies move in hordes, run fast, and are not your usual sluggish creeps. Two years after the initial outbreak, humanity is on its last legs, with survivors in different camps all over the world. The main character of Days Gone is Deacon St. John, an outlaw biker turned drifter who has been surviving for the past two years in Oregon with your biker friend Boozer aka William Gray. The world is filled with hordes of zombies and different human factions. Small bandit camps, militias, and fanatics such as anarchist that want to see the world burn, and Rippers who cut themselves, torture anyone who does not join them. The game starts out with the two of them encountering a group of Rippers and wounding Boozer, and at this point the player takes over to go and roam around the open world, to heal up Boozer and ride north to leave Oregon behind.
That is the opening hour of Days Gone told in a frantic way, and a tiny bit of handholding (which I initially feared), but then game lets the player loose. The main story and side quests are picked up at camps, there are outposts to destroy, and hordes to crush. Yet it is not a short game, and I was surprised by how long it is. It feels like if the developers decided to create four or five seasons worth of episodes into one video game, and oh boy it shows. At multiple points throughout the game, I thought it is going to end, but it just kept going with new storylines and introduced new location plus brand new characters. It almost feels like a Zombie Epic where you just keep on going, and never feels bloated plus it almost reaches Red Dead Redemption 2 longevity. The player cannot rush through the game, as there are so many things happening in the story that makes heads spin.
The voice acting is great, Sam Witwer (of Darth Maul and Starkiller of Force Unleashed fame) voices Deacon St John, who after two years of living in the apocalypse sounds unhinged, and it is quite refreshing as a protagonist in a post-apocalyptic world. Deacon reacts to killing bandits, hordes, sneaking around, and even commenting on radio chatter. It adds to the immersion of the character, and rather than being just an agent for the player to move around he is an actual character. The one slight problem with this is how it can break immersion in certain situations, and how the sound mixing can be off, especially where Deacon yells back about a radio transmission while a Horde is near. Boozer and all the other characters have great voice actors, and their storylines are interesting, but there are some tiny issues with the story. Some of it feels disjointed at times, and Boozer’s storyline at one point feels a bit chopped up. Certain sections feel like they were supposed to be playable but cut in the end to save time, or some were rearranged to fit the narrative better.
It is a great story, and Deacon is a great character to play as, but it is not a superb story, just simply good.
A horde here, a Ripper base there
Days Gone is filled to the brim with content, and as previously mentioned, besides the main missions where you are limited in approach, the side content can be tackled anyway. The game gives you a myriad of weapons, from LMGs, pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles, and even crossbows a full arsenal is available to us. However rushing hordes are not the best action, and the game requires quite a bit of planning. You’ll need to set traps, bait the Freakers near explosives, and whittle them down slowly in order to have a chance – as the Horde will rush the player. A horde can be small as a hundred Freakers or big as 500 hundred and more. The player also has traps available to them like bombs that attract the hordes, or environmental traps.
The marauder and ripper camps can be taken guns blazing, stealthily, or the player can try and lure a few Freakers into the camp to get rid of the human enemy NPCs. So while the game has objectives similar to old Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry games, it spaces them out enough and gives such freedom that it never feels boring to do them. Plus the side missions flesh out the world and give more context to a lot of the events. However the events can get a tiny bit repetitive, and the rewards for doing such events are not always clear as the in-game economy is odd. Every camp has individual credit and trust meter, which means that it is quite difficult to max out all of the camps, and some camps have more side missions, or easier to reach max level situations. Plus the rewards for Freaker kills is negligible and the player needs to kill a lot of them to gain any progress through that way, rather than doing the side activities.
At one point in one of the camps, I ran out of quests to do and was not on max level, but a few guns were locked behind the maximum level. So hopefully they will balance this out in a sequel. The pacing can also be wrecked by the gameplay when it comes to certain activities if you do not have the required materials. For instances if you do not have a Molotov cocktail or gas cans burning Freaker Nests is going to be a pain. This is also exasperated by the fact that you cannot buy Molotovs, so sometimes you have to leave some of these contents until you get enough materials to craft them. As a survival game, I can understand limitations to craftable items, but the camps should offer them for sale, just to speed up the progress (especially since you can buy ammo an infinite amount of times).
Deacon’s main method of transportation is his bike, which can be upgraded over the course of the game. Nitro can be added, better armour, even better parts to withstand water damage, or more suspension to cope with big falls from cliffs when escaping from hordes of Freakers. It is an easy vehicle to control, and it feels quite refreshing to travel around the map with the bike. It is not complicated to use but can take some time to master.
Focus young drifter
The game has light RPG mechanics where Deacon can level up, and distribute skill points to three distinct skill trees: Melee, Ranged, and Survival skill trees. Melee gives you more opportunities to use crafted melee items with more effectiveness, and your basic knife which is unbreakable. Ranged gives the player better aiming, bullet time, quicker reload, and projectile penetration. Finally, the Survival skill tree gives you more space for craftable items, survival vision upgrades, better use of scrap for repairs, and increased resource collection. There are also Nero syringes that the player can collect to raise the limit of Health, Stamina and Focus.
Shooting in the game is a bit of a mixed bag, especially at the beginning as aiming can be quite difficult. After putting enough skill points though into ranged combat the game becomes much more fun. Melee is a bit wonky at times, especially how switching between enemies is based on camera positioning, and survival is a mixed bag, but never becomes too annoying.
There is a lot of variety in the gameplay, even if it stands on the pillars of old tropes of open world games. While there is a lot of content, the AI for the Horde is fine, but the human enemies are not that bright. Enemies would get stuck on objects, would ignore enemies, and the main point of hordes, in the long run, is a bit lacklustre. Sure hordes are dangerous, but sadly you do not get to lure them into enemy encampments that much, and they never seem to wander near critical mission locations or ambush sites. It is still a fun game, but the gameplay in certain cases lacks polish or true freedom.
From forests, and snowy mountains to mass graves
The map of Days Gone is a huge and varied landscape, from forests to dusty hot springs, to snowy mountains the game just looks gorgeous. The buildings in the destroyed towns look eerily creepy, and deserted, perfectly giving that I Am Legend feeling where the air stands still, and only the occasional cry of a Freaker is heard. There is also dynamic day and night cycles, plus weather patterns in a way that I have not seen a videogame do such changes in a landscape before. In certain sections of the game, it can start snowing, and will cover the buildings, roads so pretty much that section of the map. It will make the Freakers react differently, and also kill the visibility for Deacon. It is a real marvel to see the landscape be suddenly covered with snow for a long period of times. The map has multiple camps, and all located in different biomes, plus all sections of the map have different dangers to them. The game is superb in terms of graphics and immerses the player.
While sound mixing for conversations is a bit of an issue, as mentioned previously, all other sound effects are superb. From howls, to shotgun blasts to simply walking in the forest, everything has a weight to it. So if you got a home theatre syste or a high-end headphone the game will fully utilize it.
Freakers … I mean bugs everywhere!
The game is, unfortunately, less polished than your usual Sony exclusive product. The developers have been constantly patching Days Gone, but there are still a few issues here and there. The AI as mentioned previously is not the best, especially how bad the human AI can get. Sometimes enemies get stuck on debris or ignore each other, and even the attacks do not connect. The game would also crash with certain patches released, and the initial load times are not the best. Then there were the audio glitches, and how in certain cinematics the audio would not match the video which ruined a few scenes that were important story beats. Most of these issues have been patched out, but the game is still in a bit of a rough spot with certain bugs making the adventure a bit more difficult than it should be
Even playing the game on a PlayStation 4 Pro it has framerate issues especially in the last part of the game, where it is quite severely taking a toll on the hardware, so hopefully, a PlayStation 5 upgrade is in the cards for the future.
Run for the hills
In the end, Days Gone is a good game with a few odd design decision and some minor bugs that have mostly been squashed out by patch 1.07. It provides a unique experience, with a fun and interesting storyline that feels four or five season’s worth of a zombie show. It is not perfect, and a bit janky at times, but it is a really good game, and a great Sony Exclusive. If you want to experience the rush of surviving just by the skin of your teeth Days Gone is the best place to start.
+ Nerve racking combat
+ Hordes, and great graphics
+ Interesting stories
– Too many bugs
– Framerate issues
– Some of the controls are not the best
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: SIE Bend Studio
Release date: April 26, 2019