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Days Gone

Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Bend Studio
Release Date: April 26, 2019

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PS4 Review - 'Days Gone'

by Redmond Carolipio on April 25, 2019 @ 5:01 a.m. PDT

Days Gone is an open-world action game set in the high-desert of the Pacific Northwest two years after a mysterious global pandemic has decimated the world, killing most but transforming millions into mindless, feral creatures.

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I first saw Days Gone from Bend Studio a few years ago in the form of an E3 trailer that seemed to tell me everything I'd need to know. In it, the hero, a biker-turned-survivor named Deacon St. John, ran for his life from what looked like hundreds of "freakers," the game's contribution to the perpetually expanding compendium of zombie interpretation. This pack of freakers moved quickly and in a wave of fluid, certain death, not unlike the kind moviegoers saw in "World War Z." Deacon jumped through windows, over debris, up ladders and anything else just to get away. The trailer ended with a massive horde surrounding a seemingly defeated Deacon, with no place to go.

Fast-forward to E3 2017, when I got some hands-on time with the game and found out that you could actually fight these moving mosh pits of doom with a combination of wits, reflexes and some ridiculous firepower. It became something of the daily challenge in the Sony area to see who could succeed in wiping out the freaker army. In the three days of E3, I saw one or two regular joes (people who didn't design the game) pull it off. Again, I thought I knew what the essence of the game would be: a killfest starring Deacon and lots of zombies swarming around him. I figured it was a basic survival horror/action that was more in the vein of Left 4 Dead than The Last of Us. My thinking didn't change, even as the game was delayed so Bend could do some more fine-tuning.


A simple killfest is not what I played for dozens of hours in the past week. The zombie hordes are still very much present, but they feel more like the hook in the "Days Gone" song instead of the message. Bend Studios hasn't presented a survival horror experience but a survival odyssey that definitely — and in several ways, imperfectly — echoes other excellent open-world games while also packing in every possible zombie-lore dynamic. It also does what the new Wolfenstein games did when it came to shooting Nazis; underneath the blanket of bullets is a dramatic, almost overstuffed cinematic narrative with characters you love and hate. It's unexpectedly epic. It's like a Las Vegas breakfast buffet: It's probably too much, and you know what everything is, but you might not care.

Like many zombie stories, Days Gone begins with the would-be hero in chaos. There's no buildup to the outbreak, there's only the opening setting of Deacon St. John, his wife Sarah, and his buddy Boozer trying to find a way to escape the newly minted freakers that are destroying everything in their path. Deacon eventually puts his wife on a packed evacuation chopper, her fate out of his hands. Zoom to two years later, and Deacon and Boozer are now ex-bikers trying to carve out a life in "the sh*t," which is the general word of choice for the freaker-ridden world in which they exist. They can loosely be called "bounty hunters," but they're more like postapocalyptic handymen who make supply runs or perform dirty work for the leaders of other survivor camps.

The overall gridwork of gameplay mechanics in Days Gone somewhat surprised me with how well everything seemed to work. In true open-world fashion, the bulk of Days Gone is spent whipping around an area of the Pacific Northwest in an upgradeable motorcycle, doing everything from clearing out camps of marauders and psychotic cultists to chasing down actual renegades like a real bounty hunter. Completing missions adds to your trust level with different survivor camps, along with credits to buy things like better guns or stronger parts for your bike. I enjoyed how each camp was different, down to the line of credit for each one. You also get a lot of benefits from the story missions scattered around the map. If you've played a lot of third-person action games, you'll be able to use the tried-and-true left-trigger aim, right-trigger combination that gamers and their avatars have used for decades to put down foes. I enjoyed the use of "survival vision," where a click of the right thumbstick temporarily washes the screen in a different tone, highlighting the footprints of targets, collectible items, and when upgraded, even enemy silhouettes hiding in cover.


Collecting materials for on-the-fly crafting proved to be an essential means of survival, as Deacon can build things like bandages to Molotov cocktails. This is not a new mechanic, but I liked how accessing the weapon wheel would slow time for a second to allow you to choose your weapon. One issue with the Days Gone system is the lack of instant switchability to a hand-tossed weapon. It was awkward to access the weapon wheel every time I wanted to throw a grenade or fire bomb, especially when I was on the run. It made certain fights more harrowing than I thought they needed to be, and Deacon's world at large felt stressful enough.

Days Gone is not the first open-world title that has you encounter random trouble on your travels, but it's almost in a strange class of its own when it comes to the world's elements turning your missions into a complete sh*tshow at a moment's notice. Remember the hordes of freakers I mentioned? It turns out they can also be attracted by sound, and unless you're actively looking for them, they can sometimes come out of nowhere at the worst — or best — possible time.

One example that comes to mind is a simple side mission that asked me to clear out a camp of marauders. There was even a handy-dandy enemy counter that kept me informed of my progress every time I picked someone off. I managed to snuff out three of 10 guys, and the counter reflects that: 3/10. I hear more gunfire in the distance, but my enemies aren't shooting at me. The counter starts ticking upward: 4/10, 5/10, 6/10. Eventually, I see what's happened. The goofs shooting at Deacon happened to attract a horde that I didn't know was there. They swarm the camp (I hop on my bike and create some distance) and actually complete my mission for me. Outstanding. Unfortunately, this also worked against me because I was on a mission to save a hostage until a horde came in and killed everyone — including the hostage.


I've also seen missions interrupted by infected super-bears who were probably wandering around the woods before the action started and then decided to go all Revenant on any freakers or people in their way. Some extremely powerful freakers have also gotten themselves a piece, as I've seen hulking freakers grab my would-be targets by the head and ragdoll them into oblivion. This adds an element of tension to every outing that feels necessary in games like this, and I have to admit that the potential for brief comedy at any moment is a draw for me.

What's not as funny are the random hostile encounters while Deacon's on his bike. Sometimes, marauders set clothesline traps to flip him while he's riding. Other times, there are snipers in trees ready to shoot out his engine. Maybe you'll get an infected wolf running next to you that you have to shoot when it lunges. This is the kind of stuff that made me think about whether I wanted to take the long ride someplace (which is fun and can offer supplies and chances to take in the awesome scenery) or fast travel, which automatically consumes gas. Yes, you have to maintain your bike with fuel and repairs if needed. I liked how you had to earn fast travel: You need to have enough gas, and if there's an infestation of freaker nests in the way, you have to burn those out first.

This brings me to the hordes, the game's single most-challenging combat element. I already mentioned how you're supposed to eventually wipe them from the Earth, but that doesn't account for the amount of pre-planning and strategic thinking that goes into facing each one. During the story, there's a really good chance you won't be as fully equipped as you should be once the hordes become a part of the regular narrative, which means you're in for multiple ass-whippings.


The game does something interesting if you die too many times trying to take down a horde during a main story mission: It offers you the chance to skip the encounter altogether and move the story along, as if you succeeded. It's one of the friendliest in-game gestures I've ever seen, and it's so convenient that I'm not 100 percent sure how I feel about it yet. Right now, I'm OK with it. The purists will think it's cheap, while more casual players looking for fun and story will be happy to know there's a way to avoid a potential game-stopping experience. This skipping option also happened during some of Marvel's Spider-Man puzzle missions, which just felt like an admission that some people don't want to think that hard en route to finishing the game.

I don't have an exact hour count, but Days Gone felt like a LOT of game. The length, character development and staging of the main story carried hints of Red Dead Redemption, with Deacon and the people he encounters all finding ways to flesh out their individual stories and personalities through the use of thorough dialogue and execution of various missions. The VO work of Sam Witwer as Deacon St. John is an intriguing fit, as his crisp delivery and lack of whiskey-doused gravel in his voice present Deacon in a way that deliberately eschews your typical Sons of Anarchy-like biker stereotypes. He's funny, angry, sometimes sounds little unhinged — who wouldn't be, living in this world? — and genuinely owns who he is, faults and all.

It's easy to put all of the characters into some kind of trope, but that would miss the point of enjoying each encounter in person or over the radio. It's a testament to the voice actors that I felt some degree of emotional investment in all of them, from Deacon to Boozer to camp leaders like the old, gruff but fair "Iron" Mike. No matter how many lines they speak or whatever character box you put them in, each character felt like a full person. That's how to sell someone on a story, even if he or she sees most of the surprises coming.


I felt traces of RDR in other ways. Deacon and Boozer, as bikers in their pre-freaker-fighting days, can be seen as the last cowboys, struggling to find a place in the world that doesn't seem to have a place for anyone. This kind of pathos is driven home with a couple of long rides that set the tone for key sections of the narrative. One especially powerful one has Billy Raffoul's "Hell or High Water" as its background music. It's a melancholy song, a reminder to the Deacon and the player of the world they find themselves in. It was almost exhausting, which might be the way to describe how the main story felt near its conclusion.

Without spoiling, Deacon goes through a lot of stuff for the sake of survival and personal growth. If he's not fighting off hordes, he's trailing scientists for recon stealth missions or in the middle of an uneasy truce between Iron Mike's camp and the crazed cult next door. The main story evokes Assassin's Creed Odyssey in how it branches into a multitude of other storylines, each with its own batch of missions that make themselves known as your adventure continues. I remember thinking, "What else does this dude have to do?" several times. Perhaps that's fitting for a survival game.

There are patches to come for many of the small tech glitches I ran into. Some dealt with audio, such as a mechanic saying, "Hi," to me several times, even though I just bought a radiator from him. There's the occasional big-game graphical skipping, and in one major burp, Deacon drove right off the map. A lot of this only happened once or twice in my playthrough, so I'm not going to sweat it since 95 percent of the time, everything worked. I liked the visuals and detail, but there were a few herky-jerky animated moments each time I would venture into the world. I'm also seeing a few too many load screens for my liking in this day and age, where games of similar make have found ways to minimize them.


I think they nailed most of the horde experience, but the sheer difficulty of some of those encounters made me wonder why Deacon kept refusing help, other than rationalizing some half-thought about it being "easier to face alone." I love — absolutely love — the fact this game is a pure single-player experience, but horde combat might have been a chance for at least some light co-op (or the option to at least ask for real help). For all the things the game does to help out the player, help with hordes might have been a good option in addition to skipping outright.

As with most huge open-world games, I wonder about life after the main story, when the game settles into letting the player clean up all of his or her unfinished business. However, I'm still unearthing a few epilogue-type story missions and still having fun earning trust, fighting all manner of enemies and building up my bike.

Even with all the promotion we're seeing now, Days Gone still carries the aura of a title that could be miscast and possibly overlooked at a glance, like it was for me a few years ago. You don't know until you play, and this stands as one the more pleasant and satisfying surprises of the year for me. It's been a long road to this game, but the ride is worth it.

Score: 8.5/10



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