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Days Gone Review

The latest PlayStation Exclusive is mixed-bag.

by William Schwartz

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When you think of PlayStation Exclusives there is a general level of quality that’s come to be expected out of these games. Sony has rarely made a misstep in this generation, releasing hit after hit that can only be played on their flagship console — God of War, Spider-Man, Bloodborne, Uncharted… the list goes on and on. With over a quarter of 2019 in the rear-view, there hasn’t been much on this front though. While the generation may be winding down, Days Gone steps in to fill this void of exclusives for the PlayStation 4 and does a pretty damn good job of it all things considered. Despite a pre-release window that saw fading hype and some negativity being thrown at Sony Bend’s open world take on the zombie apocalypse, the game was seemingly written off by many ahead of release. Days Gone is a smartly designed open world game with strong survival and crafting elements with the zombie apocalypse backdrop playing the perfect host for this type of game. It features a big, beautiful open world with plenty to sink your teeth into when it comes to progression, collectibles, mission types, and story beats. While it’s by no means the pinnacle of the genre, what it is is a good old fashioned single player experience that allows you to take in the game at your own pace.

Days Gone tells the story of Deacon St. John, an outlaw biker who has survived a pandemic that has turned people into zombie creatures called Freakers. During the outbreak, Deacon loses his wife and the story picks up around two years after these events. There are numerous storylines constantly unfolding, but Days Gone does not reinvent the wheel here. The in-game map is littered with landmarks and icons that represent main missions, side missions, extermination missions, and camp clearout missions that each fill in the blanks in terms of story. You’ll quickly find that the different factions of the world are not only trying to survive from being mauled by these Freakers, but are also at war with one another. In the modern day, Deacon is a bounty hunter. Taking missions for money, killing whomever needs to be killed if the price is right. By no means is this some type of narrative that we’ve never heard. The human vs. human vs. nature narrative that accompanies most apocalyptic zombie games/movies/media is one that is familiar. So Bend Studio’s job is to make this their own and for the most part they succeed in doing so by making a complicated cast of characters in this bleak world.

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If you’ve played an open world game in the past five years, you kind of know what to expect here with Days Gone. There are plenty of things to collect and there is a nice variety of mission types and random events that you’ll encounter to make the world feel alive.  You will essentially be looking at a map of the world, plotting your course and then following a line to get to your destination.  Whatever the task at hand, there are numerous ways to tackle it though.  Players can use stealth and brazen approaches to complete missions or any combination or degree of either.  They can wait for nightfall or daybreak to tackle missions depending on the circumstance and they’ll need to always be mindful of their supplies on hand.  What really sets Days Gone apart from other games in this genre is the deeper crafting and survival elements of the game. The world in Days Gone does indeed make you feel that resources are finite, with weapon ammunition, healing items, gasoline, and other items needed to be constantly scavenged for. It can be a little much at times as Bend leans in on this aspect of the game, leaving you with little health or ammunition to take on human enemies or a Freaker horde. Days Gone isn’t just heading from checkpoint to checkpoint though. There’s plenty of flavor added to the world with random encounters, a good bit of variety in terms of collecting power-ups, clearing enemy camps, and the loop of scavenging supplies to get you to your next objective. There are plenty of scenarios that you’ll find yourself in. From being ambushed by drifters, attacked by animals, or stranded and out of gas with a massive mob of Freakers on your tail.

While the progression system of Days Gone isn’t incredibly deep, it is somewhat of a simplistic breath of fresh air that has clear cut objectives to get cool new items and upgrades for your character, bike, and weapons. Where many games make these things incredibly complex and grindy these days, Days Gone gives you a straight forward roadmap to getting the items that you want and there aren’t any micro-transaction boosters or special real money currency to help you get there quicker. Simply playing the game will get you your rewards. It’s a novel concept in 2019, but this is what games used to be and it’s refreshing to see a game like this take that approach when we’ve seen so many similarly structured games go for the money from those who are willing to pay more. Want to upgrade Deacon’s Health, Stamina, or Focus abilities? Simply solve puzzles that are littered throughout the world. Want to get a new skin for your bike? Complete a storyline at 100% and you’ll get your reward. With multiple camps scattered across the map, Deacon can earn trust by completing missions which will unlock different items that can be purchased from each camp where Deacon can purchase weapons, bike upgrades, and more.

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Conceptually, Days Gone is great.  Technically, it’s a mixed bag that feels lacking as often as it impresses leaving you wondering whether it needed just a little more fine-tuning that would take it from a good game to a great one.  Days Gone is an absolute stunner on the PlayStation 4 Pro.  If there’s one thing that is consistent on the technical front it’s in the excellence of character models, animations, voice acting, and general beauty of the world.  The presentation of Days Gone will very often impress whether that’s in the sense of dread brought on by a screeching horde of zombies or while just resting on your bike overlooking a scenic vista just as the sun goes down.  When the game starts moving, things do start to get a little more variable though.

When we say fine-tuning we’re talking about some of the game’s glaring weaknesses and these are enough not to ignore for the sake of this review.  Some of them, like the motorcycle controls are just too big a part of the game to not talk about.  Deacon’s motorcycle is a big part of the game as it’s his primary mode of transportation and it’s unwieldy when it comes to controlling it.  The bike is just a mess from a control standpoint, it’s cumbersome and the seemingly deliberate sluggish controls and cornering just make it not fun to ride.  We found ourselves constantly crashing into environmental objects with the inability to turn or avoid them.  There is somewhat of a learning curve to it, but even as we felt that we were getting better there just seemed to be a level of responsiveness that just wasn’t there to make it feel good while on the bike.  Speaking of not feeling good, the combat in the game isn’t its strong suit either.  While the game has numerous melee and ranged weapons to use, none of them feel very good at all.  Guns lack that punch that differentiates them from one another and melee weapons, while feeling more varied, generally make a fight feel like you’ve mashed your way through it.  Couple that with some quirky enemy AI and you’ll find yourself in some weird fights where enemies just don’t move, run into walls, or just stand there waiting for you to pummel them.  It zaps away some of the immersion for sure.

These glaring weaknesses aside, Days Gone was a lot of fun, but you need to know what you’re getting into here.  The aspects of this game that I enjoyed the most weren’t the ones that I spoke of above.  It was in the quieter moments.  Moments where I had run out of gas far away from town and attempted to find fuel before I was spotted by a large group of enemies that I had absolutely no chance of defeating with the weapons I had on me.  It was in the random encounters that made the world feel like a dangerous and desolate place full of incredibly bad things and bad people.  There have been plenty of games to tackle the subject matter, but Days Gone felt like a true realization of the zombie apocalypse in the open world.  The fit and finish that you think of when it comes to PlayStation 4 exclusives might not be here, and hell some of the core mechanics of the game feel broken at times, but the moments of desperation that many games have tried to manifest offset that somewhat.

The Verdict

Days Gone is by no means perfect, but if you’re willing to put up with some shortcomings the reward is one of the best open-world zombie apocalypse games to date.

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liked

Days Gone

  • Available On: PlayStation 4
  • Published By: Sony Interactive Entertainment
  • Developed By: SIE Bend Studio
  • Genre: Open World, Action Adventure
  • US Release Date: April 26th, 2019
  • Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
  • Quote: "Days Gone offers a dangerous and desolate world full of bad things and bad people. if you're willing to put up with some shortcomings the reward is one of the best open-world zombie apocalypse games to date. "
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