Days Gone Review

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.

Summary
There are glimmers of true excellence here; small stretches of Days Gone can be especially fun and polished. However, the assembly of these various parts suffers from the lack of an engaging story, compelling characters, or an open world that feels organic and worth exploring.
Good
  • A gorgeous, dynamic natural world to explore
  • Sam Witwer is strangely compelling even if his character isn’t
  • A grab bag systems and mechanics that are often well executed
Bad
  • A dull story, propped up by forgettable characters
  • Repetitive missions that underline the lack of gameplay progression
  • Way longer and larger than it needs to be
6
Written by
Senior Editor bursting with lukewarm takes and useless gaming trivia. May as well surgically attach my DualShock at this point.

17 Comments

  1. Aw man, I was worried it would be lower on the grading scale. Need to check out a few more reviews to get a broad viewpoint but it does read like a distinctly average game unfortunately.

    • You don’t need to read other reviews. This is it. The one true review.

      • Confirmation bias mate. I need to read a high scoring review so I can justify my inevitable purchase. Yours hasn’t done it. Quite selfish really, telling me your honest opinion of the game.

  2. Good review :-)

    At the moment looks like its hovering around 6.5/7 across the net, so not woeful, just not great. I am still interested in this game but at £20.00 or less. From your review it sounds like it has PS+ written all over it and if I am honest I hope it ends up being so as I would still love to play it.

    Too great a backlog to throw ‘fiddy bucks – sterling’ at a 6/10er. We PlayStationists have become spoilt haha

    • There’s definitely plenty of game there to justify the £40 price tag and I’m confident that some who pick it up this weekend will have a blast.

      PS+ is a maybe a little optimistic. It may be chucked in as a freebie at some point but not for a couple of years at least.

      • I’m watching the RadBrad gameplay of this game and it looks great. Thinking I am going to get it after all. Time to smoke some Freakers….

  3. I haven’t been following the game’s development at all – only seen an early trailer or maybe even the reveal trailer (I can’t remember). Still looking forward to playing but absolutely no expectations. My copy dispatched today, so I’ll be sharing my thoughts (probably at great length) in the coming weeks.

    Simple trophy list too which is always good. Makes you explore and play the game fully without any frustrating MP nonsense.

    I do wonder how much of the disappointment is due to expectations not being met? Some were really hyping this game to be the second coming so it’s not surprising there are a few sad faces today. Besides, all of the ‘Bad’ points in this review could be used to describe most open world games these days.

    • The way Days Gone has been positioned and marketed by Sony means that there’s going to be quite a few disappointed PlayStation fans. It’s easier to call out the game’s faults when it’s being placed right next to God of War, Horizon etc.

      • The bad points you list all apply to Horizon ZD. That was the best example of all the things you can do wrong in an open world game being overlooked because it looked nice and robots are cool. Huge map plastered in icons, endless distractions so you forget whatever the main story was by the time it progresses and a terrible main character. But it looked nice.

      • Have to disagree with you on HZD. Very accessible and more importantly – fun to play. The main plot was on another level and completely unexpected.

        RDR2 on the other hand with it’s dreadfully archaic gameplay and snooze inducing ‘realism’, fits the bill perfectly.

        It may have been a critical success on release but history will view RDR2 as huge misstep and a missed opportunity.

        How do you go from having one of the best games last gen (RDR) to one of the most tedious (RDR2)?

        And this scored mostly 10’s from everyone. But slap a R* logo on any game (no matter how awful) and it’s guaranteed full marks by default.

      • I thought HZD balanced everything better than all other open world games. None of it ever felt tedious. I also loved Aloy as a main character.
        I’m currently playing Assassins Creed Origins and only have 30% of the map uncovered, but I’m already becoming frustrated with the “?”. Most of them are the exact same thing – kill the leader and loot the treasure.

  4. A shame you didn’t seem to like it that much. Review scores seem quite different on this one, ranging from ‘brilliant’ and ‘shouldn’t be missed’ in the 90s, and many scores in the 80s down to some in the 60s (I’m ignoring very low scores you can’t really consider as serious reviews). Interesting. It stays on my wish list for later, but my backlog doesn’t allow much time for it now.

    • What do you mean? Those 0/10 user reviews on metacritic are always rational and sensible reads. Same can be said for the 10/10s too.

  5. Well, it was looking like a mixed bag from a far since it was roaming the open world genre in a zombie (that’s what I’m calling it) universe. As others have pointed out some had high expectations in the last couple of months and that might have influenced the (decent however) meta score around 70.

    Some of the critiques that is repeated in several reviews evolve around the story, the characters and the repetitiveness in the side missions (though that always seems to be a problem in open world games). One reviewer wrote about the dragging in the horde missions and risk of doing them over and over in a trial-and-error kind of way, if you did something wrong in with the explosives against 200 hundred zombies. That put me off quite a bit as I hate trial-and-error.

    I’m still tempted by this universe but as foxhound wrote: “Too great a backlog to throw ‘fiddy bucks – sterling’ at a 6/10er.”

    • Yeah, the story was the major letdown here for me. From the trailers and demos, Days Gone didn’t look to have much of a ground-breaking plot for players to follow but for a massive game like this, there needs to be those story hooks to keep you going.

  6. What a shame. I really like the idea of your motorbike evolving along with your journey. Mad Max had a similar feel with the Magnum Opus. Unfortunately the problems seem too deep seated in the general design to be easily patched later down the line.

  7. I’d say I’m around 50% to 60% through and I’m absolutely loving it. It might even dethrone Infamous Second Son as my favourite PS4 exclusive. Sony have been on a bit of a barren run but Days Gone is phenomenal.

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