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Days Gone – Review

A hell of a ride

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From the makers of Syphon Filter and… Bubsy 3D, Bend Studio is now back with a new IP, Days Gone. On the surface, it seems like “that video game again”. As in, you’ve probably seen various elements of the game in other games before. Open world. Zombies (but not really). Survival elements. Crafting and upgrades. Three skill trees. Shooting and melee. Clearing outposts. You get the idea.

But Days Gone is better than the sum of its parts, though it barely held the parts together at times. Yet somehow, it’s still a hell of a ride from start to finish.

Note: Review based on version 1.02 and version 1.03 (pre-release, before the day-1 patch version 1.04), played on the base PS4

Presentation

Days Gone takes place in the wilderness of Oregon, USA, 2 years after “things went to shit” as it colloquially referred to. Society falls after an outbreak killed billions and turned many of them into Freakers.

The open world is gorgeous. There is a dynamic time and weather system that dramatically changes the environment as well as impacting gameplay. Heavy rain turns the side roads muddy and slippery while the night brings out most of the nasty Freaks.

If you like taking screenshots, there’s plenty of beautiful (and gross) sceneries. And the Photo Mode is decent.

The open world feels small but dense but over time, it becomes larger, with some changes reflective of the story.

The zombie-like but not-zombie Freakers look and sound gross. Blood and gore do spill, with body parts falling off the Freakers, or human enemies when heavy force is applied. Like shooting at the face with as shotgun.

Days Gone has plenty of cinematics with great performances by the actors. Though I find it jarring to see a few seconds of a loading screen, a cut-scene plays, and then another loading screen to go back to gameplay. It ruins the flow a bit, especially when the scenes are just a few seconds long.

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It’s really enjoyable riding on the open road (when nothing is out to kill you). The excellent soundtrack kicks in slowly on the longer, uninterrupted journeys. That particular song, which starts and end dynamically, is emotionally charged, swooping and atmospheric as it is soulful and mellow. Perfect for a biker traveling the open roads.

When the faced with the horrifying Freakers however, tunes of dread and suspense pipes in. Whilst the tender, emotional moments are just heartwarming to hear. The overall soundtrack, including the choice of licensed music, is astoundingly well put together.

Unfortunately, the game is crippled with performance issues. The pre-release version I played through saw massive dips in framerate on the base PS4. Slowdowns, textures not loading in, and sometimes even assets not loading in will happen if you move fast enough. Especially while riding the bike.

You will definitely notice the slowdown. At worse, the game crashes.

I can’t tell whether the performance issues are due to the modified Unreal Engine they are using, or a sign we have reached the hardware limits of the PS4.

Gameplay

In Days Gone, you play as Deacon St. John, a former biker gang member (or for you Malaysians: an American Mat Rempit) who is now a Drifter. He does odd jobs for various encampments, either clearing up hideouts or finding lost people or taking out bounties. While the plan was to head out north, circumstances lead to Deacon losing his bike and having to keep doing jobs with the camps he wanted to get away from.

From there on, an overarching story of multiple threads will unravel, weaving various subplots in and out as you progress. You don’t have quest lines, you have storylines, where one mission may advance one or more storyline as it is being completed.

Though for the most part, it’s a story of a man still clinging to the past. Heck, the in-game day tracker counts starting from two years (more accurately, 734 days gone) since he last saw his wife.

The map is packed and there’s really not much downtime going to point A to point B. But the fact that the roads are all windy, filled with obstacles to avoid and danger lurking, you are really on your toes while riding the bike.

If you go on the road for too long, then you better start expecting trouble is coming, either a sniper ambush or swarms of Freakers.

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Fiddly (By Design) Controls

You will need to spend some time getting the hang on Days Gone’s controls. R2 is for melee and you need to aim with L2 to use your gun, no blind fire. Grenades are tucked within the Survival Wheel, which requires holding L1, select the grenades category, wait a bit, then select the grenade of choice. Combat is not that fluid, but I guess it’s a deliberate design choice- it’s a survival game, after all.

Weapons are pretty inaccurate at the start, ammo is scarce, and powerful melee weapons break. You will need to use stealth and loot for resources, but you definitely can go gung-ho once you’ve got most of the skill upgrades and stat buffs.

Loot

If the survival elements sound dreadful, just take the solemn that Bend Studio took lessons from Red Dead Redemption II. Looting is quick and easy to do- some enemies like Freakers don’t even need a button prompt to loot.

Resources and melee weapons are scattered around the desolate buildings in the world. They are plentiful but don’t expect them to respawn immediately. Thankfully, gas cans and gas stations have infinite gas.

There’s a sense of permanence in Days Gone. I had a firefight in a small town but didn’t get to loot the area properly as I was locked in a story mission. Revisiting the area not long after (within the same in-game day) and all the bodies and missed crafting components are there as I remembered.

Some Bugs

Alongside the framerate drop and texture loading issues mentioned, the AI pathfinding also frequently bugged out. I’ve seen enemies stuck behind geometry, and even friendly NPCs during missions getting stuck because a Freaker body is in the way.

This game sure has some production values but moments when such issues pop up, coupled with the controls, make it feel like a janky, cobbled-up together game at times.

The Bike

The bike is the star of Days Gone’s gameplay. It’s your only mode of transport, and it needs to be taken care of. You need to keep it away from damage and make sure you have enough fuel or face some big issues. You don’t want to be on foot for too long with Freaks roaming around ready to maul you.

It really makes you consider your traveling plans. In the early game, you’ll have to stop by a gas station for fuel or find a gas can in one of those NERO checkpoints. I spent the first few hours lifting and coasting a lot to save fuel while driving very carefully not to hit anything. And I love that I have to do that.

But later on, you get to upgrade the bike with cosmetics and performance parts, either of which changes the bike’s look, You get to see the Engine III upgrade is a bigger engine block with a different, deeper engine tone. Even racing games don’t go that deep with customisations these days.

Welcome to the Freakshow

The Freakers come in various archetypes. From the little ki- I mean Newts, to Runners, infected wolves that will chase you down even when on a bike.

But the Horde is the big selling point for Days Gone. As those early trailers showed, they are indeed vicious and they are huge. The biggest Hordes have hundreds of these Freakers roaming together.

The early game is spent on avoiding the massive Hordes unless you have a death wish taking them on. But as you progress, Deacon will get more skill points, better weapons and also stat buffs that will allow you to mow them down. Yes, it’s a lot of just running around, then looking at the back taking pot shots but the areas you fight them in do have multiple routes and explosives to use to your advantage.

Crafting all the gear needed, stocking up ammo, and laying up all the traps before engaging the Horde is both the most exhilarating and the most cathartic experience in Days Gone. Nothing like mowing down hundreds of not-zombies after hours of just gasping looking the sheer size and wondering: “How the heck am I supposed to kill them all?”

Content

Days Gone is longer than you would expect. The game has about one hour worth of tutorial before opening up the world for you to explore. The fact the open world only opens up gradually means the size, and the number of side-missions available, will not overwhelm you as a result. Side-missions like clearing marauder camps each have a small reward, which can be tracked in the menus. And finding them is easy, just explore the map and it will mark the spot when you are close enough.

The story does feel cliche. “Sons Of Anarchy meets The Walking Dead” is a rather apt description, but the plot is more than just the biker life and post-apocalypse melodrama.

There are many interwoven subplots coming in and out of the main progression, all focusing on character interaction. Deacon is a dick, the name checks out, but a generic white-man protagonist he is not. Seeing him bouncing off with the rest of the cast, some with great chemistry, others with clashing personalities, is entertaining to see. And the poignant romance story, of how he is dealing with the loss of his wife, is gripping. With a great payoff.

Outside of the surprisingly good story, expect the same-old side missions and collectibles. It is an open world game, after all. Though taking down the Hordes is really fun to do by the end game.

It took me around 41 hours to finish Days Gone and see the credits. Though completionists will definitely spend more than that.

Personal Enjoyment

Days Gone sure sounds like just another open world game on paper with technical issues. But somehow, I really like it.

I am a stickler for games running at its intended framerate cap. So there’s a lot of moments where I just reel back and cringe seeing all the slowdowns. Despite that, the pros outweigh the cons. I enjoyed seeing Deacon’s story unfolded. The number of optional camps to clear is just enough- and with enough variety- to keep me engaged.

I enjoyed customising, upgrading and maintaining the bike. Plus, there’s enough wiggle room in the systems to see something dynamic happen. I tried taking down an ambush camp but forgot to put silencers on. That caught the attention of a nearby Horde and ravaged the camp for me while I cowardly hide in a bush. That’s neat!

Verdict

Days Gone is an ambitious open world survival game that is almost bursting at its seams. The dynamic open world is lovingly crafted to not only look good, but serve gameplay purposes. The customisable bike rivals those seen in racing games. The tension coming from facing the Freakers and managing your crafting resources won’t get old. The story is amazingly well told filled with great character moments.

Yet technical issues, from noticeable framerate drops to the various glitches and crashes are a letdown. It makes you think whether the PS4 is at its last legs… or the game is just too ambitious for its own good.

Whatever the case is, should you persist through the jankiness, Days Gone is the best open world biker survival game, that happens to have sort-of zombies, out there.

It’s a hell of a ride.


Review based on version 1.02 and version 1.03 (pre-release, before the day-1 patch version 1.04), played on the base PS4. Review copy provided by the publisher

8.8

Days Gone

Should you persist through the jankiness, Days Gone is the best open world biker survival game, that happens to have sort-of zombies, out there. It's a hell of a ride.

  • Presentation 8.5
  • Gameplay 8
  • Content 9
  • Personal Enjoyment 9.5