It seems that, for the longest time, Sony has been on an unstoppable winning streak with its AAA exclusives. A lineup of bangers that includes the recent Horizon: Zero Dawn, God of War, and Marvel’s Spider-Man has only seen the PlayStation congregation continue to swell, even in the PS4’s twilight years.
With Days Gone, they’ve hit a bump in the road. It’s by no means poor yet only manages to punch slightly above mediocre, especially when placed next to Sony’s latest and greatest.
Setting out across the Pacific Northwest astride your trusty Drifter bike, you play as Deacon St. John, a bounty hunter fighting for survival following an outbreak. Those infected with the unknown virus have been transformed into slavering, wretched creatures while survivors cling together, forming settlements to protect themselves.
The set up here is far from original, especially if you’ve played any post-apocalyptic games in the past several years or happen to have watched an episode or two of the The Walking Dead. Days Gone wheels out that familiar plot thread, shocking players with the horrors of its ghastly creatures while the remaining humans posing a more insidious threat. Fight the dead, fear the living. That sort of thing.
The gore-streaked ghouls you’ll be facing in Days Gone aren’t technically zombies – they’re “Freakers”. Instead of being raised from the dead, they’ve been warped into something more savage and bestial, coming in a number of different forms and having several different behaviours, such as the infected children Newts that congregate on rooftops. You’ll regularly have to deal with Freaker “nests” that they’ve built in rooms and caves, and there’s the roving danger of the Freaker hordes which you’ll do best to avoid unless you’re very well prepared to deal with them. The infection isn’t restricted to humans either, as mutated wolves and bears also roam throughout this part of Oregon.
Playing Days Gone from start to finish, you’ll clock dozens of hours being glued to Deacon St. John. However, for an open world game of this scope, you need a likeable leading star or at least someone with depth and personality.
Deek is sadly neither of those, lacking the easy charm of Nathan Drake, the brave curiosity of Aloy, or the stoic, intimidating presence of Kratos. Days Gone makes an effort to humanise its hero through flashbacks and moments that are clearly meant to emotionally impactful, but the quality of writing just isn’t there, despite actor Sam Witwer (“Starkiller” from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed) putting on a good show. It’s exceptionally hard to care for this character despite what he goes through, flitting between moping antihero and revenge-fueled maniac. He ends up becoming a bit of a goofball, an unintentional source of humour that you’ll hopefully come to appreciate.
Unfortunately, the game’s supporting cast and their interactions with Deacon do little to make your capers across Oregon any more exciting or memorable. The story has very few highlights, acting more as a tool to prod you through this perilous yet pretty sandbox Sony Bend has constructed.
With their studio based in the same region, the developers have tried to encapsulate this particular region of the Pacific Northwest, complete with high deserts, dense forest, swampy marshland, and snowy peaks. Weather also plays a huge part in bringing Days Gone to life, whether observing a clear night sky or caught in a downpour.
There’s an undeniable natural beauty here that you’ll get to soak in from the saddle of your bike. This vehicle will be your constant companion and although it seems slow and cumbersome at first, you’ll continue to upgrade and repair Deacon’s two-wheeled transport while also keeping an eye on the fuel gauge, creating a symbiotic bond of sorts.
Much of your time with Days Gone will be spent riding through Oregon or locked into one of the game’s many missions. These tend to cough up a familiar pattern of objectives that typically involve following a character to your destination before a mix of stealth or combat sections to deal with enemy factions, Freakers, and sometimes a combination of the two.
The way these battle mechanics mesh together has a nice seamless flow. You can either eliminate unsuspecting foes with deadly sneak attacks, shoot them, or pummel away with whatever melee weapon Deacon has equipped. Some scenarios also call for gadgets and traps to be used, the game’s crafting wheel allowing you to slap together a wide range of DIY items on the fly.
When isolated, the shooting feels little more than succinct, while close quarter attacks have a clumsy ineffectiveness to them. You can easily take on multiple enemies with whatever makeshift tool you have to hand, yet this amounts to simplistic button bashing and the occasional dodge roll. As you progress through Days Gone, Deacon will earn new skills and combat moves, though none of these dynamically change the way you play.
Beyond story missions, you’re free to take your Drifter bike almost anywhere. There’s a smattering of optional tasks, such as clearing Freaker nests and ambush camps, though these seem to be distributed unevenly. The world map is adorned with plenty of collectibles and other points of interest, though Days Gone loses that sense of depth and immersion the more you explore, especially if you’re aiming to blitz the storyline.
Size and pacing are the game’s two biggest issues. With Sony Bend’s last project being an Uncharted adventure condensed perfectly for the PlayStation Vita, they’ve leapt straight into the deep end with this open world. There’s simply not enough here in terms of plot or gameplay growth to warrant Days Gone being stretched over such a huge landmass or timeframe. Although it doesn’t fit Sony’s current AAA template, a smaller, more linear approach could have helped Days Gone deliver in a major way.