Days Gone feels like the work of a veteran studio that's created several cinematic AAA games on PlayStation 4 already. It certainly doesn't feel like a studio's first console game in over a decade nor like its most ambitious project ever, but that's exactly what it is. I never thought I could thoroughly enjoy a game set during the zombie apocalypse — or at least a comparable pandemic with hordes of infected creatures — but Sony's Bend Studio proved me wrong.
- Compelling main character
- Beautifully detailed environments
- Stealth gameplay
- Unique and complex systems
- Third-person shooting
- Motorcycle controls
- Long loading screens
The good: You'll fall in love with Deacon and its gruesome world
Days Gone, despite not being an RPG, is a game full of choices. They won't drastically affect the outcome of the story, but they do affect how you experience the world and how you go about objectives. Do you build trust with one encampment over the other, possibly locking you out of bike upgrades for a longer period of time? Do you wait for nightfall to avoid marauders, but risk getting caught by a swarm of Freakers (this game's version of zombies)? A lot of games feature small choices like these, but you don't always feel their impact. In Days Gone, they are especially noticeable. There are times where I could agonize over decisions like these because I didn't know if it would help or hurt me moving forward.
You do get to play a character named Deacon St. John (more on him later), but the world is a great character in its own right. A day and night cycle, along with a dynamic weather system, ensure that you're always kept on your toes. It's a lot harder for a Freaker to hear you while it's raining and thundering off in the distance, but this also makes the terrain more difficult to navigate. This is where it's important that your bike's tires are upgraded for better traction — though I have my own issues with how the motorcycle handles in any weather. I tended to avoid going out during the dead of night whenever possible, but there are times it's unavoidable. You need to be prepared for these situations and the choices you make factor into all that strategy.
Bend Studio strikes the perfect balance between realism and fun.
Its survival mechanics and open-world gameplay are full of depth without ever feeling cumbersome or unwelcome. It's not impossible to traverse the world, but the game does present a challenge. For example, you need to constantly refill your motorcycle's fuel tank or you'll be stuck in the middle of nowhere, but there are plenty of opportunities to scrounge for gas cans or fuel up at an encampment. However, there aren't too many, so it never feels like you're cheating the system, so to speak. Even if you want to fast travel, it'll cost you precious fuel and time off the in-game clock.
Things get even more complex when it comes to enemies. While Freaker hordes are usually your foe, you can use them strategically to your advantage. A few enemy camps are set up near caves where swarms stay during the day. If you make enough noise, you can lure them out and have them do the dirty work for you, killing the Rippers or marauders and allowing you to sneak in and claim your reward. It's a nice touch that something so deadly can turn into your saving grace.
You also have your usual skill trees and item crafting — typical in open-world games like this — but there's nothing really exciting or groundbreaking on this front. It's just another layer to tailor the experience to how you want to play, whether you focus on melee, ranged, or survival skills. There are even opportunities to increase your health and stamina by looting National Emergency Response Organization (NERO) checkpoints.
Deacon is the kind of protagonist you can root for.
As for its story, there's a lot of emotion to it that other apocalyptic games sometimes fail to grasp. I wasn't able to complete it entirely, but I put in a good 20 or so hours. Deacon is a wonderful character that you'll fall in love with, and actor Sam Witwer provides an excellent performance. He's not perfect; he has his faults — he was in an outlawed motorcycle club, after all — but he has a heart of gold for those he cares about, like his wife Sarah and friend Boozer.
As a bounty hunter and Drifter, Deacon's story takes him all across the Pacific Northwest doing odd jobs for encampments in order to get the bike parts he needs for him and Boozer to ride north. It's during these jobs that he first notices NERO helicopters lurking about, and decides to try and uncover what happened to his wife. At the beginning of the game Deacon had to put her on a NERO helicopter after she was stabbed helping a little girl when the outbreak started, and Deacon believed she was dead. But after encountering a NERO officer who was with her on that helicopter, he begins to realize not everything is as it seems.
There are subtle hints throughout the game that allude to what caused the outbreak, but these aren't apparent to Deacon at the time because they occur through flashbacks.
Along the way Deacon also meets several supporting characters, and while they aren't all that interesting by themselves, they do give us a better understanding of Deacon's actions and who he is as a person. One such character is a child he finds hiding out in an abandoned house. Though he has no reason or obligation to care for her, he continually makes sure that she's happy and safe at whatever camp she's in. When she's in danger, he goes out of his way to help even at the risk of his own life. That's the kind of protagonist you can root for.
The bad: Performance and controls could be better
When a game has hordes of creatures on screen, something's got to give. In Days Gone's case, that something is its performance. I played on a PlayStation 4 Pro and there were times where the gameplay noticeably lagged and frame rates dropped during chaotic moments. Even cutscenes weren't safe from this. More than once I'd see Deacon magically levitate a few feet in either direction while speaking or I'd watch as a background character would pop in and out of existence. I wouldn't say these issues are too frequent, nor do they make it unplayable, but they're annoying and can take you out of the game.
With any luck, Days Gone could be the beginning of a franchise.
The third-person shooting and driving also leave a lot to be desired. Accuracy with any ranged weapon is difficult to attain because aiming feels clunky and the recoil is brutal. Since you can't aim well in third-person, all hell can break loose when you shoot. You're better off stealthing enemies or going with the "spray and pray" method (unless you're using a long-range rifle).
Controlling the motorcycle is no walk in the park, either. Upgrading the bike's parts definitely makes it easier, but there's something about the controls that feel heavy, like the motorcycle is actively fighting you.
And I don't know if this was a problem only I had, but part of my HUD was cut off on my screen no matter how I adjusted my television's aspect ratio or fiddled with the PlayStation's screen sizing options. There's no option in-game to adjust your display, and that's something I'm hoping will be added in an update.
Should you buy Days Gone?
Yes. It may not be on the same level as other PlayStation exclusives like God of War or The Last of Us, but that would be unfair comparisons. Days Gone is amazing for what it is: an open-world survival adventure that features a compelling main character and a surprising amount of heart at its center. Despite its faults, it's a terrific addition to PlayStation's outstanding exclusives portfolio.
And as good as it may be, there's so much lingering potential that I'm hoping Bend Studio creates a sequel. The developer has shown a knack for this, but it needs to be nurtured and cultivated. With any luck, Days Gone could be the beginning of a franchise.
Days Gone was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro console using a copy provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment.
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