Days Gone is a story focused, open world game recently released as a PS4 exclusive. The game is another addition to the impressive roster Sony has accumulated. With such big boots to fill, it’s an immense challenge for Bend studios latest open world offering to keep the winning streak going.
After spending just over four years in development, the studio has had plenty of time to polish their crown jewel. With a reveal at E3 2016, several delays and an onslaught of marketing campaigns for what seems like a year now, Days Gone has a huge amount of hype surrounding it. Can the new boy really fit in with the big players?
Days Gone is currently available on the Playstation store from £44.99.
Set in the state of Oregon, you play as Deacon St John who starts out completing simple jobs for local encampments to help him and his brother ‘Boozer’ survive. Two years after a virus affecting humanity is unleashed. The virus causes humans and animals to become zombie-like creature called freakers, who are feral and only seem to have one goal which is to kill and feed off non-infected life. As events unravel and Deacon finds himself out in the wild alone, the story becomes much wider and far deeper than in the beginning. You’ll meet lots of new and memorable characters as you progress, who all play a big role in the game and allow for a branching narrative to come to life.
The game’s characters are the driving force behind this emotional rollercoaster of a story. There is a modest amount of people still alive considering the games timespan, and they all have something to contribute to your experience. There will be characters that you love, as well as those that you don’t love quite so much, but you will feel emotional connections with almost all of them. You’ll experience their highs and lows as they are developed really well throughout and you get a real sense of their struggles in the world. Deacon St. John is brought to life by voice actor Sam Witwer, who portrays the character as a tough biker dude that actually has a soft side and real empathy for others.
In all, the story of Days Gone gives the game a massive boost. At times you can feel lost with everything going on but generally the pace of the story is a good one. There are twists and turns that you don’t quite expect making for a really interesting storyline that will keep you playing just to see how all of the events unfold and what will happen to your favourite characters.
The gameplay primarily revolves around stealth, combat and traversal with some survival mechanics for players to contend with.
Players will be able to stealth around enemy encampments and freaker lairs by crouching to take cover behind objects or in bushes. There is no option to dispose of bodies and there are several silent weapons including a crossbow and the boot knife for stealth takedowns. The stealth gameplay is extremely forgiving. Hostile human NPCs are often scattered around areas that they can easily be picked off one by one leading to a small shootout at the end, if undetected of course. However if you are spotted, sprint away until out of sight momentarily and hide in a bush to lose your pursuers, nine time out of ten they won’t find you again and will stop searching after a minute or so. This may sound like bad gameplay but it’s quite a relief. You feel that much more cunning than your enemies and it also means you die less so the game’s story can remain in full flow, avoiding too many breaks for dreaded death screens.
The game gives you the choice to take the aforementioned stealth approach, alternatively you can go in all guns blazing or for that hands-on feel crafted melee weapons get you up close and personal. The shooting starts off a little clumsy, with your industry standard L2 to aim and R2 to shoot, but by levelling up through earning experience points you’ll soon develop Deacon into a killing machine. There is also a decent amount of guns to buy from vendors which fall into different classes. Depending on your play style, you may wish to save up for the one-hit kill sniper with a silencer and go full silent assassin. Go for the simpler Rambo approach and use the machine guns to spray bullets through everything. You can also take advantage of the ‘Focus’ mechanic which slows down time and allows for far more accurate shots. It’s extremely useful in tight situations such as having multiple enemies bearing down on your location.
Your motorbike is your main source of transport around the world and is a unique part of the gameplay. The bike handles with a real arcade feel to it, allowing you to drift around tight corners and jump over broken bridges using nitrous boosts, all making you feel cool and in control. Large portions of the bike are also upgradable, and you unlock better gear by completing jobs for camps and gaining their trust so merchants are willing to sell more inventory to you. Cosmetic upgrades are also available, tailoring your bike to further give it a personal attachment in the form of paint jobs or decals.
The only problems with the bike is how limited upgrades feel especially performance ones. Upgrading the engine for greater top speed didn’t really make me feel like I was going much faster. Similarly, upgrading the suspension didn’t make the bike feel much more nimble. Additionally, with Deacon’s motorcycle club background you’d suspect him to be able to tinker with parts of the bike to better fit how you want to ride it. In my opinion there should be an option for Deacon to fiddle with the tyre pressure, so the bike can skid around even more if that’s what the player wants as well as other similar mechanics.
Being the end of the world setting that it is, Days Gone will also throw a survival element for the player to grapple with throughout the game. You’ll need to manage your resources as you salvage items from the world to craft various objects. Resources are readily available once you know where to look and unlocking more skills will further help you identify where you can find them. You can also use survivor vision to highlight nearby points of interest, similar to what nearly all open world games have nowadays.
Once you’ve hunted down these resources you’ll need to use them. As already stated, crafting is one outlet and a satisfying one at that. You can craft melee weapons that become more durable and cause more damage and after you create one you like, you may find yourself getting attached to your little bludgeon of death. Luckily Days Gone allows you to use resources to repair your weapons, so you can keep the same one forever as long as you maintain and invest your time taking care of your new friend.
The most important resource to micro-manage is fuel. At the start of the game your bike’s fuel tank is more like a strapped on watering can. Finding classically American little red gas cans throughout Oregon to refill your bike will be essential to avoid having to travel on foot which can be incredibly dangerous especially at night. Somewhat fortunately though you can find gas cans at most major landmarks and are quite common, only requiring a small amount of searching to grab one, and fill up before you head back out onto the beaten road.
Deacon himself is also upgradable, and through completion of main missions, side-quests from notable NPCs and just general gameplay, you’ll gain experience points which will net you skill points. These skill points can be spent to upgrade melee, ranged and survival abilities. All of these feel necessary, and no certain skill tree takes precedence over another. As for much of the game, finding the right balance is key into gaining the most rewarding experience.
Rinse and repeat Secondary Missions, However…
The secondary activities are mostly cut and paste. Infestation zones peak your curiosity. Until you realise they are find a freaker nest, burn it down, clear out the few weaklings that appear and repeat. They do have some meaning to them, as by completing objectives outside the main campaign can offer you bonuses and make the world a safer place for you to travel through. But if you’re looking for boundless playable hours outside of the main campaign, like in God of War, I’m sorry to disappoint you.
However, an adrenaline pumping part of the gameplay is taking on the heavily marketed and prolific hordes. These involve hundreds of freakers being dormant in a structured environment, until you engage and they realise you’re available for dinner. This part of the game is hugely panic inducing (in a good way) and will have you on the edge of your seat. As you set traps and look for opportunities before moving in close and engaging the horde to simply chase you down. The surrounding environment also provides various methods of diminishing the horde’s numbers. Look for small openings to squeeze through creating distance between you and the swarm. As well as red explosive barrels to eliminate large numbers at a time. Making sure you’re well stocked up for these encounters is essential as some of the hordes can take 30 minutes to eliminate. Also, running out of ammo whilst all those freakers bare down on you is not a good place to be, trust me on that one.
Graphics and Audio
As with all AAA releases in the modern era the graphics are breathtakingly beautiful. You can look over cliff edges to see huge landscapes below, whilst looking around will also show off incredible draw distances of far away mountains. Character models are incredibly detailed with main characters having little touches to add to that feel of immersed characterisation. For example, Boozer’s head tattoos aren’t just to make him look like a big bad biker, but also provide an understanding of the rash decisions he made before the virus wreaked havoc.
However with several buggy issues, especially on my play through, the visuals are undermined by several distracting glitches. Playing on the standard PS4, frame rate drops whilst riding the bike were inevitable and at times drastic, dropping to around 10-15 fps. This is a shame as it also takes away from the seriousness of the story.
Where the visuals leave something to be desired at times, the audio has many memorable moments that draw obvious inspiration from other games. One such moment is a simple ride back to camp on your bike whilst the song Hell or High Water by Billy Rafoul plays loud for you to hear over the sound of a roaring engine. A great moment inspired by Red Dead Redemption’s riding to Mexico scene, however the differences are enough as to not take away from the experience. Other less notable songs make up the soundtrack and definitely add to the immersion. The score played when you enter into Horde territory is a personal favourite of mine.