Let’s get one thing straight, over the past few years Sony have been on a roll with their AAA open-world games. Horizon Zero Dawn was a magnificent brand new open-world piece of IP. God of War is one of, if not the best games of the current console generation. I had my reservations about Days Gone right from when I first saw it announced yet I had hope that with Sony backing it, it could put my fears at bay and prove to be another stellar piece of IP for Sony. Sadly Days Gone ends up being a buggy, meandering affair that never overcomes the issues that hold it back.
So what’s the story with Days Gone? Well the human race has been exposed to a pandemic that has turned almost everyone into Zombies. Except they aren’t Zombies, they’re Freakers. What’s the difference? Well, the name is different… Aside from that there isn’t a great deal of difference. In any case, our protagonist is Deacon St. John, a biker whose wife was evacuated out of the danger zone, and is left with his good mate to fend for themselves in the wild. Throughout this 60-hour story you’ll complete a variety of missions, picking up jobs here and there, scavenge to survive, and build your skills. You’ll find yourself caught up with a local cult, what remains of the disaster relief agency, and also encounter a whole bunch of survivors. Oh, and of course you’ll find yourself battling a hell of a lot of Freakers.
No matter how I look at it, the story just doesn’t draw me in. It feels like it’s pieced together from a bunch of Zombie and open-world games, but can never be something truly original. The voice acting is solid, but that cannot redeem what is a meandering first act filled with characters that are hard to care about. Once we get beyond Act 1, the pace picks up and we get introduced to some interesting folks, but one annoying aspect continues throughout. Deacon and his wife Sarah’s backstory is told through flashbacks that are minimally interactive, and often more disruptive than insightful. It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for long load times every time these flashbacks occur. Another issue is monotonous missions that don’t seem to serve any purpose at all.
An example is a mission where we basically ride across the admittedly gorgeous open-world only to have a character interaction that goes like this:
Lisa – “I don’t like it here.”
Deacon – “OK.”
That is literally what we just drove across the map for.
The best way to sum up the story is that it feels like when you see a movie that runs 40 minutes longer than it should; just compound that feeling by several hours. I can’t help but feel that if the story was reduced by a few hours we would have ended up with something that was a whole lot more endearing, and action-packed, and satisfying.
Sometimes you get a game where the story isn’t so great but the gameplay more than makes up for it. Days Gone has some stellar elements, but almost every aspect that makes the game great is also accompanied by parts that let it down.
As a world and environment, Days Gone looks absolutely stunning, but is let down by dreaded pop-in and, at times, terribly stuttering frame rates. That said, when you take in this world, it’s hard not to be impressed. Initially I found riding by motorbike to be a frustrating experience, as a slight tap left or right on the controller barely registered a move from the bike, and a further push saw the bike over correct and lose control. But after enough time coming to terms with the bike, I relished the chance to hit the open road, and once you get to grips with the handling the bike will drift beautifully and is one of the most enjoyable parts of the game. It isn’t without its downsides though, as even with upgrades the bike is still an absolute damage magnet, which can be an incredibly frustrating experience.
Combat is unavoidable in Days Gone. Yes, stealth is available, with a simple cover based system employing sound and sight to pick people off and lure them where you want them, but make no bones about it, you will engage in combat and lots of it. Human enemies are there, and that gets a bit more fun the more you play, but Days Gone is all about fighting Freakers. That’s where the game truly shines. Your standard Freaker is pretty easy to deal with, but there are a few varieties; Breakers who are like zomb- I mean Freakers on steroids and take multple shots to die, and infected animals are also added to the mix. Then you get the Hordes; this is where the excitement really comes to the fore.
Hordes are massive groups of Freakers that require every last one to be dispatched in order to win the battle. You need your wits about you, and can’t rely solely on your guns; you need to make sure your resources are in order, and that you’re armed with traps, grenades, molotovs, bombs, and basically anything you can find to kill heaps of these guys in one go. Fighting a Horde is exhilarating and intense, but unfortunately they aren’t all that common; make the most of these fights when you get the opportunity.
And here is where we get another pro mixed with the con. The battles are great, but the gunplay is far from it. The third-person perspective is fine, almost all weapons feel underwhelming. Aiming isn’t precise, and they really lack the punch you would expect from certain weapons like shotguns and assault rifles. Shooting is a core aspect of this game, so it’s a shame the guns feel so lacklustre.
Then we have the other aspect of the gameplay that truly shocked me: the Newts. Newts are adolescent infected humans that you will encounter in the game. They will naturally flee and hang out on rooftops, but if you go up into their turf (which you have to at times), they will attack you. And yes, you have to kill them. I get that the idea here is to show that everyone is infected in this world, but you don’t need to make me kill kids to ram that point home. Even though they’re infected, as a parent myself it is disturbing that I have to kill adolescents. And before you start commenting that I should just avoid them so I don’t have to kill them, that’s all well and good, but what about the times I’m scavenging an empty car and one jumps out from the boot of a car and I’m given a close-up of this child latching onto my head and I’m forced to stab them in the throat? Don’t get me wrong, I’m down with violence in video-games but let’s get one thing straight: I draw the line at killing kids.
On the surface, Days Gone has everything you want in an open-world action game; a large, richly detailed map that looks truly stunning, a dynamic weather system that changes as you play and brings its own unique dynamics and challenges, limiting resources to force players to scavenge and engage with the world to survive. Add to this a skill tree that rewards progress, which in turn provides players with greater choice on how they want to play, and lots of enemies to take on as you go about your business, and you should have a real winner. Unfortunately, once you dig below the surface, Days Gone just feel a bit too generic and lacking in originality. Every positive aspect of the game with a negative, and in some cases multiple negatives. A game that could have had so much potential ends up being a game whose story stutters just as much as its framerate.
I will say this for Days Gone, the title is spot on. The time I spent playing this game certainly represent Days Gone that I will never get back.