Days Gone is the latest release in a long line of absolutely stellar first party titles from Sony’s top studios, and so has a rather high bar to meet. The developer, SIE Bend Studio, has previously worked on the Syphon Filter games on PlayStation and PlayStation 2, and more recently the Resistance and Uncharted spin-offs on the PlayStation Portable and Vita. Days Gone, then, is the studio’s first foray into Triple A development on a modern console and unfortunately, it shows. While there is a lot to like about Days Gone, it’s commitment to survival mechanics and the panic-inducing zombie (freaker) hordes for starters, it also features some erratic voice acting, repetitive mission design, jarring cutscene direction and a general lack of polish.
Days Gone tells the story of Deacon St John, an (American) bikie turned survivalist who lost his wife Sarah when the zombie apocalypse broke out, and who is definitely upset about it and stuff. He and his friend Boozer are planning to ride north for a fresh start, but that gets put on hold when Boozer is injured. Deacon must work with the local survivor camps, each with their own credit and reputation system, to get supplies and keep Boozer alive.
Deacon’s preferred mode of transportation is his motorbike, which will need to be maintained and refuelled for the duration. Days Gone is structured fairly traditionally for an open-world third-person shooter; you go on missions, shoot baddies (both human and otherwise), buy new weapons, upgrade your bike and unlock skill points. The map has a whole lot of side activities to take part in, whether it’s burning out freaker nests, killing bandits or gaining access to locked scientific bases. These are all standard open-world fare, although they do have some nice benefits. For example, clearing out freaker nests will actually decrease the amount of zombies you will see in that area, and the scientific outposts have injectors that provide a permanent stat boost.
The vast majority of the game is spent in the wilderness of Oregon, and it’d be hard to argue that Days Gone doesn’t at least look good. Whether its a fractured highway trailing through a dense forest, a small town nestled among dusty cliffs or a marshy lake surrounded by mountains, this game packs a punch when it comes to visual fidelity. I’m no expert, but the HDR mode also adds a lot to the experience which was a relief after the disappointing implementation in both Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Red Dead Redemption 2. The dynamic weather system is equally impressive; when a storm rolls in and it begins to rain puddles will appear which not only looks fantastic but will also become a hazard when riding your bike. The performance is generally pretty good on PS4 Pro, although load times are lengthy, I’m talking two + minutes to go from the PS4 dashboard to actually being in-game.
Riding your bike around is fun, there is a certain gratifying weight to it and the roads, paths and other muddy tracks are enjoyable to slide around on. Keeping the bike repaired and refuelled is a refreshing and welcome addition to the standard open-world gameplay loop. I would always get a kick out of finding a gas can after clearing out a bandit camp and bringing it back to my bike to top up. The shooting is similarly functional: it’s fine, it works, but it’s nothing to write home about.
The beginning of Days Gone fails utterly at getting you invested in the people closest to Deacon. SIE Bend Studio seemed to have assumed that a sad thing happening off screen means that the player will automatically be sad about it, but when Sarah is only seen through these disjointed flashbacks that are too long and lacking in any plot significance, and Deacon’s struggle with grief is never really explored in an interesting way, the whole driving force of this games narrative falls flat. The direction is really strange too, with some of these sequences being straight cutscenes and others having tiny playable vignettes where you walk a few feet before triggering another cutscene.
The story of Deacon and Sarah may not have done much for me, but I did eventually become invested in the world itself. Deacon is not a brilliant character by any means, but the performance, which at first seems erratic and over the top, somehow became endearing after however many hours trudging through freaker nests and ripper dens. The same could be said for the supporting cast, the actors all do a wonderful job with what they have, and there are some who even standout as well-written, believable characters. It just takes perhaps a little too long to meet them.
Encountering small groups of freakers out in the wild is a rather underwhelming affair, however coming across a horde is an altogether different story. One of the few truly unique things about Days Gone are these freaker hordes, groups of literally 100-500 zombies that stumble slowly along roads, wandering through mills or tunnels. The first sign you’ll notice is the noise they make, and the sound design is rather well done. It’s the sound of a lot of people, a crowd murmuring in the distance and something that feels quite out of place when you’re trekking through a forest or an abandoned town. Tearing around a corner on your bike only to be met with a 100 screeching monsters who come tearing after you is not an experience a lot of games can provide, and for that Days Gone absolutely deserves praise.
Days Gone feels generic on the surface, and in a lot of ways it is, but it does manage to stand out in some respects. The generally impressive visual fidelity, dynamic weather system, motorbike maintenance mechanics and freaker hordes all elevate the experience from an absolutely middle-of-the-road, cookie-cutter open-world game to something perhaps worth checking out. It may not be winning any awards come December, but if you’ve got nothing else to play and you like the sound of riding a motorbike and shooting zombies, then you could do a lot worse than Days Gone.
Days Gone was reviewed on PS4 Pro with a review code provided by the publisher.