Days Gone is the latest game to take place in a post-apocalyptic world filled with zombie-like creatures. The zombie game is an odd sub-genre that has trouble striking a balance. We’ve had amazing games like Left 4 Dead and the Resident Evil series (some of them at least), while others, like the recent Overkill’s The Walking Dead, were lackluster at best. Days Gone is one of the more ambitious zombie projects we’ve seen in video gaming, but in a genre that feels somewhat fatigued does it set itself above the pack?
Days Gone Review | Down and out in Oregon
Days Gone puts you in the boots of Deacon St. John as he tries to survive a slice of rural Oregon that has been transformed by a civilization-ending bout of zombieitis. The game picks up around two years after the disease rendered most of the population into the cannibalistic monstrosities everyone calls Freakers, and he’s rough for the wear. He and his best friend Boozer are all that remains of the Mongrels motorcycle club, and still continue to fly the colors of the MC even after every biker game in the world is long dead.
Deek and Boozer refuse to settle down into the safety of a survivor camp and instead spend their days as mercenaries. When the game begins, the two aren’t thinking much further than where to find the next meal and a full tank of gas. Deek harbors resentment at himself for putting his wounded wife, Sarah, on a helicopter during the outbreak and sending her to her apparent death. His self-hatred runs so deep that he’s continually drawn to put himself into dangerous and deadly situations. Boozer’s motivations are mainly to keep his friend from teetering off the edge of sanity.
Unfortunately, a run in with the Rippers, a homicidal cult who wishes to “get low” and worship the Freakers, ends with Boozer being almost mortally wounded. With his buddy out of commission, Deek finds himself falling into the depths of depression.
Days Gone has a complex story, but at its heart, it’s about redemption and acceptance, specifically Deek’s. After two years those who survive are just starting to accept that the world isn’t going to change back to the way it was. Much of the plot involves the way Deek and the people he meets deal with that realization.
Like most open world games, there’s a lot of subplots and intrigue going on in Days Gone besides the main story. Pockets of survivors have banded together. Some try to rebuild a semblance of society by banding together into survivor camps. Others become marauders, preying on the small remainder of humanity that haven’t succumbed to the Freaker virus. It’s here that the game has some pacing issues. Deek and Boozer’s stories are fascinating to behold, as are some of the other characters you meet.
However, Days Gone suffers from the drawback, so many open world titles do of having repetitive missions with NPCs that just don’t matter. Played linearly, Days Gone is a bit long-winded, but keeps you pretty engaged until the end. When you factor in side missions, though, the game starts getting a bit tedious. You’ll find yourself doing a lot of going to point A and killing target B throughout your adventure. During the main story missions, it’s not so bad because there’s a lot of context, but the bounty side missions just basically have you chasing down a rando because the quest giver says they did a bad thing.
By far the worst part of the game are the flashbacks to Deek’s life before the outbreak. These are things that occurred during peaceful times, so you’re not allowed to run around or anything like that. Instead, when you do get to walk it’s at a snail’s pace. Most of the time, though, you’re stuck just controlling the camera as Deek and Sarah talk. I really wish these segments were abridged or just cutscenes. When you’re riding the high of jumping hills on a motorcycle or taking down a camp of bandits, nothing brings you down like another flashback where Deek shuffles down a dirt path, and you listen to small talk for five minutes before the game gets around to whatever point it’s trying to make.
The main plot is worth sticking around for, in any case. Days Gone has a slow beginning, but around the midpoint, things start picking up, and it really comes together in the last quarter of the game. Some of the plot twists are obvious, but then you’ll find that there’s a twist to the twist and it keeps you glued to your controller to see more.
Days Gone Review | No choice
One thing that got cut from Days Gone that could have given the game a bit more punch is the choice system. Initially, you would have had the opportunity to make decisions that would have affected people’s reactions to Deek. One that was shown in footage around a year ago involved the guy you’re chasing at the start of the game. He’s killed some people and stolen some drugs from a camp, and you’re running him down on their behalf. Originally, when you finally tracked him down, you would get the choice to either leave him for the Freakers to eat or do the merciful thing and shoot him.
In the final game, you don’t get a choice. Deek shoots him, and you keep it moving. The absence of choice really is apparent in the first third or so of the game. There are several instances when the game definitely set you up for a choice, but the scene just awkwardly continues. The most jarring one I experienced was when I took out a marauder camp. As I was going to climb a ladder, a cutscene played, and a woman snuck up on Deek and tried to get him to surrender by pointing a gun at him.
The pacing and acting of the scene made it evident that you would have gotten a choice here to kill her or let her go. In the final game, Deek lets her go with no input from the player. The developers did the right thing and announced that choices were removed from the game. Given how long just the main plot in Days Gone is, I can understand why they made that choice. It would have been a mammoth undertaking to make two separate paths through the game somehow.
However, the removal of choice in Days Gone pretty much eliminates player agency. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up in the air. After finishing the game, I would like to have had the choice to play Deek as a bit more hardened. He puts on an air of being a badass biker dude, but he’s always playing the hero and doing the right thing to a point that’s somewhat unrealistic given his circumstances. Having the choice to roleplay a little with the decisions would have made me feel a bit more connected to the character. As it is I felt like an observer throughout the whole (admittedly enjoyable) story more than a participant.
Days Gone Review | Freaky freakers
The Freakers as a whole embody the 28 Days Later-type of zombie more than a classic lurching Romero undead. The most basic Freaker, the Swarmer, is fast, powerful, and travels in packs. They are mostly mindless, but their biting and scratching are strong enough to remain a threat throughout the game. Alone they can be distracted and killed or avoided pretty easily, but especially when dealing with hordes, you’ve got to be extremely careful.
Days Gone actually does something I’ve never seen a zombie game do before. There are adolescent Freakers called Newts that make their nests in abandoned buildings. I’m not all about shooting kids, but I really liked that the game actually faced the question of what happened to them instead of just making them disappear. These Freakers rarely attack unless you get too close or your health is very low, so you don’t often have to engage them unless you choose to.
There are some rarer, specialized Freakers as well. There’s the Screamer, who is basically the Witch from Left4Dead. You’ll also run into Breakers, who are gigantic and muscle-bound Freakers. Even animals aren’t immune to the virus. Runners are wolves who have turned and have gained the ability to outrun a motorcycle at full speed. You’ll also have to face down the occasional Rager, a bear who not only is infected but also somehow has barbed wire wrapped around it.
While the Freakers aren’t incredibly varied and innovative, they interact with the world in some unique ways. For one, all the various enemy types will fight one another. If Swarmers spot a Rager or a Breaker, a fight will break out just as if they saw you. This can be used to your advantage, as you can lure nearby enemies to do your dirty work for you. If you’re facing down a marauder camp, for example, you can use attractors to bring nearby Freakers into the camp and then deal with whichever group wins at a much-reduced strength.
Days Gone Review | Motorvating
Your bike is your life in Days Gone; in fact, it’s your only vehicle. As such a lot of work was put into the feel of the bike, the upgrade systems, and cosmetics. You start out with a little poop scooter, but through hard work (and a lot of camp credits) you can turn it into a real hog.
Riding on the motorcycle feels really fluid, and the controls are meaty without being unresponsive. Days Gone factors in a bit of survival gameplay by having you consume fuel as you ride. Unfortunately, starting out this was infuriating. Apparently, the first gas tank you get holds about a pop can’s worth of gas because you’ll always be running low. Fortunately, you can refill with gas cans you find throughout the world, and at filling stations you run across, and it doesn’t take long to get the first gas tank upgrade which gives you a bit more time on the road before you have to scramble for fuel.
You’ll also have to keep your bike in good repair. While the motorcycle is indestructible, it can be disabled if damaged by enemies, submerged in water, or if you ram it into objects. You can use scrap to repair it, but you can only hold a limited amount at a time. This balances the utility and speed of the motorcycle to keep you from just ramming everything in sight and running away.
While riding, you’re also vulnerable to enemy attacks. Freakers and animals will grab you off your bike if you get near and ambushing marauders will lay traps for you or try and disable your bike with sniper fire. The vulnerability when you’re in the Oregon wilds, even while on your bike, keeps you from getting too comfortable even later in the game.
Even fast travel has its risks in Days Gone. Using fast travel burns up gas at a high rate, and you have to make sure there are no Freaker infestations between you and your destination before you can use it. Taking out an infestation takes time, and can be dangerous if you’re not adequately equipped. Having to weight the risk vs. reward of something as simple as fast travel keeps the survival vibe alive, and keeps Days Gone from being a game where you just warp around the map getting things done as quickly as possible.
Days Gone Review | A world frozen in time
Regardless of how well I liked the bike, I would have liked to have seen at least someone use a vehicle besides a motorcycle to get around. Everyone who leaves the camps, which not very many do, ride on motorcycles exclusively. The in-game explanation for everyone riding bikes is that tunnels are blocked and the roads are crowded with disabled vehicles. Days Gone suffers a bit from the same issue that other post-apocalyptic works do. Apparently, besides building up the small survivor camps, no one has tried to do anything about actually reconstructing the world.
In Days Gone no one has cleared the relatively short tunnels of vehicles to allow passage throughout the region. These people, who are often stretched to the limit when it comes to resources, haven’t managed to figure out logistics beyond the front gates of their camp. There is one region in the game that contains a faction that has somewhat started working on reclaiming the world from the Freakers and marauders, but most of them seem content just to chill out.
It struck me as strange that multiple survivor camps, all within a few in-game hours of each other, didn’t cooperate or trade or even fight each other. Seeing some post-apocalyptic politics between the camps would have been interesting. Speaking of which, the world of Days Gone is strangely apolitical. The only person that really talks about the pre-apocalypse government is an Alex Jones-type who runs a survivor camp and broadcasts a radio show called Radio Free Oregon. Though I’m pretty sure the writers wanted you to rally against the dude, he actually makes a lot of sense given the story. Regardless, Deek has to ramble in disagreement after every broadcast for reasons I couldn’t really figure out.
As I said above, the overall story is engaging and keeps you going, but the world building itself is somewhat elementary. The Walking Dead works well because it does a great job of showing the rebuilding process when the main lifeform on the earth is a zombie and the tendency for people to get too comfortable when they have the illusion of safety. Unfortunately, Days Gone doesn’t have as in-depth a look at life post-Freaker as I would have liked to see. However, with its concentration on Deek and his journey, it’s a minor gripe in the scheme of things.
Days Gone Review | Skills to get kills
The fighting in Days Gone is as fluid as the bike riding. There are a plethora of options to approach a situation with the varied arsenal provided. You can go all stealth with a crossbow and suppressed firearms, or you can go in guns blazing with shotguns and light machineguns. Alongside your stock of ranged weapons, you can pick up pickaxes, clubs, baseball bats, and more to get up and personal with the enemy, and if they break then, Deek can always rely on his boot knife.
Days Gone also has a skill system that allows you to specialize your play style. The Focus ability is the subject of a few separate skills and enables you to enter a sort of bullet time for more careful aiming. If you’re more into melee, you can unlock skills to increase your physical strength. You can also enhance your health, stamina, and focus stats by using NERO injectors found in NERO camps scattered throughout the game.
For all these options, stealth is really the only way to go for most of the game. Deek doesn’t hold enough ammo and explosives to last long against a ton of enemies, and even though mid-late game skills will allow you to increase your storage space, enemies are just too plentiful and powerful to allow a head-on assault in most cases.
You can even the odds a bit by crafting. The crafting system is fairly rudimentary. You’ll find rags, styrofoam, beer bottles, and countless other pieces of trash that you can use to craft things like bandages, Molotov Cocktails, and pipe bombs. I liked that the crafting system wasn’t too obtrusive or complicated. Days Gone is a game that very much calls for you to be in the moment, and being able to hold R1 to bring up the inventory and craft a quick smoke bomb or some crossbow bolts allowed me to quickly react to situations without taking me out of the game.
Fortunately, the stealth system leads to good gameplay moments. Taking on huge swarms of Freakers, called hordes in-game, becomes a sort of a puzzle. You have to really think about how you’re going to approach a situation and what the most effective use of your limited inventory will be. You can use Proximity and Remote Bombs to plant traps for Freakers and human enemies alike, and it was a lot of fun figuring out how to even the odds when it was just Deek against 300+ Freakers.
In the world of Days Gone, though, you can’t ever be sure of safety. Just when you start getting comfortable, you’ll end up getting slammed off your bike by running into a rope that raiders have stretched across the road, or you’ll run into a survivor in a car surrounded by Freakers. Ambient events randomly occur while you’re riding around that will continuously keep you on your toes. Packs of wolves roam the countryside looking for food, along with bears, and marauders are everywhere. You’ll have to deal with all of this in addition to the standard main and side quests found in the game.
Days Gone Review | Take me for a ride
Days Gone is one of the better zombie games in recent years. It doesn’t beat out the Resident Evil 2 remake (very few games do) as being my go-to zombie fix, but it’s an entertaining if somewhat unevenly-paced adventure through post-apocalyptic Oregon. The gameplay is solid, both the driving and fighting and though there’s not a ton of variety in what you can do, I didn’t hesitate to ride down the next road or shoot the next Freaker.
This is a game that doesn’t innovate or do anything new. Instead, it’s one of the titles you start seeing near the end of a console generation that polishes the ideas that other games have introduced. The story is a slow-burn, but once you start getting into it, you’ll want to finish the ride.
Sony PR provided Days Gone for review purposes. The game was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro console.