Days Gone is the newest PlayStation exclusive, published directly by Sony. It created a lot of buzz when it was announced but was it well founded? Let’s dive into it!
I’ll preface this review by saying that Days Gone is not necessarily my type of game, but instead of laying on it all the things that I find uninspiring with open world shooter adventure games, I decided to try to find the things that were more unique to Days Gone, good or bad. I tried to ignore the repetitive, chore-y gameplay that often results in me putting these kind of games down. I also tried to not focus too much on the shooter elements, because frankly, I’m just bad at console shooters and I don’t think the game has to carry that. And so, I’ve decided to concentrate on two things: the survival horror elements and the story.
Scary Motorcycle Maintenance
Days Gone has you take the role of Deacon St. John, a biker living in a post-apocalyptic world where a virus has turned a majority of humanity into zombies called Freakers. The story takes place in Oregon and a lot of the gameplay revolves around doing things for various of the surviving factions who are organized in little camps. Nothing very original here. You also have a friend called Boozer who is the other half of your bike gang (yes, the gang has 2 members, although it’s implied that the others died during the virus outbreak).
The biker angle might seem a bit cliché in these post-Sons of Anarchy days, but it informs a lot of the gameplay. Your main mode of transportation is a shitty motorcycle that someone lends you early in the game when your real motorcycle gets stolen. Of course, because it’s that kind of game, the bike can be upgraded with parts that unlock with faction reputation.
The real interesting element I find is that the bike can also break and run out of gas. That might sound tedious but this is where I get a lot of the survival horror vibes from this game. In Days Gone, the zombies are stronger at night and weaker during the day. Running out of gas at night is a harrowing prospect, especially because the combat doesn’t favour you much once you’re fighting more than 2 zombies at once. In my play through, I ran out of gas by a barn at dusk. I had to stop and try to rummage in the barn for a gas can, making sure I was surprising zombies, rather than rushing them. Sneaking up on a zombie allows you to stab them with your knife in a one-shot kill animation, saving you bandages, ammo and weapons you might have spent fighting. As a note, one thing that sort of breaks the immersion of the survival horror feel is the number of zombies around. At night they’re everywhere. How many people were really living in the boondocks in Oregon when the outbreak occurred? Anyway.
While Deacon is portrayed as somewhat of a badass, being able to activate tracking vision and generally being super competent at both fighting and mechanical repair, the game doesn’t reward gung-ho fighting. I like that about it. Be it for travelling or fighting, you have to prepare. Make sure you have weapons and ammo, make sure your bike is in good condition and filled up, make sure your health is good. I like that because I find it immersive that in a post-apocalyptic setting, you’d have to really think about what you’re doing, because there’s no one to help you when you’re stranded in a barn in the backwoods of Oregon.
What is this about again?
The title Days Gone refers to the number of days since Deacon has seen his wife, Sarah. The game opens with a cut scene showing what happened during the virus outbreak. Without spilling anything, Deacon let his wife escape while he remained behind with Boozer. Deacon is hoping that she’s still alive and that he’ll be able to find her. Despite this initial emotional thrust, the story actually sort of veers off into the faction politics and fetch quests of the early game. You meet some pretty forgettable people early on (the tough but good-hearted matronly faction leader, the weird right-wing dude who yells over the radio about environmental regulations even though 99% of humanity has been gone for 2 years, and so on).
None of those storylines feel like anything important and they especially don’t feel original. A lot of Days Gone just seems like it’s a mix of ideas taken from things that have been done before. I think an apt metaphor is that Days Gone is like the Nickelback of Playstation 4 open world games. Nickelback isn’t original, it’s just what you get if you just distill 20 years of rock music into a single band but without any of the personality or the soul. On the other hand, Nickelback’s music is really well put together, it’s mixed competently and everything sounds good. It’s just that it feels like it was made by a committee of marketing experts.
Days Gone is the same way. The graphics are really nice, the lighting is amazing, the controls are competent, I didn’t notice any bugs. But it feels like it was made by a committee that pulled from what worked from other similar games before. Nowhere is this as apparent as in the story, which meanders around, pulled in several directions, between loyalty to Boozer and the plan to ride north, to faction leaders, to the search for the wife. Early on, this lack of focus is very noticeable, as you’ll find in your quest log a bunch of quests that you don’t remember getting. As you follow them, you’ll get radio messages from people you can only sort of place. All this leads to this feeling that there’s a lot to do, but you’re not sure why.
And lastly, to close out my Nickelback analogy, Days Gone is a very dude bro kind of game. From the whole biker aesthetics to the cliché emotionally-damaged-protagonist-who’s-done-some-bad-things-but-is-also-honourable-in-his-own-way (he doesn’t kill women!), this game has a certain demographic in mind. The writing reflects that with the now famous line is when, during a flashback to your wedding, you see your wife Sarah declare that she hopes that you’ll ride her as much as you ride your motorcycle. The moment that I really noticed it though was early on in the game when Boozer is severely injured and you go out to get him clean bandages. As you give them to him, you get this really awkward scene where Boozer struggles to thank Deacon, who then awkwardly tries to brush it off. You watch this scene and you just see these two dudes, who have spent 2 years surviving together and one of who chose to stay behind his friend wouldn’t be left alone, who can’t connect emotionally without being thrown for a loop. This dynamic repeats itself a bunch of times as Deacon has to travel around doing a bunch of things because Boozer is out of commission. Just two broken dudes who, despite living in a world where all social structures have fallen apart, can’t say thank you without prefacing it with a bunch of “uh”s.
Peak PlayStation 4
The overall feeling that I got from it all was that the game felt tired. The story clichés were tired, the mechanics were tired, the whole zombie premise felt tired. I can absolutely see how people might still enjoy it because the reason it feels so tired is because these things have been done before, and so there’s a degree of refinement to the game that would have been impossible before. In a way, it’s peak PlayStation 4. This is basically the PS4-est PS4 game to ever PS4 and it’s just a culmination of open world game design typical of this console cycle. The motorcycle mechanics, the look and feel of the world and the number of things you can see and do are all very good. The story and originality, not so much.
DISCLAIMER: Days Gone review code provided by PlayStation Canada. The opinions expressed in the article above have not be affected by, dictated or edited in any way by the provider. For more information please see Girls on Games’ Code of Journalistic Ethics.