Reviewed on PlayStation 4
It’s been widely documented that the video game space has been overrun with zombie games. It’s a popular go-to for action adventures and shooters for the last decade. Much has also been said about the stable of first party Sony exclusives are mostly 3rd person narrative heavy adventure titles. So what happens when a studio merges both of these overused tropes and dresses it up in a package that draws about a thousand comparisons to the Playstation flagship series The Last of Us? The answer is you get written off pretty quick. Days Gone arrived almost exactly one year ago and because of it’s inability to stand out in the crowd, many gamers disregarded this title as an also-ran.
I recently blew the dust off of my copy of the game and decided now was the time to see if Bend Studio’s open world zombie fest is deserving of a second look or if it’s better off left in days gone.
The premise of Days Gone is you are a Nomad biker named Deacon St. John who roams the Washington state area on your motorcycle doing odd jobs and bounty hunting for various camps of survivors. You do this to get by in a world laid waste by a global outbreak which has turned most of the world into non-zombie creatures called Freakers (or Freaks). The opening hours of the game establish that Deacon and his partner-in-crime Boozer are drifters in a world trying to rebuild society. Deacon was separated from his wife the night of the outbreak and the game has an internal calendar counting the days she and the civilized world have been gone, hence the name of the game.
Days Gone is an open world game through and through. The environment is wide open and ready to be explored. Discoveries and dangers make navigating the map an exhilarating experience and the game does an excellent job pulling you back into it through the gameplay hook. As in typical open world games there are missions and points of interest on the map that encourage exploration, but Days Gone also adds a survival element that demands you stray from the beaten path in order to succeed.
Deacon rides his motorcycle throughout the entire game, and that motorcycle needs to be maintained and upgraded as well. Drive too much without stopping for gas and your bike will run out of fuel and you’ll either have to abandon it to go on a fuel run, or walk it into town. Crash your bike or turn too many freaks into roadkill and you’ll have to scavenge for scrap and parts to repair it or it will become disabled. The same sense of management goes for supplying weapons and health as well. Deacon has to sneak into enemy camps or abandoned buildings in order to find the supplies necessary to safely continue his journey. This all works to make navigating the world so much fun. You will countlessly find yourself riding on the open road only to spot an area of interest off the highway and have to decide if its worth a deadly encounter to hunt for supplies or if it’s safer to just stay the course until the next camp.
It’s the open world that makes this game so much fun and where you’ll find the most value as well. The moment to moment gameplay is a constant coin flip as far as what you’ll encounter and how you’ll choose to deal with it. This is truest when engaging in the epic horde battles. Days Gone has the grandest zombie horde battles I have ever played. Hundreds of swarming freaks will come at you in waves as you bob and weave through industrial buildings, sawmills, abandoned towns and more. You will need to use your wits to lay waste to the swarm, because bullets alone won’t get the job done. Bend Studio has created excellently designed areas for these strategic battles with plenty of well placed propane tanks, windows to vault through for last second escapes, and catwalks to high wire over the sea of freaks. Again it is the world of Days Gone, which looks and sounds incredible on a PS4 Pro I might add, that all the credit goes to.
Which brings me to the shortcomings of Days Gone, and to be honest there are quite a few. Days Gone is a game with a lot of ideas and it feels like there wasn’t anybody around to advocate for editing things out for a tighter experience. Not every idea feels like it belongs and a lot of events or moments in the game feel either tacked on or forgotten about by the time the credits roll. At times it can feel like game development by committee where an idea is presented to the player and then something happens an hour later to completely undercut the foundation that you thought the game was building on.
One example of this comes at a point in the game where a character has a big emotional moment describing their desire to develop a cure for the infected and the game takes a half step towards pursuing the idea that they were all people once and you should care about what happens to them and that they should be saved. B ut then the subsequent mission involves going to a nest, slaughtering all but one of the freaks, and then trying to save that one by bring it to a doctor. After this moment the rest of the game goes full-throttle back into “kill everything” mode and the potential cure is never mentioned again. It takes a moment that should be a pivot point for the plot and completely throws it away for the rest of the game. There are several moments like this that leave you wanting a more concise narrative.
Another issue are the frequent load times that often come at the worst and most confusing times. This game has a lot of cinematics which are mostly well done with good acting, music and writing, but these scenes are always sandwiched between black load screens. When a scene is very impactful or emotional and ends with an abrupt load screen it can really kill the mood set by the preceding events.
Finally another thing worth pointing out is the game feels too long. There is plenty to do in Days Gone and most of it is fun, but there’s an art to tuning an open world game so it doesn’t feel like it’s dragging and Days Gone struggles with this. A lot of the mission content involves driving from point a to point b and performing busy work for someone at a camp which can be frustrating because the core story quests are usually really good but it is dependent on you completing the more mundane stuff. It makes you feel like maybe just maybe there doesn’t need to be a 20 minute quest to retrieve an mp3 player for a scientist when there’s clearly more pressing matters in the world.
There’s a lot to say about Days Gone because it’s trying to do so much in one package. A lot of it is really good but a some of it is not so good. When I was playing the important moments of the game and when I was just living in the world by exploring dark and dangerous corners I felt like Bend Studio really made something special. But there are so many minor blemishes and simply boring moments that the game forces you to endure that I ultimately walked away with a disappointed feeling just because I feel like they got so close to something extraordinary.
Days Gone is definitely more good than bad, but it’s the mish-mash of quality moments and awkward flubs that makes it a hard game to whole-heartedly recommend. I hope Bend tries again and shows more restraint in what they want to put in their next game, because this would have been the perfect example of less being more.