Following on from one of their most successful years ever with the release of God of War and Spider-Man, Sony have now launched their first big exclusive of 2019: the open-world, zombie-battling Days Gone. The long-anticipated title comes from Bend Studio, who haven’t had the chance to shine on the big stage in some time but were the minds behind the brilliant Syphon Filter series – it certainly left me excited for what they had in store.
However, with the open-world genre one of the most saturated in the video game market and players growing tired of battling against zombies, there were a few question marks as to whether or not Days Gone would do enough to engage gamers. Thankfully, it delivers an experience that’s as intense to play as it is emotionally-driven, even if it does hit a few stumbling blocks throughout its fairly lengthy adventure.
Days Gone puts you in the shoes of Deacon, a sullen and somewhat bitter man who tragically lost his wife during the start of the Freaker epidemic two-years earlier. What are Freakers, I hear you ask? Basically, they’re zombies, but with a bit more of a thought-process and a lot more agile. Alongside his best friend Boozer, Deacon complete jobs for camps and takes down enemies as they simply look to survive. It doesn’t take long before he discovers that a figure from his past is still alive though, which kick-starts his adventure to find out more. With the threat of both the Freakers and a ton of dangerous humans who want to survive by any means possible ever-present though, it certainly won’t be an easy journey.
The narrative offers plenty of tense and emotional moments to keep you absorbed into what’s going on, but reaching those points can be a bit of a slog. There’s so much going on during the game with the tale itself branching out a lot with all of the characters you meet, so it’s pretty easy to lose track of what’s going on – the fact that some of the missions you partake in can stretch out a little longer than they need to doesn’t help either. When the story hits its stride it’s genuinely fantastic with the characters you meet proving believable and the trials-and-tribulations they face daunting, but the wait for those moments to come would’ve been better off feeling a little shorter.
One of the biggest features of Days Gone that was pushed ahead of its release is Deacon’s motorcycle, with it not only proving to be the best way to get around the massive world map but also a good way to mow down a lot of the Freakers that are in your way. A lot of missions in-game are tied to your motorcycle with chases aplenty as you progress through the game, whilst it’s also essential to get to some of those hard to reach areas. Basically, you’ll be riding it a LOT – fortunately, it’s satisfying to do so, even if the turning controls could feel a little over-sensitive during my first hour playing the game.
Those who like fine-tuning their gameplay experiences will be glad to see they can upgrade the motorcycle, with things like its appearance and improvements sorted out at one of the many camps you visit in-game. One of the things that I found particularly useful was the motorcycle’s nitro upgrade, which didn’t only prove vital when trying to escape from a huge horde of Freakers (believe me, you’ll find this will happen a lot) but also allowed me to pull off some sick jumps when heading across the environment. Of course, you’ve also got to make sure you maintain its durability by using the scrap you find in-game, whilst you’ll also have to keep your fuel levels topped up if you want to get around with no hiccups.
That’s right, you can’t just ride around care-free in Days Gone, but actually have to make sure that your motorcycle has the fuel to get around. It’s something that will probably prove divisive amongst gamers, but I actually loved it; I found myself completely immersed into Deacon’s situation and the desolate world he finds himself in, so having to take care of things that are typically neglected in video games like the fuel of your vehicle gave me a bit of a buzz and added to the realism. There were times when I’d try to reach an objective and be left wondering if I’d even have enough fuel to get there, and when I did find myself running out half-way it’d feel incredibly tense trying to find some. Imagine being stuck in the woods in the dark of night with the sound of hordes of Freakers surrounding you, but with the hope that the shack you can see ahead MIGHT have the fuel you need to progress… it’s nail-biting stuff and you’ll find yourself desperately hoping that you’ll come across some fuel pretty fast. When you finally do notice some in some abandoned building or train carriage though? It’s INCREDIBLY satisfying.
Of course, I’ll admit there were times where I’d have loved to have just got from point A to B with no fuss, but at least fast-travel can help with that. The moments of brilliance that came with desperately seeking fuel certainly outweighed the frustrating moments though, so it proved a highlight for me.
There are missions aplenty scattered across the world, though the main story ones are typically handed to you when you visit a camp or passed on via radio message. These are all varied in design and cinematic in style, with plenty of excitement to be had as you face off against countless Freakers or a human threat. The open-world nature of the game means you can typically take these missions on however you please with both the stealthy and all-guns blazing approach proving viable throughout, though there will be times where you may be forced to stalk a target to uncover some information or simply blast your way through hordes of enemies.
Given that it’s an open-world game, Days Gone also offers plenty of side-missions for you to complete. These include taking on tasks for random NPCs (these can be boring fetch-quests which is a shame), saving civilians and sending them back to camps, destroying the nests of Freakers, or even breaking into medical facilities in order to improve your health, stamina or focus. It’s those medical facilities that I found the most enjoyable, with them often having a puzzle-like feel to them where you’ve got to find a way to start up each one’s power generator to gain access – this will also set off an alarm though, so you’ve got to deal with that if you don’t want hordes of Freakers on your tail.
This actually made for one of my favourite moments that I experienced in the whole game. I’d found a facility, parked my motorcycle up, and found my way to the roof in order to disable the alarms atop of the building. I’d had to sneak past a giant horde of Freakers to get there so I didn’t want them to find me, right? When I started up the power though I found out there was one alarm that I’d forgot and that it just so happened to be right next to my parked motorcycle… perfect. I tried to get rid of the Freakers by shooting out the alarm but it didn’t work, whilst I also ran out of explosives to take them all out. I did manage to dwindle their numbers down a bit though, so I decided to grab their attention, get them to chase me away from my motorcycle, and then try to beat them back there. After an intense chase full of running, climbing, and hiding in dumpsters I managed to get them away, though they did notice me just as I got back to my motorcycle. Fortunately, I had nitro, and I managed to make a swift getaway just as they approached. It was such an enthralling experience and it really showed off some of Days Gone’s best features, yet it was an optional mission that I got into by myself. It did a brilliant job in showing off the potential that the game has to pull off some amazing set pieces and was just one of the many thrilling moments I had during my playthrough.
Whilst running away from enemies is certainly a viable option in Days Gone, most of the time you’re better off facing your foe head-on. Fortunately, Deacon is efficient in both up-close and ranged combat, with an assortment of both guns and melee weapons available to you with new and improved options constantly unlocking as you progress. Alternatively, you can one-hit kill foes with a stealth attack if you approach them unnoticed, which doesn’t only save on ammo but also keeps your presence unknown.
Both shooting and melee combat feel satisfying in the game, with the situation you’re in often demanding different approaches. For example, you won’t want to try to take on a large group of Freakers without some decent guns and a stock of ammunition, but a small group can easily be taken out with an axe and a few well-timed rolls. Then there are the massive hordes that you’ll want to avoid at all cost early on, but when you’ve unlocked some powerful guns, explosives, and traps? Show them who’s boss. You’ll even get access to tools that allow you to turn Freakers on each other or even lure them to take down human enemies, so there are a lot of ways in which you can be creative. There a satisfying sense of empowerment that builds as you progress through the game and whilst you’re ALWAYS going to be out-numbered, you’ll never feel out-gunned. You’ll really feel like you’re getting stronger the further you get through the game (both as a person and as a fighter) and it just shows that whilst the story might not always be well-paced the sense of progression is.
A lot of the time your survival in Days Gone will simply depend on how well-prepared you are, with resource management playing a big role in the experience. There are always plenty of ingredients to gather in order to craft the likes of melee weapons, healing items, and explosives, whilst looking in police cars or looting your enemies will typically keep your ammo stocks up too. There is an obvious scarcity of the latter though with Days Gone never necessarily feeling like a bona fide action game with guns aplenty, but rather one where you’ve got to pick and choose when you use your weapons. I never found myself sticking to one weapon for too long though thanks to the ammo situation and often had to grab whatever an enemy dropped, use up its ammo, and then repeat the process, though it felt like a realistic situation that Deacon would find himself in so it’s something I appreciated.
An easy way to seek out resources is by using Deacon’s Survival Instinct, which when activated with R3 scopes out the environment and marks any collectibles. You can eventually upgrade this to cover larger areas and spot enemies too, so it’s something you’ll rely on a lot if you’re going to survive. There are other things to take advantage of too though, with the dynamic weather of the world giving you the opportunity to hide the noises you make if it’s raining, whilst the day-and-night cycle gives you the chance to sneak in the dark of the night to hide yourself more easily – Freakers are a lot more common at night though, so it’s swings-and-roundabouts all around.
As you take out enemies and complete missions you’ll find yourself levelling up, with Deacon able to unlock a wide-range abilities spanned across ranged combat, up-close combat and general survival skills. A lot of these were vital to succeed in the game, with the increased inventory capacity, the improve stamina, the focus shot which allows you to slow down time to pick your shots carefully, and the auto-kill of grappled enemies some of the better skills you’ll unlock. There were plenty of duds in the mix that I never took advantage of though which was annoying – in order to reach the higher tier options in a category you have to have unlocked a specific amount of skills, so sometimes you’d spend a skill point on something for the sake of it. It felt like a waste and made it feel like I couldn’t always shape Deacon’s abilities to suit my playstyle.
Visually, Days Gone looks bloody fantastic, with the open America-inspired world offering a wide range of visual marvels to be seen throughout. The world itself might be in a desolate position but that won’t stop you being in awe of the luscious forests, the stunning lakes, or the snowy mountains you’ll trek through during your adventure. Add to that some fantastic character models and some awesome weather effects, and you’ll quickly find yourself impressed with how attractive Bend Studio have made Days Gone look.
Whilst Days Gone looks the part throughout, it is guilty of having a few technical issues. I noticed that the frame rate would drop on more than a few occasions, I’d see enemies get stuck in the environment, whilst the AI of enemies would completely bug out at times too – one time enemies took no notice of me and just kept running into a wall, which made my life easier but also broke the immersion a bit. Then you’d find conversations over the radio would randomly repeat for no reason or that you’d not be able to interact with an object momentarily, which always proved strange. I never came across any hard crashes during my time with Days Gone nor did anything game-breaking occur, but it could’ve definitely done with a bit more polish just to iron out some of the bugs that I came across.
Days Gone is a game that’s full of special moments, with some of those scripted and some brought on just through exploring the world. Finding myself in a nail-biting showdown with a horde of Freakers never failed to wow me though, whilst the sense of exploration and desperation that came with simply traversing the desolate world got me totally immersed in the experience too. It just managed to nail that sense of nervousness perfectly, but without making the player feel weak or like they weren’t able to cope with any threat that came their way.
However, it is guilty of faltering at times too, with the pacing of the story and some missions dragging out a little longer than they need to. It also could be difficult to keep track of everything that was going on, whilst there are plenty of technical issues that’ll need ironing out too – even if none of them are game-breaking.
There’s definitely more good than bad in Days Gone though and once its hooked you in, it’ll be hard to stop playing. It might not reach the brilliant heights that other PlayStation 4 exclusives such as Spider-Man and God of War have hit, but between its blend of thrilling action and the desperation to simply survive it manages to offer an enthralling adventure that gamers won’t want to miss.
Developer: Bend Studio
Platform(s): PlayStation 4