Days Gone shared the limelight with many other more prestigious Sony exclusives that seem to be well ahead of the game in terms of concept and basically everything else. The game didn’t get the best representation. Some trailers of some boring looking zombie shooting here, some disjointed story trailer there. We never truly knew what Days Gone was about, what its place in the Sony exclusive pantheon would be. The first thing I discovered was that this game is monstrous. Initially, I figured the trip would be over in about 20 or so hours, but the time kept ticking away and no end was in sight. 40 hours later, still no credits. 80 hours later, credits have been reached. This was a huge journey I accidentally embarked on.
Through this journey, I’ve been through many things. Hardship, empathy, frustration, elation and everything in between. This game took me on a bike ride through peaks and valleys and while I was having a good time, I also wanted to occasionally stop and puke at the side of the road. Days Gone is such an anomaly of different feelings that the score you see given to this game feels like an average of the various scores I wanted to give it through various parts of the experience.
Start your engines, we’re going for a ride.
Son of a preacher man
The world has gone to hell in a handbasket through the outbreak of a virus that turned most of the human population into rampaging animalistic lunatics intent on ripping everything apart. Despite the memes, Freakers are not zombies at all. At least not in the traditional sense of a zombie. Freaks are fast, they’re nimble, they nest in dark places and they sometimes mutate into other, even more horrible creatures since the virus can also jump species. The outbreak of the virus is unclear, but before anyone could figure out what was going on, humanity was already on the verge of extinction.
The human population gets summarily wiped out. Extremely few survive and only under incredibly harsh and dangerous conditions. All structure of civilization and society has fallen apart and humans are forced back into tribes and just protecting themselves in the wild from the hordes of freaks who will be a constant enemy. You’re placed in the boots of a drifter called Deacon St. John, an army veteran and member of the Mongrels Motorcycle Club.
The story begins with Deacon, his wife Sarah and his buddy Boozer fleeing an overrun town. Sarah gets stabbed and Deacon tries to get her on a chopper but only two people can get on. Deacon decides to stay with Boozer and Sarah flies off, only never to be seen again. Two years go by and we’re following Deacon and Boozer as they live the drifter life, running bounties for camps and just trying to survive out in the wild with hordes of freaks running around.
Some of the inhabitants of this new world try to rebuild, try to restore order to a society that went through a complete collapse. Some embrace the chaos, choosing to only look out for themselves in a kill or be killed world. And there are some that just lose their humanity altogether. We get to see the full scope of humanity from the just and good to the savage and despicable. Deacon doesn’t fall into either of these camps. All he has a true allegiance to is his bike, his wife and his MC brother.
It’s tough to summarise the scope of Days Gone‘s story since it has such a mammoth run time. Just when you think things are about to end, something new happens and you’re still playing for 20 more hours. There are myriad storylines to follow, each with their own resolutions and progressions and the main story fluctuates between being brilliant and being boring.
The pace and the writing of Days Gone is the definition of inconsistent. Sometimes the game just throws you into the action with big revelations happening by the hour and exciting missions filled with treasured memories. Then other times you’re doing boring tracking missions that just completely break the momentum. You’ll find yourself spending hours doing fetch quests and errands. There are also a ton of specific missteps in the narrative that I won’t mention because of spoilers, but they were moments where I sat with my arms wide and eyebrows raised. Then you get moments that drive you to tears, sweet moments of the past that get relived and we get excellent mature storytelling.
It’s just so inconsistent. The number of times I fluctuated between loving it and hating it was extremely worrying. The game’s sense of resolution is also disjointed. We’ll be dealing with a problem for a long time and then it suddenly gets instantly solved and then everybody just forgets about all the horrible things that happened and threads just dangle in the air, never to be connected. Another big problem I have is Deacon himself. The man is ex-military who has seen combat and was part of a ruthless motorcycle club, but he is just so unlikable. He is good and just and hardly does anything evil unless he has to. But he is constantly sarcastic with people, even the ones trying to actively help him. He scoffs at almost everything that is said and he takes the buzzkill approach to most conversations. Additionally, he sounds like he’s on the verge of a mental breakdown all the time.
Days Gone was probably one of the most inconsistent games I’ve ever reviewed.
Something went wrong during the recording of Deacon’s voice. He keeps stumbling over words, taking weird breathing breaks in the middle of dialogue and sometimes just screams at the top of his lungs for something incredibly insignificant. When he’s out fighting, he whispers these crazy sounding threats and taunts to himself. It is so bizarre and disjointed and caused me to really not resonate with the character I’m supposed to play. I understand that Deacon is a rebel and a part of the whole biker shtick is that you’re a hardass and don’t like authority. But Deacon just sounds like a bratty teenager, not some aloof badass biker.
There are plenty of problems with the story of Days Gone, but there were some definite standout moments in the experience. There were many times when the story was well-written and had me going, yes, this is what I want, this is brilliant. There are many mysteries that need to be solved in this new world and the game takes great care to explore its ideas. Then it tells me to follow footsteps for an hour with Deacon moaning in my ear the whole time. So while the story is definitely worth exploring, don’t expect a smooth ride.
Freaks and geeks
Days Gone has a full open-world. A massive open-world at that. You can explore this dark and dangerous place at your leisure and while Farewell may look like a sleepy mountain community, it’s anything but. Freaks are absolutely everywhere and bandits are just waiting on the roads for a juicy target to come through. Since Deacon is a biker, a great emphasis was put on your mode of transportation. The bike’s controls are solid and the driving feels weighty while also allowing good freedom of movement. That’s a good thing too, because your bike will eventually become part of you. It’s an essential component to everything in the game and since Deacon is a drifter, he’s never at the same place for very long.
You can pimp out your bike with nitrous, better components and you can even paint it to your liking. The bike has an obvious downside, which is that you need fuel to ride it. Your bike will run out of fuel pretty fast with the low capacity tanks and if you’re out in the open-world when that happens, there’s nothing you can do but try to find fuel. Thankfully there are many ways to fill up. You can pay to have it done at a camp, you can stop by the strategically placed gas stations and fuel cans scatter the world as well. Some might call it a chore, but I thought it made thematic sense and it was a great way to create tension in the world by having that constant threat of being stranded.
It’s a world that has personality and you often stumble upon these environmental stories that you have to piece together yourself.
The gameplay of Days Gone has one very obvious ancestor. The game’s shooting and crafting mechanics feel a lot like The Last of Us. The third person aiming, the quick adaptation and the limited resources are all hallmarks of both combat systems. This isn’t at all a bad thing neither as the guns feel punchy, the aiming feels great and the number of options is just crazy. You got shotguns, snipers, pipe bombs, Molotovs, traps, machine guns, pistols, sawed-off shotguns, LMGs and many more. You can also go stealth if you choose and a variety of options exist for that too. You can also pick up melee weapons or make your own by slamming some nails into a baseball bat.
Getting resources in the world isn’t difficult as they’re often littered around the place, but you’ll find yourself running out of ammo and materials fast when you stay out for extended periods of time. Because of that, you need to be exploring. Most of the world is just forest and rural American landscape, but it’s also beautiful at the same time. The towns and landmarks are all in ruin and the improvised camps are all that’s left of civilization. It’s a world that has personality and you often stumble upon these environmental stories that you have to piece together yourself.
Let’s get freaky
Of course, riding out in the woods alone can be dangerous. Freaks are absolutely everywhere since they have taken over the world and they’re quite the formidable enemy. The basic type, called Swarmers, are just your standard horribly deformed human being that will run at you trying to rip your face off. However, the virus doesn’t like to be boring. You also get Breakers, huge mutated freaks that will pummel you, Runners that are mutated wolves that can run the same speed as your bike, Screamers that look like the witch from Left 4 Dead and even mutated bears (God rest our souls). Enemy variety isn’t a problem in Days Gone and it gets even more impressive once you run into your first Horde.
Hordes are exactly what they sound like. A huge concentration of freaks in one place and these Hordes just casually hang out in the open world. They can be absolutely terrifying. Getting caught by a Horde is instant death and since these enemies are formidable on their own, a group of about 50 to 100 freaks is something totally different. I once was just exploring and as I came around a corner, an entire Horde made itself known to me. It was one of the few times in games where my heart jumped into my throat. Seeing that insurmountable clump of death is something very unique to this game.
The great thing is that you can obliterate these Hordes if you want. It’s actually a side-objective you need to do for completion. I’ve only taken on about five Hordes during my time and each time was a gruelling half hour affair of stocking up explosives, laying traps and getting into strategic positions. Little by little, you can kill an entire Horde and after you’re done and you look at the carnage with all your ammo empty and your health low, you get this massive sense of accomplishment.
And the open-world holds many of these surprises. The most fun I had with Days Gone is when I was just out in the world and doing stuff. Nothing really in particular, just exploring and setting fire to freaker nests, taking out ambush camps and collecting bounties. This is where the game’s true colours shine as it gets turned into an emergent experience. Days Gone is a game of stories, crazy things that happened on your travels. Getting stuck somewhere without fuel and a Horde on your tail without any ammo immediately comes to mind. The moment-to-moment gameplay, when it works just right, becomes something fantastic. I felt like a road warrior, riding around on my steel horse and getting business done.
The game also has progression in the form of skills you can unlock. One of them is called Focus which allows you to go into momentary bullet time and it’s almost required in this game due to how fast the freaks move and how quickly they can surround you. Other skills include improvements in the melee, range and survival trees that offer significant bonuses to your gameplay experience, making you feel like Deacon is slowly improving himself as he frolics through the forest killing bears. Better weapons are available to purchase at camps and each camp has its own trust and credit meters. The more stuff you do for the camp, the more both of those things go up. The more trust you have, the better weapons you can buy. The more missions you complete, the more crafting recipes you get for more powerful gear. And it goes on like that through the whole game. You are always progressing, always making steps towards the next big upgrade or arsenal bump which results in diverse methods of playstyle.
The game looks gorgeous which is something we can expect from a Sony exclusive. The mountains can be breathtaking and so much care was put into making locations look and feel unique. Character models look good if a bit shoddily animated in places. However, I did run into many problems with the game’s performance on the PS4 Pro. When I went too fast on the bike, the frames would tank and the whole world will stutter. The loading times are also on the annoying side with them happening at frequent intervals and lasting upwards of a minute to two minutes at a time. Once you’re in the world there isn’t much loading to speak of, but when it loads a story mission or you fast travel, prepare to whip out your phone. I’m hesitant to add a lot of this because these issues feel like they can be fixed in a patch, but their existence still needs to be acknowledged.
On a steel horse I ride
Days Gone was probably one of the most inconsistent games I’ve ever reviewed. It was incredibly tough to put what I feel into one score because there are so many complications thrown in. The game skirts along the lines of brilliance a lot by throwing in the occasional amazing story mission or poignant moments in a world gone insane. The open-world feels fantastic to be in and the emergent stories that can come out of it can become your favourite moments in years. But they just kept tripping themselves, over and over. Deacon being a scumbag, immensely odd pacing and needless busywork in the open-world prevents me from simply saying that I loved it.
There’s the scaffold and partial structure of a brilliant game to be found in Days Gone. Something truly respectable and an achievement in so many different ways. However, the inconsistencies and odd problems are too numerous to ignore and the game ended up with the score you see below. Ultimately, that score was the average of the scores I gave to the game in my head as I was playing it. Sometimes it was a 5 when I was truly frustrated or confused, sometimes it was a 9. It even sometimes touches the line of being a 10. But it’s the furthest thing from a perfect game.
Days Gone is undoubtedly worth your time. The sheer amount of content makes it an excellent value proposition and those breaks in the clouds that let the light in are well worth experiencing. But so much could have been done to make this game truly special. As it is right now, it’s just simply good and won’t move past that.