Given its nature as a more community and indie focused show, Days Gone wound up being probably the biggest AAA game at PAX East 2019. With a massive booth, featuring a zombified bear and zombie actors scaring passersby, it was a true highlight of the show. After playing the game though, it unfortunately had one of the smallest impacts simply due to how it feels like a fine game being released at the wrong time.
If you’ve followed any of the early press about the game then this probably doesn’t come as a big surprise. It’s clear that Days Gone is a top-tier, AAA release for the PS4. It’s yet another fantastic exclusive for Sony’s console, delivering that long promised Greatness that felt so distant back at launch. But everything about the two demos available at PAX just felt like games I’d played before, sometimes quite a number of times.
While I’m intrigued by Days Gone, I wasn’t wowed by it
Movement and combat feels like The Last of Us. The world sort of does too, though the zombies have a much different style and life to them. The gameplay is very much crafted on experiences you’ve had before, almost serving as a summation for this console cycle. There’s survival mechanics, zombies, looting, and a post-apocalyptic world. It’s all here, and it’s all well done, but in the environment of PAX East it just felt at odds with almost everything else at the show, and everything else going on in games today.
I want to stress that Days Gone is still a solid gaming experience. I had fun with it, both in the slower paced and more survival-focused first demo and the more chaotic horde combat of the second. In the first section, the game really leaned hard on tropes that have been almost driven into the ground though. With your character Deacon St. John riding his motorcycle up on a gas station that holds valuable supplies. Your partner draws most of the zombies away, clearing it out for you to explore.
This offers one glimpse at how Days Gone could stand above its contemporaries, with smaller child-like zombies who are scared of you while you are strong, but will swarm if they sense weakness. For the demo, they never got too in the way, and you are pretty much left to explore, finding a way inside a nearby garage by climbing up onto the roof. Everything in between this is standard stuff, involving opening drawers to find supplies, and stealthily eliminating any threats. The end promised more interesting plot elements, with raiders grabbing your friend and scorching his tattoos off as they are a part of the “old world”.
Jumping into the second demo showed more of what made Days Gone such a hit in its multiple E3 showings. Massive hordes of zombies are pretty cool, no matter how overused the trope is. In this mission there’s a huge horde near your camp and you need to eliminate the threat they pose. You can do this by driving or running around, leading them into traps or secure combat spots. Unfortunately the horde wasn’t quite as visually spectacular as we’ve seen in the scripted demos though, and mine ended up having a lot of clipping among the characters and with level geometry. The concept was cool though, so maybe the more polished final build will do better.
All in all I did enjoy Days Gone, it just left little lasting impact on me, especially with more intriguing experiences available just a few booths away. Players who haven’t gotten their fill of the zombie, post-apocalyptic, survival shooter genre could find their game of the year here. I’ve played these games before though, and so while I’m intrigued by Days Gone, I wasn’t wowed by it. It could hold some secrets that are worth exploring, but I’ll be waiting to find out, rather than ravenously seeking it like I have in the past. I won’t have too long to wait, with Days Gone hitting PS4 on April 26th.