Coming on the heels of the Resident Evil 2 Remake and World War Z is another much-anticipated action-adventure survival horror game that promises to take you on a wild and treacherous journey of survival in a post-apocalyptic world. Will Days Gone be what “The Walking Dead” TV series should have been: a focused story of survival in a reality where everything went down the drain? Or will it fall short of expectations?
Played from a third-person perspective, Days Gone lets you control Deacon St. John (Sam Witwer), a former outlaw-turned-drifter who now works as a bounty hunter after civilization falls following a global pandemic that transformed infected humans into zombie-like creatures called “Freakers”. Not only that, the Freakers are constantly mutating, having different classes, but always willing to swarm you.
To add to your list of problems is the fact that even non-infected humans are also trying to kill you for one reason or another. Plus the fact that supplies can be hard to get at times, you will have to make a decision whether fight it out or run and conserve your supplies and your health.
Days Gone’s visuals are reminiscent of another surivival game – The Last of Us – for better or for worse. The big difference is that Days Gone is set in an open-world. The dilapidated homes and locations you you need to scrounge materials from are vividly illustrated, from shattered glass to the overgrowth.
Compared to recent AAA games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and God of War, Days Gone does not push the boundaries of the PS4’s graphical capabilities. Although powered by Unreal Engine 4, the visuals can best be described only as “good enough”, with moments of aesthetic brilliance especially during the cut-scenes. It is workable, although not likely to impress the more graphically sensitive gamers.
There some impressive moments with the visual effects like the splashing mud while I’m riding my motorcycle, or how the light bounces off objects. But these moments are somewhat tempered with the numerous pop-ups in the game, likely due to the system having to support an unprecedented number of NPCs due to freaker hordes.
Days Gone‘s visual presentation also seems partially inspired by The Walking Dead. The tension you’ll feel when you see the hordes of Freakers marching slowly towards you is reminiscent of the show’s first season. This is where the game shines, whenever there’s a horde nearby. Because the horde is the horde and they will swarm you and overrun you.
I also liked the game’s dynamic weather system and day-night cycle which allows for some good visual effects. Aside from the mud, the snow is visible on Deacon and the environment, adding more chills to an already chilly atmosphere. Moreso if you move at night, which, although dangerous, is where the visual effects take center-stage. Nothing beats freaker-hunting under the moonlight.
The music of Days Gone is similar to The Last of Us’ somber soundtrack. Whenever you are in the open world and not in a fight of some kind, the music seems to always remind me that I am living in a world where order and hope does not exist. To be honest, I found myself not paying attention to the music because my senses are being focused elsewhere, like audio-visual cues that freakers are around, or rippers laying an ambush on you. But, the music certainly does its job of putting you into the mood as it transitions from a tense track into a full-on “conflict” piece.
Where it really shines though, is the sound effects. Given that audio cues are very important in whatever approach you choose, the SFX are stellar. Also, the sound you make affects the gameplay as well. Refuse to be stealthy, and the freakers will know where you are and swarm you before you can even formulate a plan. Walking through broken glass or tiles create the appropriate sound. What is neat to see is that these audio fillings are all the more important at night when the freakers are at their strongest. A straight up fight against these creatures under the moon light is close to suicidal especially in the early hours of gameplay, before you get access to more powerful weaponry.
I guess this leads us to the gameplay: Days Gone tried to incorporate the best things from the various games in the survival horror genre. I am talking about Resident Evil, the Last of Us, Dead Island, and The Walking Dead (both the game and the series). It offers the player freedom to choose what kind of approach you want, as long as you understand the consequences of choosing one over the other.
And just like The Last of Us, Days Gone provides real consequence to your actions. Go in loud, and you’ll not only be attacked, but the ruckus it makes will attract other freakers to you. It’s like Metal Gear Survive done right with better controls and animations. And like most games, it uses the first missions as an “on-the-job training” for the control scheme, seamlessly intertwined with the narrative to make it stick to you.
I found that I play the game better when relaxed, because when I let the things happening onscreen bother me (like being swarmed by freakers, or rippers suddenly appearing from God knows where), I tend to mess up with the controls. Not that the game was particularly challenging, but because panic is as much a part of the experience as is fear and anticipation. In this game, when things go wrong, they go horribly wrong, like unwittingly setting yourself upon a horde of freakers while traversing the world, or satisfyingly killing a ripper with a shotgun only to realize that the sound attracted everything else in the vicinity.
Days Gone’s concept seems like The Last of Us meets open-world, which, to be fair, seems to work just fine. But the narrative can keep you from exploring a bit, unlike other open-world games like Assassin’s Creed. Sometimes, doing sub-missions or even just exploring the world can be a chore, because one unique feature of this game is Deacon’s unique relationship with his motorcycle.
As a biker, Deacon can use his motorcycle for transportation, but also has the responsibility of maintaining it. The bike’s parts can be modified to enhance its speed, durability and maneuverability, among others. It is also going to be one of your best friends in the game, as the bike saved me from certain death many times over as infected animal, humans, and enemy factions actively try to knock you from the bike.
This unique feature has a drawback: if your bike breaks down or runs out of fuel in the middle of nowhere, you have no choice but to find the nearest settlement to procure supplies. That means you may have to leave your bike, walk several miles, and then would have to return to it with the fuel or parts. Yes, it doesn’t spawn with you, and while a good feature in theory, it can get annoying, limiting your ability to go around the map in ease.
Early on, the game also teaches you how to craft supplies from things scavanged in the open-world. Medical supplies help save you, while molotovs and other things can be crafted to increase your survivability rate. Along the way you can pick up weapons and more supplies to either upgrade your bike, your weapons, or recovery items. Again, it really feels a bit like The Last of Us, but at least it has non-destructible melee weapons like the knife.
Major heads-up: the game has a lot of loading screens and it takes so damn long to load. That’s not an exciting prospect in a game that has lots and lots of cutscenes. It can also sometimes ruin your momentum as the game pauses after a heart-pumping escape to run a cut-scene, before eventually putting you back into the gameplay, but not before losing that initial rush of adrenaline.
Also, it is important to state here that this is an open-world game and certain aspects of it will eventually become repetitive. As a long-time player of open-world games, that’s not a problem for me, but if you are looking for post-game relevance that is virtually a New Game+ then you might be disappointed. Even Shadow of War became repetitive after a while.
Days Gone is a fun game, albeit not one that will blow people away with its technical aspects. I did like the story, despite having a lot of those “zombie cliches”. Most of the story’s DNA seems to have been spliced from The Last of Us (hence, the numerous references I made), almost as if it wants to be taken seriously.
But Days Gone manages to stand on its own, and it often shines that way. Obviously the writing is not on the same level, but it’s not bad either. It just gives off a feeling of having been seen somewhere. There’s only so much intellectual space available in the genre, that rehashes can be forgiven so long as they remain interesting.
All in all, Days Gone tried to push the envelope and they barely make the grade in the technical side of things, but still manages to craft an interesting and quite fun outing. Long load times, pop-ups, and the usual open-world genre complaints do hold this game back, but it is a valiant effort nevertheless.
I had fun with Days Gone and will recommend it to others despite the reviews it’s currently getting. Its story is long enough and its mechanics intereting enough to deserve a chance. Play it, and decide for yourselves.