Sony has been seeing a lot of successful first-party releases of late with the likes of Horizon: Zero Dawn, God Of War, and Spider-Man. Unfortunately, this momentum seemed to have slowed down, thanks to an uninspired and painfully generic release with Days Gone - developed by Sony’s own Bend Studios who previously worked old time favourite, Syphon Filter.
When first unveiled, Days Gone didn’t leave much of an impression and it didn’t help that it was quickly overshadowed by The Last of Us II, another Sony heavy hitter with an ironically similar genre. But unlike The Last of Us II, Days Gone featured an open world with dynamic weather, day and night cycles, and badasses riding bikes. Deep inside, I was hoping this game to be a Full Throttle meets The Walking Dead (series, not the TT game) kind of affair. But that hope soon diminished after spending a good amount of time playing the game.
Not Entirely Captivating
Days Gone follows Deacon St. John, the game’s unlikeable foul mouthed biker protagonist who has an affection for his motorcycle, and his wife whom he parted with during the outbreak in the game’s introduction. The game then forwards you two years later with Deacon and his best bro, Boozer, surviving the outbreak and setting up refuge in the wilderness of Oregon. As you probably would’ve guessed, Deacon is determined to seek out his long lost wife with hope that she too survived and is waiting for his return.
The story sounds simple enough like any typical love story caught in an apocalyptic setting, but it’s hardly engaging. There is a lot going on in between the main story with sub-chapters promising character development and additional information on the game’s lore. By right, this would appear as an acceptable approach, but it is bogged down by uninteresting characters and poor delivery. It doesn’t help that most of the time you’d also wish Deacon to actually shut up.
Pretty On The Outside
As expected by a first-party release with a considerable budget, Days Gone looks fantastic even on a non-Pro PlayStation 4 console. The world is rich with swaying trees, tall grass, flowing water, and gorgeous weather effects, but it’s not entirely perfect as there are some cases of noticeable pop-ups occurring from time to time in my playthrough.
It does seem production has been placed majorly in the visual department, while not so much in game design, as well as audio direction. Days Gone has a severe case of emphasising too much on cutscenes, where I find myself briefly controlling Deacon until the next scene decided to kick in. There are also moments where the game’s annoying radio conversations overlap with an audio log that was playing, and you can imagine how annoying that is.
So Basic, It Hurts
Days Gone is clearly inspired by several titles prior to its release such as Horizon: Zero Dawn, The Last of Us, the Far Cry series, and even Red Dead Redemption 2 - where hints of this is very apparent in its open world design, item crafting, and environment manipulation. However, the game fails to deliver these features as fluid or faultless like its inspirations.
Holding down L1 brings out the Survival Wheel where you can craft items, and also allows you to select and customise weapons, equip throwables, and use healing items. You’re basically solely relying on this feature to do all of these, but it is so poorly implemented, you’re most likely to mess up the controls to access or use certain items during a scramble. And because a majority of Days Gone’s gameplay relies so much on the Wheel, most of the other button mappings feel completely under utilised.
Gunplay in this game is more of a chore rather than a form of engagement. There’s a chance you’d rarely use them since the most recommended approach is stealth, which is kind of an unexpected plus point since aiming is just sluggish. Taking a page from Red Dead, there’s Focus mode which you activate while aiming to slow down time, but that’s all it does. No multi-targeting, and no critical hit chances - just old fashioned slo-mo.
Melee combat is basic at best, where you can just attack and do evasive rolls. Granted, there are skill upgrades that allows you to combo with your gun or do certain finishers, but that’s as far as it’ll take you.
Beating Around The Bush
For a game that allows you to traverse its open world with a motorcycle, there sure are a lot of stealth gameplay involved. Maybe a little too much. Almost immediately, hiding in bushes and sneaking up behind enemies for an instant kill becomes a tiring routine at every turn. You could opt for a guns-a-blazin’ approach, but the gunplay is horrendous and being loud will immediately overwhelm you with multitudes of return-fire or worse, a swarm of Freakers (the zombie-like ferals of this game).
But I have to say that the stealth element in Days Gone is probably the most polished among its other gameplay mechanics. It’s just a pity that it is featured as a vital aspect from a game that could actually offer so much more.
My Kingdom For A Horse
As mentioned earlier, you can traverse the game’s massive world with your bike, but keep in mind that you’re in a post apocalyptic world where everything, including fuel, is scarce. Sometimes it’s hard to locate fuel in between missions where its required for you to use your bike to cover distances or to transport an important item. Sure, it adds to the tension and the need to scavenge for resources, but here’s the thing: there’s no way keep fuel in item storage, and fuel cans must be disposed after you’re done with it. So yeah, expect to abandon your bike a lot while you scour for fuel distances away. Did I mention that your bike is also your portable save point?
Covering distances on foot and in the wild is not fun, especially when you randomly encounter a Freaker horde. In times of flight, you will curse Deacon’s ridiculously low stamina because Freakers will run after you as long as they could. Amusingly, I’ve come to appreciate horses in games such as The Witcher 3 and Red Dead Redemption 2 a lot more now. Hell, at least they’ll come to you when you call them. Stupid bike.
What Else Is There?
Again taking several pages from other games; there are uninteresting collectibles, a trading system to earn cash and build faction relationships, motorcycle customisations and upgrades, and finally a very traditional character progression system. Really, there’s not much going on in this game.
Something For A Weekend
In all due respect to Days Gone and its developers, the game is not entirely bad nor is it a great one either. The major problem of the game is that its not daring enough to come up with something unique or groundbreaking that it could proudly claim as its own. A majority of what it offers is something we’ve already experienced in other games, and are most likely implemented better there. If you can overcome or overlook its faults, there’s a good chance that you’d actually give some commitment and see this game through. Days Gone is not a game you’d want to immediately jump back into after work or study, but maybe just for a boring weekend when your mates are not around.
If you're interested to pick up a copy for yourself, you can get one from Gamers Hideout here.