I was a little worried about Days Gone by Bend Studio. The delays, the lack of presence at game shows, and just a failure for Sony to drum up any appropriate hype. At least compared to Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War. Then way too many people freaked out over the official embargo lifting a day before release. It seemed like the PlayStation brand was leaving Days Gone out to die. Luckily, I can tell you those fears are abated. By no means is this title a grand masterpiece in the genre, but it is an intelligent and enjoyable one. And being an open world lover who takes pleasure in collecting and building characters up, I am more than content.
Days Gone follows Deacon, a former biker gang member, who is just trying to survive with his brother, Boozer, in what can basically be described as a zombie apocalypse. Although the in-game name for these prototypical enemies is Freaker. After one too many runs-ins with them, raiders, scavengers, and sins of their past, the pair decide it’s time to leave their home behind and head north. A fresh start if you will. Unfortunately, their gear, supply count, and health (mental for one and physical for the other) aren’t quite up for a long trek like that. So Deacon has to go around completing jobs for nearby small settlements and seek out crucial items. Unexpectedly, what’s been a pretty isolated Oregon is suddenly the research target of the federal government after Deacon spots a chopper. Upon further investigation it seems that there’s more to the Freaker virus decimating the population and even Sarah’s death, Deacon’s wife who died before the events of Days Gone. (This was already known in pre-release footage and interviews)
Now while there are clear The Last of Us inspirations, in both story, setting, and gameplay, Days Gone takes its own path. Most prominently is Deacon’s self-guilt and collected anger. He blames himself for Sarah dying after making a tough choice and it shows in the commentary of what goes on around him. Deacon seethes to himself in near every mission and shows a person angry at near everything. However, he is still a good man at heart and will treat those who deserve it with respect like a proper protagonist should. That doesn’t mean he’s not on a hair-trigger though. If anyone tries to start something with our hero, a gun will most likely be brandished regardless of the circumstance. Bend Studio crafted a conflicted and self-loathing character extremely well and they deserve props for it.
Gameplay is pretty fun whether I’m sneaking around Freakers or annihilating a Ripper camp – an antagonistic faction full of lunatics – guns blazing. Deacon will be able to utilize firearms from pistols to light machine guns, melee objects, bombs, throwables, traps, special weapons, and healing items. All of which can be accessed through the Survival Wheel on the fly. Like other weapon wheels it will slow down time for crafting or selecting purposes. Although more than a handful of times it does fight you or glitch out due to its implementation. For example, the health part of the Survival Wheel can be opened and then every single health item will appear for you to select with the same control scheme you used to originally open it. This never truly screwed me over, but it still was weird that a weapon wheel had this many layers.
Even though Deacon has access to different types of firearms as Days Gone plays before your eyes, you can’t always have a full clip of ammunition unless you scavenge or buy some. This is where some of the survival elements come in to play. When I was low on resources and needed to complete a mission I found myself taking things one step at a time or a complete stealth kill approach. There was even one where I raided a Ripper base and got spotted early on with no ammo to speak of. A mad dance of death played out for nearly ten minutes as I bobbed and weaved around enemies and cover, taking out who I could, looting their bodies, using what I collected until I ran out, rinse and repeat. Being able to think myself out of most situations was pretty nice. Moreover than not though you won’t consider running and gunning as a primary option as strafing is kind of clunky and ineffective. I found it more appealing to turn on aim snap, turn off aim stickiness, and stay in a small area until all my opponents were dead when I had ammo to spare. You’ll also need to manage Deacon’s motorcycle fuel and repair level or be stranded miles from a settlement. Gas can be obtained from random cans, gas station pumps, or purchased from mechanics or else fast travel is off-limits.
In terms of open world and mission structure the backdrop of Oregon is big and beautiful. The green, plentiful trees and brown, rocky mountain pits are superbly crafted. There’s also a nice verticality to some places. I never minded going out of my way for side content such as collectibles (historical landmarks, brochures, etc), clearing out Freaker nest infestations with fire, saving random public citizens, unlocking the almost puzzle-esque National Emergency Response Organization (N.E.R.O) checkpoints for health, stamina, and focus upgrades, or jobs for settlements, that depending on my trust level, earn me access to weapons, bike parts, accessories, amongst other things. Some can be minutely repetitive, but the world does feel alive, even if there are only a few animals.
The last aspect of gameplay I want to touch upon are the Freakers and the hivemind hordes Deacon can come across. Let me tell you that they inspire horrific exhilaration when you happen across them whether on purpose or by accident. Seeing a mass of fifty to a hundred Freakers barreling over one another is a sight to behold right before you die (because you ran out of stamina before you got back to your bike). For me, watching them tumble out of a train car and taking a wrong turn in a mine filled me with a sheer sense of dread that I don’t experience often in video games. I even swore off those locations for the longest time and can say Bend Studio did another great job.
While the graphics are nothing to laugh at, but nothing to hold on high either, Days Gone has some technical issues. A.I. isn’t the brightest in regards to taking cover or shooting sometimes. I could run with a spiked melee weapon at a small group of enemies with guns and come out on top. Other, non-Freaker related enemies, funnily enough, would often get stuck in place or rubber band back and forth. Hell, deer will happily run into stone walls and trees. There will also be a few frame rate dips and noticeable pop ins here and there. Lastly, the skill “tree” to upgrade Deacon and his abilities are pretty basic. It’s just five by three lists for survival, ranged combat, and melee combat to choose from when you earn skill points. Don’t get me wrong as they’ll make you stronger, they just won’t feel different enough from each other and you’ll easily unlock them all anyway.
Days Gone PS4 Review
Days Gone is another notable addition to the PlayStation 4’s first party library. It follows the standard open world mold, but tells an intriguing story of a conflicted character and a unique survivalish-based zombie apocalypse. Gameplay is down to earth, gritty, and most of all fun while doing just enough differently to set it apart. Shame that multiple technical issues hold the game back regardless if they will be easily patched or not. But hey, I think I have an irrational fear that Freaker hordes will surround my house now.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a physical version of the game with the latest patch (1.03) bought at retail at the expense of the reviewer. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed on a PS4 Pro.
Note: The official review embargo is April 25th. We did not get our copy of the game from Sony so we’re under no obligation to adhere to the embargo or any other conditions placed upon those who agreed to Sony’s terms.