Days Gone, the latest exclusive from a Sony Studio, this time Bend, has got a bit of a hammering in press reviews. Despite this, it has been the highest selling physical game of the year and I can see why. A hot take on this is… It’s pretty good.
You are a biker called Deacon St. John, surviving in the Oregon forests doing odd jobs and missions for the various camps of human survivors that have sprung up after the zombie or in this game ‘freaker’ apocalypse. What follows is a melting pot of most open world games from the last few years with a sprinkling of The Last Of Us and even Red Dead Redemption 2. The elements it draws from these games are successful in the main but not as brilliant as games that focus on them as their core.
The Motorcycle and Traversal Across The Game World
This is very reminiscent of Red Dead Redemption, but just not as core an element. In Red Dead Arthur Morgan has his horse. In Days Gone Deacon has his bike. The motorcycle is a classic chopper with a fat rear tyre and handling to boot. You can drift around corners, kick up dirt and when you have upgraded it boost when needed. It handles well considering most of your riding will be done up and down dirt tracks and weaving between trees. This would have been enough for some games but Days Gone has built-in damage and fuel to the motorcycle that is, even more, severe than your horse in Red Dead. In the beginning, your bike has the fuel consumption of a Ferrari. No sooner have you ridden to your destination than your gauge is at 55%. This means there is always a decision to make, do you push on to your destination and hope that there is a source of fuel nearby or do you fill up halfway and prolong your journey and risk danger from freakers or some of the marauding gangs. If they interrupt you on the way you risk damage to the bike itself which will need repairing or a delay that will cost you time, patience and more fuel. It really wants to be Red Dead even down to the music at some story beats but there is no time to enjoy the view or journey in this game as the world is so hostile. In fact, many gamers may end up being put off by how much of a millstone the motorcycle can feel. If it gets abandoned it isn’t a case of another horse. You must go to a settlement and pay for it to be recovered because the map is so big that there is no point in traversing everywhere on foot.
Here Days Gone lifts from the Last Of Us. The combat, especially the melee is enjoyable and solid. You can dive roll to avoid and when you have unlocked a few skills, kill after escaping a grapple with the use of a QTE. Weapons whether crafted and augmented or standard thud into freakers and other humans with impact and you really feel like you are causing the damage needed to put them down. Shooting is another matter. The guns are punchy, but the enemies are sponges. This is not Call Of Duty. Unless you get a headshot at close range you could be pumping whole clips into enemy’s torsos. A shotgun can mitigate this but when faced with a couple of enemies it is usually best to melee and dive to beat them. Crafting augments rely on recipes and materials like Farcry, but you will be happy enough as you suddenly have a bat with nails which you can maintain with scrap. After playing for a few hours you become more adept and get a bullet time effect when aiming as well as doing more damage with melee. All in all, it is solid if a little unspectacular.
The Mission Structure
Here you know what you are getting. Think Horizon Zero Dawn, Farcry 5, Mad Max, in fact, any open world game except Zelda Breath of the Wild and Red Dead Redemption 2. You have story missions, factions, collectables, hordes to clean out and checkpoints to reactivate for health benefits. You have seen this before and it is fine. No real issues as people with the love of checking quests off a big list will have more than enough to keep them going for the next 30-40 hours. The menu screens even look like they have been lifted from HZD.
Despite all that’s the same, there is enough different to make Days Gone stand out. Firstly the freaker hordes that played such a part in any promotional material are genuinely fun to interact with. The first time you have to run away from one as they chase you and spill through every exit and hole like water rolling after you are genuinely terrifying. Unfortunately, when you’ve done a few they become quite sad as you have the abilities to manipulate them and direct them as you see fit. By the end, I even felt sorry for some of them as they walked into my traps and were massacred at choke points.
The storyline and characterisation in the game are very good. Looking as good as it does it would be grating if the cutscenes and voice acting weren’t up to scratch. Luckily they are and in a point not picked up by all reviewers the constant chatter Deacon St. John does while in the forest is something to behold. He genuinely sounds like a character losing his mind or dealing with PTSD. It is just a shame that when we get to cutscenes this isn’t fully explored. He goes from talking to himself in the wild to being calm and relaxed around people.
I really can’t understand the hate this game has received from reviewers. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel but meshes together many enjoyable game mechanics in a mostly successful way. You could do worse than make this your summer single player experience.