After three years of development, including two delays, SIE Bend Studio’s Days Gone is finally available exclusively for the PlayStation 4. Zombie fanatics - which include yours truly - have been patiently awaiting the game that blew us away when we first saw its reveal trailer grace the E3 2016 stage. Twitter was abuzz with hype on Days Gone’s official release day, with other studios across the industry congratulating Bend on a successful release. The open-world game is certainly an impressive piece of work… for what we actually got. Unfortunately, even beyond its technical issues, Days Gone struggles to successfully meet the hype that was so promising during the buildup to its release.
Days Gone puts players in the role of Deacon St. John as he, along with his best friend, William “Boozer” Gray, roam the Pacific Northwest on motorcycles in a post-apocalyptic world that is overrun with nocturnal, zombie-like monsters known as “Freakers,” which were former humans who became infected with a virus. The game kicks off with Deacon and Boozer planning on meeting up with Deacon’s injured wife, Sarah, at a refugee camp when the outbreak pandemic is just beginning. However, two years after learning the camp that Sarah was taken to was overrun by Freakers, Deacon and Boozer spend their time as bounty hunters, encountering Freakers, militia groups, and a cultist outfit known as the Rippers, as they try to survive in the collapsed world.
Probably the single greatest factor hindering Days Gone is what it is not. Simply put: it’s not The Last of Us. The massively successful PlayStation 3-exclusive absolutely blew players away with its visuals, combat system, and the considerable depth of its story. For Days Gone players who have played The Last of Us, it’s relatively tough to separate and not compare the two single-player experiences. That’s not to say that Days Gone is actively trying to be the next Last of Us. It’s just that The Last of Us was… well, perfect. Any game would have a tough time measuring up to Naughty Dog’s iconic title. Of course, any ambitious open-world game such as Days Gone takes a lot of work. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly an excuse to drop the ball on the technical issues that should have been squelched before the game was even released, especially with the release date having been pushed back not once, but twice.
Although the story itself is decent, audio and visual issue plague the game, making it difficult to feel truly immersed in the narrative. Some of the technical issues were fixed in a quick patch that was released shortly after the game became available, but most of the audio problems were not. For instance, one such issue was Deacon stating something to the effect of, “That’s all of ‘em,” after taking out a group of bandits. However, many times that was not the case, which resulted in my untimely death caused by two to three remaining enemies.
On that note, while the main characters' personas could be believable, especially with the voice talent fitting perfectly with each character, the dialogue - coupled with the audio issues of overlapping lines and mumbling - makes it hard to care about any of the characters, or the story at large. If I never hear the words “Deacon out” again, which is Deacon’s way of ending a radio communication, it will be too soon. A more finely-tuned focus on dialogue could have taken Days Gone’s believable zombie-story premise from good to great.
Though its absence doesn’t necessarily make or break the story, there also seems to have been a missed opportunity for a moral system to be put in place. The majority of Deacon’s decisions are made automatically. Players have opportunities to aid other NPCs outside of the main storyline, such as rescuing hostages from the Rippers or providing resources to NPCs in need, but doing so only raising players’ loyalty stats with refugee camps. Those decisions have no effect on the outcome of the main story. Granted, Bend Studio did this on purpose, but it is surprising that a game with a loyalty system that lauds its dynamic weather and environment engine would create such a one-dimensional outcome.
Days Gone is at its best when Deacon happens upon a Freaker horde, or when the horde finds him. Surviving a horde attack is chaotic, intense, and terrifying - and that’s exactly how it should be. Saber Interactive’s recent World War Z does a great job with its swarm attacks, but Days Gone does it better. Rather than having time to prepare for an attack by setting up defensive obstacles, more often than not, hordes appear randomly, causing players to take on a fight-or-flight mentality by either running away or utilizing weapons, traps, and other environmental hazards to rid themselves of the threat.
In fact, that excitement and tension extends throughout Days Gone’s entire open-world environment. You never know what you’re going to come across in the wilderness, which creates the need for players to stay on their toes and keep their eyes on their surroundings. A sniper could land the perfect shot that disables Deacon’s motorcycle at any time, or an unsuspecting bear could waltz into the area that Deacon is trying to loot. It’s a shame that we won’t be able to play the “Surivial” difficulty mode for a couple of months, as the absence of an on-screen interface would help elevate the game’s overall immersiveness in this regard.
To be clear, I very much wanted to see Days Gone succeed, as it was my selection for Most Anticipated Game of 2019. Unfortunately, rather than being blown away, the overall experience left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. Although Bend Studio boasts Days Gone's replayability, it is unlikely that I’ll give Days Gone a second playthrough until June, when the game’s first round of DLC is slated for release. I do believe that the Bend Studio team can get Days Gone to where it needs to be. It just might take a few rounds of patches and DLC to get it there.
2.5 out of 5 stars
A copy of Days Gone was purchased by TheGamer for this review. The game is available now exclusively for the PlayStation 4.