Days Gone is the latest in an ever-growing AAA PlayStation 4 exclusive games list, courtesy of Bend Studios (known for their assistance in the Uncharted franchise, and development of the Syphon Filter games). We had the pleasure of going hands-on with Days Gone at PAX 2018 and therefore had a pretty good idea of what to expect until the first encounter with a freaker horde. Freakers are Bend Studios’ zombies. They’re fast, aggressive, and an unstoppable force when in large numbers. Protagonist Deacon St. John doesn’t know what he’s in for, and it turned out neither did we.
The story is very central in this single-player game and therefore it’s important that Bend Studios gets it right. Your journey begins as Deacon St. John struggles to keep his best friend and brother in arms Boozer alive. It takes Deacon all over Oregon, meeting many memorable characters on the way as he grieves the loss of his wife, Sarah. The story features several lengthy flashbacks, many lengthy cutscenes, and plenty of ‘walk with me’ style dialogue moments which really breaks up the pace of this zombie action game. While the story does provide many key pivotal moments, it starts and ends almost exactly as you would predict – right down to the fate of Boozer.
As Deacon fights his way through freaker infestations and hordes, he is also coming to terms with the world confronting him which results in a lot of situations where he is rambling to himself, often at a very low volume. While all the cut-scenes are skippable just by holding the touchpad down, you never know if the scene will involve something key to the overall plot, making for some long stints of listening to Deacon rant to himself like a crazy person.
The world of Days Gone seems quite large at first. There aren’t many long stretches of straight road, and many of the main roads are broke up by debris or fallen trees anyway, meaning you have to carefully navigate your way through most of the map and often it’s faster to risk going off-road. Your bike is also extremely slow at first and doesn’t get too much faster as you upgrade it throughout the campaign. While there are some breathtaking locations throughout the fictional part of Oregon that Bend Studios has created, the map definitely doesn’t come across as being overly large, and combining that with fast travel, it doesn’t take too long to navigate around.
Speaking of fast travel, Days Gone has a clever system where it considers certain factors before allowing you to jump from settlement to settlement. If there’s a freaker infestation on the way then you must clear it before you are able to fast travel. Your bike must also have enough fuel and you need to be near it. While you can automatically fast travel to any settlement that has a cleared road, other fast travel points must be unlocked by clearing checkpoints around the map. The game doesn’t actively encourage you to do this either, meaning you’re going to want to explore if you want to fast travel.
The gameplay mechanics in Days Gone are similar to other open-world action games such as Red Dead Redemption and Horizon Zero Dawn. You can go in gun-ho, though stealth is often a wiser choice. There are stealth takedowns, melee combos, and a huge variety of basic and crafted melee weapons which makes close combat a lot of fun. Days Gone actually provides equal opportunities for melee and ranged combat, and we found there to be a good balance between the two. You can hold one primary weapon which is usually a rifle or shotgun, one sidearm, and one special weapon such as a sniper rifle or a machine gun. Preserving ammo is key to survival, even in end-game which we thought was realistic though a bit of a drag and annoying that you got little if any ammo when killing human enemies that were using the same rounds.
Days Gone has three skill trees: Survival, Ranged and Melee. Each tree has several tiers with three unlocks in each, and some are vital while others are less essential. By the end of the campaign most players will have worked their way through all three skill trees but unlocking every skill will require some endgame completion. Firearm accuracy is not the best at first, but with a few perks such as locating enemies through walls and using focus, we were soon getting repeated headshots which was useful as that was basically the only weak point on some enemies.
Explosives play a large part in not just taking out freakers but human encampments too, and they range from grenades to proximity mines to napalm molotovs. The napalm molotovs are a late-game explosive designed to take out large groups of freakers, though we found they were not as useful as the game made them out to be. There are also distraction devices you can use to lure enemies, as well as an infinite amount of rocks on the ground which you can use as a distraction or even throw at enemies to stun them.
Your motorbike plays a very central role in the game. Similar to your horse in Red Dead Redemption 2, your bike is your primary mode of travel across the dangerous world of Days Gone. It needs to be refueled and repaired, and at first the bike is weak so you can come to grief much easier. Working through the campaign and completing side missions will level up your trust with settlements across the map, which in turn gives you access to upgrades via the mechanics and eventually your bike becomes a beast. With the ability to store ammo, customise its features such as headlight and exhaust, and fiddle with its colours and decals, you can really make your bike stand out from the crowd.
Settlements also have a vendor that sells weapons, ammo and crafting items which follows the same trust system. Some of the best weapons in the game are locked behind maxing out your trust with certain locations, and therefore some players might not get access to them until after the main story is complete. You will also find a bounty vendor where you can turn in freaker ears you have gathered from kills, as well as a kitchen where you can sell off any animal meat or flowers you’ve gathered in the wild. These two vendors reward you with very small amounts of trust XP though, and completing side missions looked to be a much faster way to get to the best mechanic/vendor unlocks.
It’s hard to get too far in to what to expect with the freakers without spoiling essential moments of the story, but we will say that the hardest fights in the game are definitely against the hordes. It’s not a real horde unless the entire horde has a health bar displayed on your HUD and appears as a red circle on your map. Early in the game we thought we were taking on a horde but it turned out to just be a whole lot of freakers that had gathered together. Totally different mechanics. You are forced to take on hordes via specific missions, though we noticed they actually had a certain range where they would stop following which allowed us to pick them off from afar quite easily albeit slowly. This mechanic is obviously in place so that you can’t kite the entire horde back to a settlement, though we would have liked to see such a thing occur.
The graphics in Days Gone are hit and miss, but mostly hit. The foliage is some of the best we’ve seen, with dense bushes providing some solid stealth gameplay. Branches blow gently in the breeze or ferociously in a storm, and the whole world really comes to life due to the sheer amount of greenery. Though the foliage moved as Deacon walked, crouched or rode through it, we did notice that other characters had no effect on the environment. It’s great to have a post-apocalyptic game that isn’t a complete wasteland, and Days Gone looked like it was pushing our PlayStation 4 Pro to its limits. Lighting and shadowing is done very well, particularly when transitioning between indoor and outdoor areas. The light shining through to some buildings and onto characters faces looked truly amazing at some points throughout the game, making some of the lengthy cutscenes more enjoyable to watch. The day/night cycle felt well-paced, though nights didn’t really seem dark enough, and Deacon’s torch was only necessary in the darkest of caves and mines.
The voice acting varies from character to character and our main gripe came with how they spoke when riding motorbikes. Sam Witwer (Deacon St. John) does a great job of maintaining various pitches as he works his way through the world, however other voice actors don’t change the volume they’re speaking at while riding with Deacon, which makes for an awkward conversation of yelling and talking. The freakers sound about as creepy as you’d expect, and if you’re a fan of zombie games or shows then you won’t be surprised of much here. The environmental sounds beautifully added to the stunning visuals, and Days Gone has some of the best weather transitions we’ve seen, particularly as the rain drops start to fall which progresses into a storm or snow.
Days Gone is a game that you’ll either love or hate. To us it was a mash up of Sons of Anarchy, The Walking Dead and Red Dead Redemption. While that’s some fine company, the end result might not be your idea of great. At times the game is incredibly slow paced, while other times you can be caught off-guard and die in seconds. The difficulty scale when taking on freakers was done well, though taking on the human enemies was never particularly challenging. Days Gone will take around 20-30 hours to complete at a steady pace, and another 20-30 hours to complete all side content. Based on the character development and way the game finishes, we would be surprised if the franchise does not continue.
Days Gone was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro console in 4K HDR resolution. All screenshots captured in-house. For more information, head to the official Days Gone website.
- A beautiful open world filled with life and death - Lengthy campaign with plenty of side content - Memorable characters, building a great new IP
- The story follows a very predictable path - Audio levels are a bit out of whack, particularly with the dialogue - A few minor bugs and glitches at launch.