Developer: Bend Studio Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Days Gone is set within a world that has been ravaged by an infectious disease, which has caused a majority of the population to either die off, or slowly evolve into ravenous creatures known as Freakers.
Days Gone follows the story of Deacon St. John, a former army veteran and Mongrels Motorcycle Club member, who is trying to survive this infected world. We are introduced to Deacon in the middle of humanity trying to escape and survive the infectious outbreak with his wife Sarah, and best friend/Mongrels MC member Boozer. Sarah is critically wounded, and in their attempts to save her, she is placed on a National Emergency Response Organization (NERO) helicopter to be flown to safety. Unfortunately, Deacon and Boozer stay behind and we eventually find out Sarah’s camp was overrun by Freakers, and didn’t survive.
Fast forward two years after this event, and we take control of Deacon, a man who has lost his wife and his reason to continue. Deacon has become a short tempered individual, one who is all too comfortable risking his life in dangerous situations. The loss of his wife has left him closed off, unhinged and unable to acknowledge any other emotions aside from hate, anger, and resentment. While Deacon is very abrasive and unlikeable from the onset, as time goes on the complexities of the character and his relationships with others is explored further. We see his soft side creep through, his moral compass shine brightly as he refuses to kill unarmed women, and his relationship and brotherly bond to Boozer. This relationship keeps him going, as Boozer is the last remaining family member Deacon has.
Deacon’s complexities are shown brilliantly through the acting performance from Sam Witwer, who does an incredible job of portraying these unhinged moments with uncomfortable severity, but also being able to portray his softer side when needed. Some of Deacon’s best moments are when he visits the makeshift grave of his wife Sarah, where he lets down his façade, embracing the broken and tender man inside. He refuses to show this side to anyone else in the world, but during these scenes, we see the true Deacon. These moments are also expanded upon during flashback scenes between Deacon and Sarah. These tender scenes help make Deacon one of the most well-rounded and complex characters I have experienced in quite some time.
Just like most zombie survival experiences, the initial goal of Days Gone is to survive. There are different camps, characters, and a deeper narrative thread eventually, but it takes a long time for these plot points to form. This in-turn makes the initial 10 hours of Days Gone quite a slow and meandering experience. Once this initial lull is over, Days Gone offers an insanely massive world to explore, that can take over 60 hours to complete everything.
Due to the length of the campaign, Days Gone does suffer from some ‘filler’ missions. This is extremely noticeable during the third act, as there is an extended period where you will literally be doing fetch quests for NPCs, which does slow down the momentum Days Gone had achieved from the second act. Despite the story length, some important plot points do not receive the necessary time they deserve, and are glossed over after one mission. Massive moments in the story come out of nowhere during the latter stages of the story, and left me confused why more time wasn’t’ given to these important narrative threads.
Days Gone presents the progression of each characters ‘storyline’ within the main menu. I had a small issue with this, as I found this menu ruined surprise reappearances of certain characters in the story. Days Gone essentially tells you which characters will return, as their storyline has not reached completion. As I said this is a minor gripe in the grand scheme of things, but I did find a few surprise moments lacklustre due to this menu essentially stating this would occur.
Dealing with the intimidating Freakers in Days Gone is very satisfying, while the shooting gameplay doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it is enjoyable and responsive; I’d compare the shooting to Spec Ops The Line. However, I was disappointed by the melee combat. Essentially melee battles are boiled down to swinging your weapon wildly until the thing you’re swinging at dies, it’s extremely basic and I eventually came to avoid it if possible.
Days Gone delivers when it comes to the enemies you encounter, which include a variety of different Freaker types/species, human enemies that will ambush you as you explore the world, and an unsettling cult that worships the Freakers. Human enemies will flank your position, or set up traps on the road, while Freakers and the wildlife of Days Gone offer even more variety due to their unpredictable behaviour.
Some of my favourite combat moments were when the world itself came into play. For example, I was tasked to eliminate an individual who was wanted for murder, but when I arrived the individual and his men were battling a swarm of Freakers. I succeeded in my mission, without firing a shot. There were other moments where I was silently stalking an enemy encampment, only for a pack of wolves, and on one occasional a bear, deciding to attack me. These unscripted moments are fantastic, and it made the entire world feel alive, and dangerous.
Days Gone’s open world map is massive, and you will want to explore as much as possible to gain experience to unlock Skill Points. Unlike most games, Skill Points are not earned quickly during the initial hours of the game, making your delegation of these points critical. One of the most important skills is the ability to use Focus, which slows down time (similar to Red Dead Redemption’s Dead Eye) in order to deliver precise shots. Deacon’s Focus, Health and Stamina can all be increased by finding NERO stations, where Deacon will administer an injection to increase an attribute of your choosing. Deacon can also salvage scrap from cars, which will become vital to the upkeep of melee weapons, and also help craft other items on the fly.
Clearing NERO checkpoints can be an intense affair, as these stations have speakers that will attract Freakers once the power is on; which encourages players to destroy all speakers before engaging the power. Players will also be able to take down enemy encampments (similar to outposts in Far Cry) to discover maps that will reveal points of interest on the in-game map.
As players reach new camps they can complete tasks that will increase the Trust level of each camp, which will unlock new weapons and bike upgrades that become vital to your survival. Your bike is essentially your partner throughout the experience, and making sure you bike is repaired, fuelled, and upgraded is a necessity. Your bike requires fuel to run and fast travel, and initially this is something that must be monitored closely.
The opening scene of Days Gone gives a horrible first impression of the driving mechanics, as the initial bike handles like a car driving over a frozen lake. Fortunately this is not the case for the bike you have throughout the adventure, as it handles extremely well. Drifting around corners into a nitro boost is fantastic, and the manoeuvrability of the bike is perfect for traversing the Oregon wilderness.
The most unique attraction included in Days Gone are the Freaker Hordes. While most of these can be tackled at any time, it is encouraged to wait until post-game. The initial Hordes you find may have 50 or 100 Freakers, which is intimidating at first. But nothing prepares you for the image of 500 hibernating Freakers running out of a cave, as one massive entity. The entire group is ravenous, unpredictable, and visually impressive; reminiscent of the iconic World War Z zombies. While Hordes can be tackled with some luck and a LOT of bullets, players that plan an attack with traps, bombs, and using the environment to their advantage to make these battles easier.
Fighting these incredible Hordes is insanely fun, and I feel I could recommend Days Gone on this element alone. There’s nothing like eliminating a Horde with pinpoint planning, but sometimes I loved when my plans would fail to see if I could survive the encounter. The intensity of these battles are incredible, and easily are the most iconic/unique elements Days Gone has to offer.
The Oregon setting in Days Gone is simply gorgeous, from the snowy mountains, lush forests, and abandoned buildings. Riding your bike during a night time downpour is exceptionally beautiful, as you see your headlines shine upon the water droplets as they descend, and the same beauty can be said about the falling snow that occurs. Days Gone also benefits from environmental storytelling that is available to those players that explore. Finding a room covered in blood, with child drawings on the walls is heartbreaking, and a harsh reminder of the brutality of this world.
The attention to detail found in the environment also carries over to the Freakers, which look genuinely terrifying. Impressively, Freakers actually degrade when they experience damage. Seeing a Freaker lose parts of its skin, and its ribcage becoming visible is as visually grotesque, as it is impressive.
The biggest problem with Days Gone is the frame rate issues. I played a majority of Days Gone on my PlayStation 4 Pro, and while multiple patches have now been released, the frame rate issues have not improved. The more I played, the worse it got, and in some instances the game would stall for a few moments. Shockingly, these seem to occur more when driving through the world, than when facing off against massive Hordes. When I did play Days Gone on my standard PS4, the frame rate issues were a severe issue. As I’m writing this, Days Gone has been in the wild for exactly one month, so it is a massive shame that these issues have not been fixed at this stage.
Days Gone also has a very distinct and evocative soundtrack, which can emphasise the intensity of battle situations, while also pulling the heart strings during tender moments. Reminiscent of Red Dead Redemption 2, when players experience key moments in the story an original track will play that emphasises the situation. The lyrics, the melody, and the song itself fit these situations perfectly, and were fantastic bookends to integral moments throughout the story. I also found the music that featured when Freakers are near, to be extremely effective at making you feel anxious and uncertain of survival. Numerous times my heart would begin to race when the ominous music of a Horde would play, as I knew I was close to being overwhelmed at any moment. The original soundtrack was composed by Nathan Whitehead, and he must be commended at delivering an incredibly iconic audio identity for Days Gone.
Days Gone is a great game, and while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel of the open world genre, I found myself struggling to put the controller down due to incredible cast of characters. Days Gone benefits greatly from a complex main character, that is sympathetic, admirable, and heroic. Sam Witwer delivers an incredible performance as Deacon, as do the ensemble cast, all of whom have fantastic chemistry with one another. Exploring the map is always unpredictable, due to the nature of the Freakers/wildlife, which always added a flare to exploration. While facing off against enormous Hordes is an incredible feature, one that should definitely be experienced if you get the chance. I’m also hoping the technical frame rate issues are dealt with sooner, rather than later.
Days Gone sets an incredibly strong foundation for a potential sequel, where the tantalising narrtive threads could develop in the future. Bend Studio has a fantastic new series on its hands, and I for one am very excited to see what a Days Gone 2 could potentially offer.