If you haven’t already read our interview with Creative Director and writer John Garvin, I’d recommend looking and reading the piece. As it stands, I enjoyed Days Gone. It lacks the Sony-level of polish we come to expect from the publisher but features some thoroughly enjoyable moments. My review begins below – Days Gone is available tomorrow, April 26.
After revealing what Bend Studio was working at E3 2016, I had my reservations about Days Gone. This was from a studio that primarily worked on portable games, so seeing them shift their focus to the PlayStation 4 and what would become the studio’s biggest and most ambitious title to date, left me with questions. The Oregon-based studio best known for the Syphon Filter series, as well as Uncharted: Golden Abyss on PlayStation Vita.
Right off the bat, the comparisons to both Sons of Anarchy and The Walking Dead become apparent but not unwarranted. However, spending time playing Days Gone, I’m happy to report that most of the negative things I felt about the game, dissipated. Combining an open world while playing as a biker ends up working out well and delivers a solid experience.
Outlook Not So Good
After watching the opening, and seeing the chaos unfold for Deacon St. John, his wife Sarah, and his brother Boozer, things in the Pacific North West are unravelling. Cities are in a panic thanks to a global pandemic turning everyone into Freakers, what the monsters Deacon will face in Days Gone are known as. Sarah is wounded and the three of them stick together, making their way to a medivac chopper while avoiding people clearly losing their humanity.
Conceptually, both The Last of Us and Days Gone share concepts but that’s about all they share. Days Gone features a robust, functional world that is as big of the story as it’s characters. It’s not about one or two characters but several stories unfolding in tandem – each one, as important as the other.
Unfortunately, while Creative Director John Garvin told me Deacon was a tough guy, I didn’t expect him to be downright deplorable at times. Some of the things we do as Deacon didn’t sit right with me and I get it – we’re in The Shit. This goes to show what people are open to doing in the post-apocalypse, what happens when we lose our souls to the despair in our life. If anything, Sam Witwer’s performance is a spectacle. Deacon is low on hope and his ability to use others for his own gain throughout the story goes to some dark places to prove it.
And while there are dozens of story threads spread out over the course of the 30-hour journey, parts of those threads feel artificial and only there to extend playtime. Some missions are important, others come across as shoehorned in. One example is when Deacon comes across a young girl named Lisa, who needs help. Deacon helps her because she supposedly reminds him of his wife’s younger sister – a woman we never so much as meet. How am I supposed to want to help Lisa if I can’t feel the same things Deacon is when he’s helping her? Some storylines fall flat and leave me wishing for more of them.
Other moments in the story offer genuine tension and terror. Deacon may need to infiltrate a secure military location to find answers. Other moments have us come within inches of a Horde and not enough ammo or explosives to engage them. A day and night cycle is used effectively in Days Gone; Freakers are out in full at night and pose a bigger threat, while during the day they are mostly hidden in darkness in caves or nests around the map.
The game is full of tension, too and both ammo management as well as crafting play a big part of that. Finding ammo isn’t necessarily hard but it is limited. Melee weapons easily break but you unlock the ability to patch them up with scrap found around the map. You can only hold one primary, one sidearm and a special weapon at any given time, and the game uses a two-tiered inventory system. Opening the menu with L1 opens your current inventory but navigating with R3 and opens the second tier for crafting. It’s an intuitive system and works well, however, I did notice sometimes the menu wouldn’t register my choice and I’d toss the wrong item. If anything, the menu is exceptional and streamlines all the important information through the touchpad.
Deacon’s bike is a huge part of the game as well. This serves as a mobile hub for Deacon and you’re only able to save when near the bike. Your bike is limited by how much fuel is in the tank and can be damaged by Freakers, crashing into things and by taking too many jumps. I learned the hard way that maneuvering down a cliff by jumping down the cliff is bad. Repairing the bike and refuelling the bike are simple enough – just make sure you have enough scrap to fix it and you fuel up as often as possible. Keeping Deacon’s bike in top shape can be a pain, often the bike uses more scraps for a repair than I’d like and would leave me with nothing left. Another thing, the amount of fuel the bike uses seems higher than it should be when travelling, I couldn’t precisely mark how much gas the bike guzzled but the numbers feel higher than they should be, likely for tension to be high when gas is low.
Fast travel is available, but you can only do so if your bike has enough gas in the tank. I made the mistake of fast travelling to the closest point to my current objective only to learn my tank was empty. I had to explore the map to find a gas station then make my way back, all the while avoiding Hordes and humans.
Upgrading the bike is possible at camps around the map, and it’s at camps Deacon turns in bounties, buys new weapons and delivers food to the kitchens. These hub areas are all distinct. One camp offers better parts for your bike, another has better guns.
On the Bumpy Road
Days Gone has a bug problem. My first hour saw Deacon fall through the level. I thought that the game’s save system would load back into the world, so I can continue but found myself in a loop of Deacon falling through the stage over and over. My only solution at that point was to restart the checkpoint all over again, but this was only the beginning of the issues I faced.
An hour or so later, I was on my way to my next destination. The side mission required me to clear a camp of Freakers but on my way, I found myself ambushed by marauders (hostile humans in the open world) and was hit with another glitch. Deacon was knocked off his bike, and you’re able to pick the bike up to escape but Deacon fell through the stage again then snapped back to where he was with his bike now upright. Other times, I’d move over an item on the floor and the associated icon for that item wasn’t what it was, for example, a baseball bat would normally show the bat icon but instead, the handgun was in its place.
What irked me the most and really took me out of the experience was the consistent error that happened at random while I explored the map. I’d be making my way to the next objective only to have the sound effects stop working. My bike would go silent, so would any gun I had equipped. This left nothing but the grunts of Deacon and the Freakers, with the ambient music playing. The only solution I found worked was closing the game and restarting, only to have it happen again. This was all done on V1.02 but since being patched to V1.03 it is a much more consistent experience but still buggy experience. Load times can be frustrating as well and happens when you start the game as well as when gameplay switches to cutscenes and back again – often removing you from the game itself.
Days Gone is insanely ambitious and I feel that all the systems in place struggle under the weight of each other. Deacon is a dastardly character and often works against the greater good of the survivors, leaving us to question his actions. Through and through Days Gone checks off a series of boxes of a PlayStation exclusive title but lacks the same polish. And while we’ve seen all the mechanics in other video games, what Days Gone offers is a fun experience when it works.
[A copy of the game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]