Ghastly Gaming Review: DAYS GONE is a Badass Post-Apocalypse You'll Want to Fight Through

The post-apocalyptic gaming genre has seen a great wealth of amazing experiences over the past few years, particularly within Sony’s own stable of amazing exclusives. We’ve battled fungus like mutations all while trying to transport a young woman who holds the key to humanities survival in Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. We have battled large mechanized animals and means of destruction while traversing the world to discover who you really are and what key you hold to the future of the world in Guerilla’s Horizon: Zero Dawn. Hell, even Hideo Kojima himself is getting in on the desolate barren landscape of what once was the world we know it, albeit with the typical crazy Kojima stuff we are used to in his MGS games, this time with Norman Reedus and Mads Mikkelsen in this fall’s intriguing Death Stranding. While all these games sold very well and are received critically commercially, there was one title that seemed to just miss the mark in terms of getting the critics and fans pumped. This game became synonymous with the perceived “been there, done that” nature of post-apocalyptic games that seemed to permeate throughout the gaming landscape 

Days Gone, released this past April from Sony Bend Studio, revolves around a biker named Deacon St. John, who is trying to survive the fallout of a viral outbreak that has turned most of the world into fast moving killer creatures called freakers. Days Gone was initially revealed back in Sony’s E3 2016 press conference and was admittedly one of the least interesting titles shown off at that presser. It really had nothing to do with the gameplay presentation or the story cinematics that were provided. It all looked quite good, but it had the unfortunate timing to be shown along the global reveal of the new God of War game, Hideo Kojima’s new title post-Konami breakup Death Stranding, a detailed look at the Guerrilla’s open world Horizon: Zero Dawn AND the public reveal of the new exclusive Spider-Man game for PS4. It was working from behind the eight ball when surrounded by those heavyweights, and despite showing decently, the content had a certain blandness to it in comparison. The main character seemed like a milquetoast generic male character and his introduction seemed only to enforce that initial notion. The world, at first, felt dry and uninspired, not providing anything that was initially breathtaking or something that could cause the gaming public to stand up and take notice. There were some positives, such as the mechanic of having a motorcycle that you had to maintain, that did intrigue me out of the gate. Even the supposed hook of the entire reveal/game structure, the swarm nature of the zombie-like monsters known as freakers, ended up coming off like a carbon copy of the zombie hive mind mentality from the 2013 Brad Pitt undead flick World War Z. Sony even seemed to be worried at this game’s financial success, as it continuously showed off multiple gameplay sections and releasing constant combat and storyline videos for around a year before its eventual release, trying to saturate the market with Days Gone material to ensure everyone was aware of the game and got talked into purchasing. 

Sony’s marketing push seemed to do the trick, however, as Days Gone finished #2 in the April NPD sales chard (behind MK11) and is still in the Top 10 as of the June, a significant accomplishment for this expected underperformer of a game. I, opposed to the consensus around the title, was quite excited to go on the run with my motorcycle and explore the world of Days Gone after seeing the various videos and gameplay demos that were shown up to release and ended up being a Day 1 purchase. I finally finished the entire story mode in July, a full three months after its release (I only play games primarily during the weekends and at night, so it takes some time for me). In the end, after committing most of the first half of 2019 to this title, does Days Gone live up to the initial reactions of being a simply “meh” game, or does this end up having that certain something that makes it a game you need to play? Despite having many flaws, I am happy to say that it falls into the latter category and should be a gaming experience that you shouldn’t miss. 

Let’s start off with what I ended up loving about Days Gone. First and foremost, the coolest feature of the game is the mode of transportation you have throughout, your chopper. The motorcycle is simply bad ass to ride and fun to build up through upgrades, paint jobs and general modifications that can be purchased using credits you earn from missions doled out from the various camps you interact with throughout your adventure. Each camp starts you off at no level of trust, and you build this up by completing various objectives and missions designated to each camp, and for each level you go up (The max trust level is 3 per camp), new weapons and bike upgrades become available. The need to upgrade your bike, your own attributes and obtain new weapons (which can be stored in a gun locker that can be accessed in various save point locations) end up being all necessary and imperative to complete some grueling fights down the line. This inspired me to complete every single encampment job, side mission, rescuing endangered travelers, and any objective possible to build up trust and obtain credits. The game takes place within a section of the state of Oregon, and right away that makes this game unique. The Oregon world map is loaded with mountainous landscapes, rolling hills, dense forests, small towns and deserted landscapes, all detailed with lush details and a surplus of interesting structures and locations to explore. I even found the game world to be more interesting in its visual representation than other apocalyptic titles, such as The Last of Us. There are multiple side stories and character threads throughout your 40+ hours of gameplay, and while not all of it works, the main story thread of this epic is captured brilliantly throughout its lengthy cutscenes and plot revelations. Deacon’s voice actor, Sam Witwer, gives one of the most layered and fleshed out performances of this generation in terms of emotional heft, sly line readings and beautiful motion capture to fully illustrate this video game character as a fully developed and complicated individual. I didn’t think this would end up coming from someone named Deacon St. John, so count me as surprised at how good this character ended up being. Lastly, as with any game that ends up standing the test of time, the combat of Days Gone is tight and satisfying and makes you feel invincible when you master the techniques. You can carry up to three weapons (primary, sidearm and heavy), homemade bombs, knifes, handheld weapons, various health packs or brief stimulant upgrades, among other helpful items. Most of the health and bombs that you come across in the game can only be obtained by combining the various items and tools you find out in the wilds of Oregon, such as kerosene, scrap, rags, nails, etc. and it makes every single mission a scavenger hunt to obtain everything you can. This combined with the upgrades to your characters’ health, stamina and focus meter (the ability to slow down time and shoot with more efficiency) all work in tandem to deliver a high-end combat engine. There is nothing more formidable and terrifying than fighting a horde of freakers that can reach numbers of 300+, all while trying to pump as much ammo and explosives to end all of them before they converge and eat you alive. Nothing in this game is given to you for free, so it felt good to earn every victory and loot that comes from each encounter, whether it be a band of vicious human marauders out to steal your items or a bloodthirsty horde of freakers. The challenge was quite welcome, and I felt every victory was immensely satisfying.

Unfortunately, despite having many positives to reflect upon, not everything in Days Gone is created equal. Sony Bend Studio is a smaller team in terms of the typical Sony stable (Sony Santa Monica, Naughty Dog) and has worked only on the Syphon Filter series on PS1 and some recent PS Vita versions (the last handheld system from Sony) for the Uncharted series, so a game of this magnitude is quite the undertaking and challenge for this studio to pull off. While they mostly knocked it out of the park, there existed a substantial helping of bugs and glitches scattered throughout my playthrough of this game, and they are noticeable enough that they do end up taking you out of the moment for a brief time. Issues such as specific dialogue being repeated multiple times, mission reminders for tasks you already completed, various audio miscues, and instances of slowdown that get as bad as freezing the game for seconds at a time, do occur often enough in the game that it caused me to groan at times. It’s not a deal breaker for me in anyway due to the overwhelming positives I already listed, but if some players aren’t as smitten with what I enjoyed, then this could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in terms of your interest in seeing this game to the end. While I am someone who would almost never complain about a game being too long (why would you get mad at a game that gives you TOO much content?), and I do appreciate the team was trying to deliver maximum bang for your buck, I personally felt the main story playthrough was a little too long for the yarn this game was trying to spin. What may have a big hand in this feeling is the storyline and location switch-up in the 2nd half of the main game. While I won’t spoil what happens, this shift in landscape and litany of new character introductions felt less inspired and not as intriguing to me as the more grounded 1st half, which felt more varied and distinct from the various other open world brethren it was striving to stick out from. Once again, not a deal breaker and it was still a solid game and story, but it just didn’t capture me like the opening 20+ hours of this journey. Lastly, it should be mentioned that while the main actors and story are exceptional in all aspects of the game, the side mission action and mo-cap felt like the B-level crew stepped in to take command of these sections. The motion capture acting was more stunted and wooden, the voice acting wavered greatly and never seemed to match the tone that was trying to be conveyed in certain scenes, and it felt more like an afterthought. These were quick instances and don’t draw you out of the experience, but they are noticeable if you have a keen eye for it.

In the end, despite its many hiccups, I highly recommend that every PS4 owner get out there and pick yourself up a copy of Days Gone. The current critical consensus on OpenCritic seems to be hanging in the low 70’s, and while I can see that being possible based on the various issues I had with the game, the amazing positives that I laid out should really have settled this title quite nicely into the low-mid 80’s. It’s an ambitious and large adventure with a great world map of the mountains, forests and hills of Oregon, great character upgrades and satisfying combat. It also has one of the best modes of transportation in all of video games, a bad ass chopper, which will push you to complete every single mission as to not miss any sweet alterations. Days Gone felt like it was playing from behind since its reveal back in 2016, but I happy to say that here in 2019, it deserves to stand with the big boys.

Eric Mayo