After the Uncharted games for the PS Vita, I was intrigued to see that the team at SIE Bend Studio was going to make a title for the PS4. The fact that they were going to tackle a survival horror set in an open world, further excited me since I was sure that the developers would make something interesting out of this concept. I definitely was right on that part, as this is a big game with plenty of ideas that are all over the place in terms of quality. I should clarify that this is not meant as a negative comment towards this title, but rather that it made for a fascinating study. With this in mind, here is my review of Days Gone.
Everyone is an asshole in apocalyptic times
We are set in America post an apocalypse where infected humans, known as freaks, have been roaming around and killing other humans. It is unknown what caused this outbreak to happen or even how these versions of zombies actually function. However, both questions matter little to the protagonist of this title, Deacon St. John. He lost his wife when the outbreak started and is now simply trying to survive with his sworn biker brother, Boozer. The duo takes on missions for the different camps, be it taking care of bounties, tracking missing people and other tasks, as long as they gain enough credits to get by. However, in a post-apocalyptic world, one single mistake can be dire.
Days Gone is heavily American in both its style and tone, with the two last people of a biker gang struggling in a world infested by zombies. Throughout Deacon’s journey, you will see how America has evolved or devolved from different perspectives, be it by helping out a worker camp, partake in missions for military units or when you are spying on the members of a cult worshipping these freaks. This could be a nice way of creating solid world-building, but the problem here lies in the game’s structure. There is a strange setup where you will get different missions from different people at an inconsistent rate, making nothing tied well together. You have never enough freedom to focus on one storyline, and can go from learning more about your wife’s death, to a kid suddenly needing help, and then trying to find a way to deal with the current pandemic.
It also does not help that Deacon seems to just passive aggressively agree to help out on every mission, even if it is clear how idiotic a task is. Deacon is not a strong protagonist either, as he and pretty much everyone has pent up anger that gets tiresome and feels like kids throwing tantrums all over the place. There are clearly no structure or planning in the situations unrevealing, and this is what I find the most bizarre. We have cults, camps, and drifters, each presenting clear ideals on what is the best way in order to live and survive. So, why have all of these anger issues be at the front and not try to actually survive through their methods?
This anger everyone holds also affects the conversations sadly, as the dialogues are minimalistic and often defensive. It could have been understandable, if there had not been an established connection already between the multiple characters. Because of this and how rushed their actions are, it makes Deacon and the rest of the cast come off as downright moronic jerks. Deacon’s monologues are annoying as well, stating the obvious directly for the player to understand, which really breaks the immersion. It is not a bad concept to have him reluctantly agreeing and letting his monologues reflect his anger, but this is poorly executed due to them sounding like constant tutorials on how this game works. Not even Deacon’s relationship with Boozer or the flashbacks he gets with his wife are interesting, as they feel more like traditional tropes being met than personalised takes on them.
Even if the writing and characters are constant problems, I actually hoped the world would be interesting to get an insight on. In concept, it truly could be with the cult of Rippers, the different camps with their different ways of living, and how Deacon and Boozer are drifters with no concrete home. However, despite all having neat concepts, none are truly explored upon and just results into petty reasons for their existence. For example, the Rippers had a neat idea of worshipping the freaks, but the twist on how this cult got started is something from a teenage drama. I do not dare to spoil it, but I can tell you it left me feeling disappointed and empty.
The last issue I truly have with this story, is a personal one. I am not an American. I do not understand patriotism in the same way and because of that, some ideas fell flat to me. Maybe someone indulge in their culture could elaborate what their love for this country means, but I never felt like the game wanted to explain this to a newcomer. Due to the lack of exploring this concept, there could be a clear barrier between everything presented here and the player. You are just expected to understand and go along with it, which is terrible when none of the characters are interesting with shallow connections.
However, there are two strong moments in Days Gone that I truly loved. One is where Deacon tries to accept what he has lost through a powerful gesture that could not be undone, and the other is when a character is trying to establish a society where humanity is at the centre. Both are fantastic scenes, yet just like the problem with the Rippers, are destroyed by further events that make these setups completely wasted. Having powerful scenes not making an impact throughout the game, demolishes any respect I could have for a story. There are also moments of disbelief that I would rather argue are really stretching it, like a scared kid surviving in this zombie apocalypse for two years. It is even worse when you realise that the reason you help her, is just because of a shallow memory. The forced jumpscares further damage the experience.
Because of the constant barrage of fits being thrown, unclear motivations, obviously bad choices being made, and a setting that is not fleshed out for elaborating and establishing better the tensity and the world-building, the game’s story becomes completely destroyed. I still love some of the ideas it has, the creatures being clearly different from the traditional zombies, and the few strong moments it contains. However, all of this is meaningless when nothing is being followed up. The poor pacing, terrible dialogues and shallow connections further hurt this title, due to the lack of anything resembling humanity in distress. Good concepts mean little with such poor executions.
Story Score: 2/10
Fun ride, but so many bumps
Set in an open world, Days Gone gives you all the opportunities to survive this mad world as long as you understand the importance of your tools. While there will be plenty of weapons to try out and items for crafting varied supportive gadgets, I want to first talk about your method for travelling through this game’s take on America. Your motorbike will be your best friend throughout, which is already from the start quite fast and can even drift to make donuts. Although, you will have to take care of it by finding fuel cans or gas stations out in the wilderness to fill it up, and fix it whenever it has taken a few bumps. The latter is done with scraps that you can scavenge for in this world, and they will be important for fixing other items on your travels as well, making them severely valuable.
Driving the bike is incredibly fun due to the terrains varying in altitude, design, and what type of ground you are driving on. While the GPS will always guide you alongside the roads to your destination, there is nothing stopping you from trying to find shortcuts or rolling down slopes in case you need to save precious fuel. You can even upgrade your bike further from specific shops, with elements like installing a bigger gas tank, making your vehicle generally more durable, and adding nitro to name a few. There is also the option to customise it, and with how much you will depend on this creature, it is a nice touch that you can personalise it further.
Camps will provide you with their own forms of credits and services to you, as long as you do missions for them. Do more, and not only will you get more credits for that specific camp, but also upgrade its trust level in order to unlock more purchasable items. Some settlements will also provide firearms to be bought, with you being able to carry one sidearm, one main, and one special. They can be simplified to handguns like pistols, two-handed such as shotguns or AK-47s, and specials are all of those with specific uses, with some examples being crossbows and sniper rifles. You can always store more in your locker and even purchase ammo from them should you need to.
You can perform melee attacks with certain weapons that you can find or craft, but they will break over time and your moves are limited to only clunky swings and a heavy dodge-roll. This setup is very familiar to traditional horror-titles that make you into an average man with few skills in fighting, and I am happy Days Gone recognises this to make fiends more of a threat. Though the most important aspect of this game, will be managing your resources. This is a survival horror, and you will have to be prepared for anything to come. Scavenging for materials in order to make contraptions like molotovs, melee weapons, traps, bandages and more, all will be important in order to survive. You can only hold a certain amount of each item, be they crafted or materials, making it always important to consider where you can get them later and if you should use your precious tools now.
At least, in theory it should be like this. On normal difficulty, Days Gone presents a lenient experience and despite that you can have a hard time dealing with hordes of these creatures, I never found myself discouraged in finding more items or tools. The game is not easy, but definitely forgiving in this regard. Outside of this, Deacon can stealth and take out enemies that have not seen him yet with his trusty knife, and use his survival vision in order to spot specific elements like traps. All of the missions will require you to use your skills in stealth, shooting, and driving, making them all entertaining and in tone with what the game offers in content.
However, by being an open world game, Days Gone provides a lot of side activities for finding more ways to survive. For example, you can take out dangerous camps run by unwanted guests and find new recipes for crafting. Should you get tired of that, you could use your survival vision and hunt animals to gain more credits at camps. If not, then perhaps you instead want to explore for cases containing syringes for upgrading either your health, stamina or focus. When it comes to these three stats, health is self explanatory, stamina dictates how much you can dodge-roll and sprint, and focus is the amount of time you can slow down in order to make accurate shots. The last one might sound like it could make the game too easy, but it is luckily balanced thanks to the hordes of fiends to take on and its slow recharge.
Furthermore, you can also burn nests that these freaks live in, which all in an area must be dealt with in order to fast travel through a location. It is all great, and makes exploring this vast world for different objectives or secrets engaging. However, the progression through the actual campaign is severely uneven. You rarely have the option to tackle tasks the way you want to, be it for the sake of variety or in order to properly follow one storyline. It is to the point that missions can appear out of nowhere, with no smooth transitions. It simply becomes off to not have a clear destination and be on a constant run of back and forth. In fact, this is to the point that 30-40% of the quests themselves become about driving towards a destination.
There are also some segments that are just annoying where you have to slowly walk and nothing else. I understand that these are meant to be atmospheric, but they become tedious and feel like they last forever because they never enhance the gameplay or the setting for that matter. The idea of the two camps having unique elements to them, is neglected later in the story when you find a new settlement that can offer upgrades that rivals both previous camps. This is further perplexed by two other camps that simply makes the previous ones worthless. It truly feels like the developers could have stopped at some point to made sure certain ideas got a stronger foothold.