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Days Gone

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: SCEE (EU), SCEA (US)
Developer: Bend Studio
Release Date: May 18, 2021

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PC Review - 'Days Gone'

by Andreas Salmen on May 19, 2021 @ 12:30 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.

Days Gone has had a bit of a rough run since it was originally released on PS4 in 2019. Riddled with technical difficulties and a mixed reception at launch, the title was arguably one of the least successful titles in Sony's lineup, especially in direct comparison to other heavy hitters. Its PC release has given it a second chance. Horizon: Zero Dawn made a case for Sony to further invest in PC gaming, and Days Gone is an impressive PC port of an underrated game. If Days Gone does well enough on the PC, maybe there will be a sequel in its future after all. I hope that'll be the case.

Days Gone is an interesting title from multiple perspectives, many of which contributed to its initial lukewarm reception. Bugs were prominent, and the game didn't run too well on the PS4. The version we're playing now, either on Sony's consoles or the PC, is a far cry from the initially released product. While not entirely without issues, it's currently in a state that is expected from a release of this caliber — better, even.

The performance wasn't all that stood in its way, though. Days Gone employs systems and mechanics that are reminiscent of more formulaic open-world titles with side missions — and that can be a turn-off to some gamers. Its runtime wasn't ideal, as it easily stretched to the 30- to 40-hour mark without side activities. The most fun aspects of the game, including some of its best story moments, are tucked away in the final 15 hours, which many players didn't reach.

In Days Gone, we take the role of Deacon St. John two years after an outbreak caused zombies to overrun civilization. After saving his wife by putting her on a rescue helicopter on outbreak day, Deacon survives as a drifter with his friend and fellow biker, Boozer. Their lives are full of hunting, supply runs, and odd jobs for local camps in the region — but Deacon can't forget about his presumably dead wife.

As he starts running into mysterious government helicopters, he reignites the hope of finding his wife. In the meantime, he goes through the usual day-to-day of the zombie apocalypse, including gnarly zombie hordes. I won't say more about the story development, since it's one of the title's strongest features, although pacing is a struggle. The first 10-15 hours focus on simple tasks and storylines to establish the world and characters.

Days Gone is not afraid to lock you into conversations that sound menial and slow down the story; it's a slow burn that pays off in the second half. There is some good character development, and some truly good story moments result from that. To get to that point, you must sit through several hours of gameplay when the story seems pointless and lacks direction. That quickly changes, and it was nice to become invested in several characters and their relationships, and I wanted to see it through to the end.

The main hooks of Days Gone are bikes and zombies. Your bike is the most important gear in the game, serving mainly as a form of transportation. The Pacific Northwest setting features deeply forested areas, desert-like spots, and snowy peaks. The beautiful vista has long been abandoned by all but survivor camps and fast-moving zombies, known as Freakers. Your bike is the only viable way to travel, and if you run into a horde of Freakers (up to 500) without your bike or a plan, you're as good as dead.

The bike physics are some of the best I have seen in a video game, with forgiving yet weighty handling. Your bike slowly deteriorates and requires maintenance, so you may want to drive carefully or have some repair scraps handy. Fuel is equally scarce, so you can buy it for a fortune at a camp or scavenge for it at gas stations or outposts. It sounds intimidating, but it is nicely balanced. You'll rarely run out of fuel as long as you keep an eye on the gauge; you may sometimes roll down hills to conserve fuel or avoid detection by Freakers. Fuel doesn't need to be hoarded, so you may feel like you can get by on scraps. As you complete jobs for camps in the surrounding area, you'll earn their trust and better weapons and bike upgrades, which eventually improve fuel capacity and noise level. Riding your bike through the stunning natural vistas is as fun as you can imagine, especially during these travel-restricted COVID times.

In terms of gameplay, Days Gone can initially feel uninspired. Clearing camps and chasing bounties with an assortment of weapons has been seen and done before. It's primarily a third-person shooter, and it's a decent one at that. I like how powerful weapons feel, with heavy and punchy sounds that echo with every shot. In many ways, it's like the combat system in The Last of Us, including its shaky and bulky aim with considerable weapon sway.

The PC version has the benefit of mouse and keyboard controls, but given its sometimes temperamental handling, I prefer to play the game with a controller, especially when on a bike. The game accepts pretty much any controller and allows players to seamlessly switch between mouse and controller at any time, which should make everyone happy.

The main downside to the gameplay is that it can feel uninspired. You'll either face off against human or Freaker enemies; the former shoots, and the latter charges at you, with some minor exceptions. Both can be challenging even on medium difficulty, which is only the second of six difficulty levels; some make the game harder and resources scarcer, and others disable systems like fast-travel. Early missions can feel underwhelming with a basic combat system and basic enemies. That doesn't change significantly throughout the game, but the missions and story ramp up enough to compensate for it.

The biggest ace up Days Gone's sleeve is fighting hordes. The hordes are the most prevalent feature in game trailers, with several hundred Freakers that the player can take down in the open world or during missions. It's a bit of a shame that Days Gone won't let you fight one before the final moments of its story — unless you are seeking them out yourself. Even if you want to tackle the hordes before the game places you in front of them, they are pretty tough to beat without the advanced equipment that you'll eventually unlock in the various camps.

Taking on massive swarms of brain-dead corpses is carnage in its best form. Players will need the correct gear and strategy to take them down effectively, and they won't be easy to kill. You'll need to map out a narrow path that you want to lead them through, so you can set traps and explosives to take out as many as possible until their numbers have dwindled. It's exhilarating fun, and it's also a shame that the game reserves one of its best and most promoted gameplay mechanics for its final moments and handles many of them as post-game content. Thankfully, Days Gone on PC comes with all of its DLC, so in addition to several bike skins, you'll have access to its challenge mode right away. That means you can drop in at any time to take down a horde with proper gear. It would've been nice to encounter more hordes during the early to mid-campaign.

When you pull together all of the mechanics and the story, it may be a bit slow and mundane at times, but it looks and plays well. There's a big focus on crafting, which players do by gathering a bunch of resources throughout the world. There's a basic progression system when leveling up that grants improved abilities via skill points. The title has a bit of grind and requires a lot of little tasks to be completed, such as clearing out Freaker nests to unlock fast-travel, but they all make sense in the world, story, and for the character. Days Gone feels like a very holistic game. Ludonarrative dissonance is one of the video game industry's recent buzzwords; it's one that Days Gone mostly circumvents with a story, character, and activities that fit the situation and narrative most of the time. Given its great visuals, it's easy to get lost in the harsh but beautiful world — except when it throws you for a loop.

As I've already mentioned, Days Gone wasn't in the best state when it launched a couple of years ago, and there are some rare remnants of that in the PC version. There's nothing game-breaking or overly intrusive, but a few technical challenges can otherwise pull you out of the experience, such as beautifully animated cut scenes that transition to super-stiff animations, NPCs spawning in late, and some assets refusing to load in some missions.

The most significant bug is due to the game's narrative structure. Days Gone has several independent storylines that are interwoven, so you can tackle missions out of order or in parallel. Most of its narrative comes over Deacon's radio waves, and you'll often talk to a character for a specific mission, hang up, and talk to the same character later — sometimes with hilarious outcomes. A character might be screaming at you and then call you his best friend or valued camp member a second later. There are a few of these instances where the narrative structure gets in the way, with dialogues occurring out of order, and it can pull you out of the experience. Also, Deacon has the irritable habit of screaming at anyone riding on his bike during conversations — and somehow that doesn't affect the noise-sensitive Freaker. He also comments on almost everything he sees, thinks, or does, and that can be a bit much at times.

Apart from that, Days Gone on the PC runs almost flawlessly. We tested it on a capable current rig (AMD Ryzen 5 5600X, NVidia GeForce RTX 3070) and had no issues in pushing mostly 100+ frames per second on 1440p most of the time, with rare dips into the 90s. Even when the action got tough or a horde was chasing us down, we didn't run into stutters and, most importantly, not a single crash or bug that would have required reloading or restarting the game.

Days Gone also improves the visual fidelity in a variety of ways with added draw distances (there were some situations with pop-in, especially for far-away shadows) and details that are appreciated for the PC version. It has almost everything you'll likely want, like ultrawide support or an FOV slider, improving upon a stunning-looking experience. This is the best version of Days Gone to play, especially if you have a capable machine. If not, the minimum specs account for a wide range of supported cards, so it will run on most systems in some capacity.

Days Gone is a long and slow burn that is well worth it. It tells a relatable story that feels grounded, and the later stages have some truly memorable moments, both in terms of story and gameplay. With all previous DLC included, some nice improvements for PC gamers, and the capability to run at high frame rates, the PC iteration of Days Gone is the definitive version to play.

Score: 8.8/10

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