I wasn’t expecting much from Days Gone. The initial footage didn’t get me anywhere near as hyped as everyone insisted it should have, and as the release date grew closer I was anticipating competent but boring; well-made, but not enough to draw me in. Something like Horizon Zero Dawn. Turns out it’s an engaging good time, and although it doesn’t do anything new it does what it does well.
There are a lot of elements from other games here. The tone, environments, crafting, combat and stealth are highly reminiscent of The Last of Us. You rely on a vehicle that starts off bare bones and is upgraded over the course of the game after your personal, custom vehicle is scrapped, like in the Mad Max game. Certain smaller elements are similar to ones in Red Dead 2, The Walking Dead comic and Far Cry. It is, to be charitable, heavily influenced by other media, but that’s not a criticism. Anyway, you are a man the game insists is named Deacon St.John, a Nomad member of the Mongrels Motorcycle Club surviving in post-apocalyptic Oregon with his best friend and fellow Mongrel Boozer. The world is overrun with virus infected humans called “Freakers” and Deacon works as a bounty hunter, killing as many infected as he can as well as any antagonistic humans who kill or kidnap people from survivor camps. Each camp has their own politics and direction, dictated by their leader: Copeland is a libertarian truther who thinks mass shootings are a small price to pay for gun rights, Tucker runs a work camp repeatedly referred to by other characters as slave labour, and Iron Mike runs a camp with the only doctor around, and is determined to unite the remaining human groups against the Freaks. This includes the Rest-in-Peace “Ripper” cult, who get all messed up on PCP, slice themselves to ribbons and want to be just like the Freakers. They seem to have it in for Deek and Boozer, and the bikers hate them in return, which makes them at odds with Iron Mike’s attempt at a treaty with the Rippers. Deacon himself is surprisingly interesting as a character. When interacting with other people he’s fine, albeit prone to sarcasm and deflection, but when he’s out in the world by himself he’s constantly jabbering and swearing to himself about what he’s doing as part of some aggressive coping mechanism. He’s extremely capable, having seen combat in the Army and spent a long time controlling the one vehicle everyone in this new world uses, but rather than being stoic and above-it-all he’s flappable, angry and frustrated with his situation. It’s like the Resi 2 remake, but much more prevalent and more the result of having to do this for an extended period of time rather than a panicky response to being dropped into an extreme situation. There’s more going on in the story but it’s hard to talk about without spoiling things, so I’ll leave it at that.
So it plays like a cross between TLOU and Mad Max, and it turns out that’s a winning combination. You ride around on Deacon’s bike and clear out camps of marauders, find objects and missing people and burn out nests made by Freakers. The bike has a durability meter and a fuel gauge, both of which can be improved, so you’ll spend a fair amount of time rooting through abandoned towns and outposts looking for materials. Fortunately the bike can be refilled and repaired at outposts, scrap can be found under car bonnets or dotted around the place and unlimited-use fuel cans and petrol pumps aren’t particularly hard to find. It’s more a tool to add tension and a touch of realism rather than an annoyance, and having to creep around potentially dangerous areas looking for gear is effective. The combat is straight out of TLOU: the shooting, the melee weapons and attacks, the crafting medkits, molotovs and IEDs, the stealth; it’s all here, and it all works well. The core gameplay loop of driving out, having a gunfight and smacking Freakers over the head with a spiked bat is engaging, particularly once you start to get better gear and upgrade your bike. It’s made more interesting by the presence of the Freaks, especially groups of them, and TWD comic-style hordes; huge swarms of infected that until late in the game you have no chance against and must be avoided at all costs. There was one camp I cleared out with a large group of infected right below it, waiting for any sign of my presence so they could rush up and rip me apart. The horror elements are surprisingly strong given that you can just run back to your bike and bugger off, it’s a testament to the atmosphere the game creates.
I don’t normally talk about graphics, but it’s worth pointing out just how beautiful Days Gone can be, particularly when the real time weather system kicks in. This is the first game I’ve seen to have real time snow that actually settles and covers the ground, and the falling snow is absolutely gorgeous; many times it combined with nighttime runs through a hostile world bathed in moonlight to create a wonderful atmosphere the likes of which open world games never manage for me. One mission in particular will stick with me for some time for that very atmosphere, it was glorious. Augmenting this is the excellent soundtrack, which provides a real sense of dread when you’re out in the open, vulnerable while searching for fuel, scrap and crafting items.
Unfortunately despite the sizeable patch the game still has technical faults; objects not loading in, I fell through the world once and the framerate often drops, sometimes freezing altogether briefly. Despite the game’s overall quality it’s far too long, and what looked to be a move towards a finale turned out to be a lead-in for a whole extra chunk of story. Important things happen during that time, but having dealt with the game’s main villain another one has to be hastily introduced in order to give the unresolved plot threads and obvious foreshadowing time to be paid off. Twice I was all geared up for a final showdown of some kind only for the game to go “Woah, that was a close one, good thing everything’s calmed down again, eh?” There’s enough here for Days Gone and a sequel, and a split between the two would make things flow better. I can’t describe it for spoiler reasons (might put that in a follow up article) but there’s a definite place to split the story into two parts, which I personally think would have been for the best.
Overall, despite a few issues, Days Gone is a good game. It owes a whole lot to other IP, but everything it takes it does well, and presents them in a way that’s an engaging, fun time. Strong atmosphere, enjoyable gameplay and solid character and story combine to make Days Gone worth checking out.
By James Lambert