Review: ‘Days Gone’ (PlayStation 4)

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(Photo credit to Sony Bend)
(Photo credit to PlayStation)

Platform: Playstation 4
Release Date: April 26th, 2019 (PS4)
Genre: Open World/Adventure/Action/Survival
Developer: Bend Studio
Publisher: Sony PlayStation

 

What do you do when the world ends? How do you find a will to survive against the harshest of elements? Days Gone may not get down to the spiritual definition of what it means to exist, but it succeeds in telling the story of a weary traveler searching for a reason to live.

With this game being so intricate, I feel like you and Sony Bend deserve something concise so I am dividing the review up to focus on the star players in Days Gone.

Deacon St. John

Deacon is quite the character. Played by Sam Witwer (Being Human, Star Wars: Force Unleashed), Days Gone deploys him with quite the aplomb. Witwer plays the role of a man truly beaten down by the world around him and the loss he has experienced. As the game opens, you originally think him to be a dirtbag, so angry with the hand fate has dealt him. This could not be further from the truth.

“Deek” is an extremely complex character, and Witwer handles it expertly. As we continue to grow with Deacon and believe me you grow with him, he shows what he truly is, a man who loved and is willing to give up everything for it once the hard shell is loosened. We see someone who has the ability to care, but it is a bit lost in the midst of his sorrows. Once you get ten or so hours in you begin to see his heart showing up, and you empathize with him.

One of the things I love the most is Deacon’s relationships with the people of Days Gone. His best friend Boozer, who really feels like a brother to Deek, Rikki and her strong will and independence, and several others. Of course, the star of the show is Deacon’s lost wife, Sarah, as their flashbacks get ahold of my heartstrings.

I do not see how Sony Bend could have ever implemented the planned dialogue choices. If you make Deacon “evil”, I think you completely lose the character. The correct choice was made in removing them, and one that could arguably be said that made instead of broke this game. I love Deacon and root for him to win in every situation he goes through.

Story

This game is going to be unfairly compared to The Last Of Us. Naughty Dog’s smash hit zombie game is actually getting a sequel, so many wondered why in the world Sony thought it wise to double down. After playing through the narrative for Days Gone, I can tell you why.

There are many different styles of storytelling, and I really like how Sony Bend decided to tell this one. Everything takes place two years after the freaker virus spread across the country, and there is a ticker on your pause screen telling you exactly how many “days have gone”. You are living this narrative with Deacon as he goes through everything he will face. This dude will face a lot too, as every hour I played was extremely dense and packed with missions, side missions, jobs, and zones.

We talked about Deacon above. The true star of the story, it shines its brightest when the focus is on him. His development is by far the most important part of Days Gone. The journey from hardened drifter to reluctant hero takes time, a good thirty hours in the least, but it is handled well, spacing out different moments and using them to show Deacon’s growth as a character.

There are several moments in the story that really hit you, and though I would love to say a whole lot I do not want to ruin the story for you. I do want to touch on a few things. There is a moment where Deek is on his way with Skizzo (resident dirtbag) from the Lost Lake camp to find detonator cord for dynamite that the camp plans to use to hopefully thin the freaker numbers. To get it our two unlikely companions have to go into Ripper territory, a cult who worships the freakers.

On the way, you come across several Rippers attracting freakers to a sacrifice they have left, a live woman dangling from a rope close to the ground. You both go quickly to help her, but upon cutting her loose you find her legs are broken, so there is no way she is going to make it out. You watch as Deacon realizes this and soothes her as he slowly chokes her to death. While a short moment that is not a big part of this mission, it to me really shows the essence of the world. The hopelessness everyone has had to deal with.

The game has three acts, and while I will not say anything to spoil what you discover, what starts off strong is a bit weak at the very end in closing off the story. I like how the story finishes, but the final battle getting there is too quick to end and the payoff is not there. I am not saying I wanted thirty breakers to fight, but some sort of challenge would have gone a long way in the way the finale came about.

Another thing you may not have expected, the freakers are not even the biggest threat in the world. Mankind is a larger menace to itself than any zombie could be. Between Rippers, Marauders, Anarchists, and others, it seems like the freakers actually take somewhat of a backseat, especially by the end of the game. We never truly have a wrap up to their story, or even understand why they are mutating and how that will affect the world. Maybe Sony Bend plans on a sequel to tell us more?

Freakers

Speaking of freakers, these things are everywhere and tend to get in your way right when you need them to stay away. Your most common one is the swarmer, and while they may go down quickly in a pack they will overwhelm you. Just like many zombie games you have your tropey types, like the screamer and breaker (the former similar to the Left 4 Dead witch who screeches to call in other zombies, and the latter a hulked out tank who can take a few clips of ammo easily). It may be familiar if you have played many zombie titles, but it is par for the course so a lack of inventive types should not bug you.

What is really impressive although frustrating are the hordes. Hordes are mass groupings of swarmers who seem to share a hive mind (as do most of the freakers). These tend to be as large as five hundred of them, a enormous amount of undead. I will warn you quickly, stay away from them. A horde is not something to go into unprepared. Even later in the game when you are forced to take them on, I took my time and picked them off a little at a time. Do not rush it, because if you do you will be on the freakers menu for dinner.

While the freakers may not be that different from many other zombies in games, the animals are another story. There are regular animal threats in the world, but the worst part is that they can become infected and become even worse. Infected wolves have the speed to keep up with your bike, infected crows make your life miserable as you try to clear areas, and the rager bears? Let’s not even get started there. Let’s just say bring plenty of Molotovs.

Your Bike

Deacon’s bike may not be another “character” in the game, but that does not make it any less important. If you do not take care of your bike and do your best to improve it, that may be the difference between a narrow escape and a hollow grave. Your bike could be considered an additional skill tree.

A good comparison would be Mad Max. The motorcycle is not as important as that, but you can surmise just how much the bike will mean to you. It is your one source of transportation, your respawn point, your save spot, even can be a source of ammunition later. This is a big open world, and you are going to need every bit of the bike to traverse and survive it.

Once you get your bike at a camp (we will get into that later), there are plenty of options to make your hog faster, more durable, and more usable. Better engines will increase your speed, upgraded fuel tanks will add to the gasoline you can carry, and helpful additions like nitrous and saddlebags will give you a boost when you need it the most. These will cost you credits, but will be worth it in the end. I personally am thankfully for the exhaust upgrade which keeps your boisterous bike on a more subtle and silent level, although I doubt you could ever call a motorcycle subtle.

Fuel is obviously a big deal in the game. Even if you fast travel, it still costs gas. Even if in the beginning of the game it seems tedious, it is not as bad as you would suppose. As you learn different fast travel locations, you find there is almost always a gas can sitting close by. They also always fill up the tank, which actually detracts from the stress of looking for fuel. While it is nice for this function to be less of a headache, it tends to be more busy work given its lack of precedence.

You also have to keep an eye on your engine. If you fall, crash, or ram a foe, your bike takes damage and you must fix it. You have one of two options, to do it yourself at the cost of your scrap, or have the mechanic at a nearby camp do it for you (at a price of course). I never noticed bike condition to weigh to heavily on what I did, so be careful and you will be fine.

What is most impressive with the bike is how well it handles. You will be even more impressed when you hear how Sony Bend did it. Unreal Engine (which the game is built on) does not support motorcycles. The talented team at Bend took a car and essentially smashed it into a motorcycle. There are two additional invisible wheels that do not have any sort of collision detection that are a part of your “car-torcycle”. Bend not only showed ingenuity here, but a ridiculous amount of skill considering much of the gameplay of Days Gone is built around a motorcycle.

For those who like customization, the game also includes different skins for your bike. You can earn these mainly by completing mission sets. We also found out Days Gone will receive post-launch content and skins will be able to be procured by finishing challenges that will be added weekly. For a purely single player game, it is nice to see they want to keep players engaged.

Camps

This is one of my favorite parts of the game. You meet unique new people who are attempting to survive in the harsh wild and have congregated in order to do it together. The dreamers are not existent here, so you can chill out, fill up on fuel and ammo, and sleep to push the day and night cycle forward. These are the only places you can buy new guns and upgrade your bike, so you are going to have to do some work if you want to earn credits to improve your situation.

A lot of your missions in the world are going to come from the heads of the camps. One of my favorite things with this system is trust. Trust is a feature where just earning camp credits is not going to help you go god mode on some zombies. Each thing you do earns you trust in the camps, and that is the only way you will unlock new tiers in order to buy newer and better items for you and your bike. This is a fantastic system.

It is also well balanced in that every camp does not have the same thing. The first camp, Copeland’s, has a mechanic with plenty of bike parts. The second camp, Tucker’s, has plenty of weapons. It is easier to earn credits for Tucker’s, but without trust you are walled out of the better weapons. Trust seems to be much harder to earn at Tucker’s camp. Copeland’s camp seems easier to earn trust in, but with fewer credits, I cannot just drop big bucks on a bike engine. I have to plan out my upgrades for everything, and that makes for good gameplay.

Graphics and Soundtrack

Days Gone is incredibly beautiful. I have come to expect Sony’s first party studios deliver, and Days Gone checks every box. From the snow-covered mountains to the desert plateaus, exploring the wilderness is something you can enjoy as long as you watch out for freakers. Sony Bend accomplishes something major in that a dead world is seemingly alive everywhere you look. Even something as simple as the tufts of grass growing through the pavement of the road adds to the experience. By the way, do yourself a favor and when you see your first snowfall in Days Gone, just sit and watch it.

Deacon and the other characters are also very well crafted. The motion capture is largely on point, with the talking lining up with lip movement and the cast looking nearly photo realistic. It almost looks like Witwer got sucked into the programming he looks so good. The freakers? Well, I understand that only so many character models can exist or you would be spending all of your time coding different colored armpit hair or whatnot.

I played the game between a regular PS4 and a PS4 Pro. I encountered a few stutters in the frame rate on the regular PS4, but it usually would quit after a few seconds. The game ran nearly flawlessly on the PS4 Pro. Besides this, I did have a few glitches, although those may be fixed in a day one patch. There was an entire cave for a story mission that was filled with a wall of dirt I could not get past, but after saving and restarting the game application it worked just fine.

The soundtrack is absolutely incredible. Any game that wants to stir you with its story needs a soundtrack to reach to your emotion. Days Gone does a wonderful job conveying its world through music. From just the guitar strumming as I traveled the world to the horrifying strings as a horde was about to head my way, I felt engrossed in what I was hearing.

There are also two moments I want to talk about in regards to the soundtrack. Both happen during a largely scripted motorcycle ride. I believe it is “Soldier’s Eyes” by Jack Savoretti that begins to play. The way the sounds of the world around you faded out and all you could hear was the song and soft rumble of your engine really sucked me in. This happens again with my favorite song from the game, “Hell Or High Water” by Billy Raffoul. Two words — “the feels”.

Gameplay

I want to end on gameplay because this is one of the most important things, especially in an open world game. Days Gone does not really do anything new. That may sound like I am knocking it, but the compliment lies in the way that it is done.

The beauty of the gameplay of Days Gone is it does not need to do anything new. Zombie games at one point during the craze were a dime a dozen. There seemed to be a few hits and quite a few failures. I mean, as we said earlier, this is not even the first zombie shooter Sony has made! But what Days Gone does is take existing systems and polishes them until they work phenomenally.

Take for instance fast travel. That is a pretty standard thing for games. Well, make a bit of a variation on it where it costs gas, and also make it so you have to clear freaker infestations between points if you want to fast travel in that direction. See what I mean? Not necessarily a new idea, but polished and made fresh.

Days Gone does this with a lot of things. The crafting/looting reminds me a whole lot of The Last Of Us, and that is a very good thing. Even the stealth and melee elements seem heavily influenced by it. I do not know that I could compare the gunplay to anything, but it is a pretty standard third-person shooter affair. It works, and it works great. I like the large weapon selection, but I more or less stuck with assault rifles. Days Gone does not have many tight hallways so shotguns are not very useful, especially with less ammo than their counterparts.

There is a set of skill trees so you can give Deacon a few upgrades to help in survival and combat. Nothing new to the gaming scene. An interesting idea in the day and night/weather cycle, something that has been done, but how can it influence the freakers? Night brings them out in droves, and the wet and cold makes them stronger. Once again something else that exists in gaming, but Sony Bend polishes it and makes it theirs.

The missions can be largely similar to what you have played in other games. So what does Sony Bend do? They polish it by making sure you are getting different missions from different people which causes dialogue to be different and they happen in different locations with different situations surrounding them. Sound different? Not really, but the developers found a way to disguise it so you keep enjoying instead of sighing while whining, “the same mission again?”.

There is a pattern here with nearly all the gameplay systems, and it is that while you have seen it before, it can work in a fresh new way and be done well. This reminds me of another recent Sony first party game in Horizon Zero Dawn. While that game admittedly had a sci-fi story no one had come up with (and robot dinosaurs), it took a lot of open world systems and put them together in harmony. If only more studios realized they did not have to reinvent the wheel and just made something well like many Sony developers seem to be doing.

Synopsis

So there is a lot to look at when it comes to Days Gone. I played the game for over thirty hours, and the game is something I did not tire of. Anything you can play for that long without fatigue is very well made. There are no looming weaknesses in Days Gone, with the only real complaint I would have being a bit of a weak ending. Sam Witwer’s portrayal of Deacon is a strength, as is a satisfying gameplay loop. In my opinion, this is one of Sony’s most underrated titles. Sony Bend has crafted a phenomenal experience that is good down to the last freaker. I highly suggest you pick it up and join Deacon on his fantastic journey in the world of Days Gone.

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