A few months ago I played Days Gone for the first time and I was pleasantly impressed by its open world, attention to detail and incredible motorbike handling. You can read that full preview here.
Today the final version of the game is being released, and I’ve been wading through the freaker infested wilds of Oregon and braved the mountain trails in search of truth, justice, and motorbike parts.
This is Days Gone – America’s answer to the zombie apocalypse. Mad Max on two wheels and a game that uses the phrase ‘sonofabitch’ like punctuation. And yes, they write it as one word in the subtitles.
Note – our review copy has only just landed in our very Australian hands, so this will be the first part of a Review in Progress. We will update the review as we complete more of the game, and give it a final score after the weekend.
Days Gone Review – 750 Days Gone
Days Gone takes place two years after the fall of humanity in a great plague. These aren’t zombies, they aren’t undead and they don’t need brains to eat or a headshot to kill them. Think of them more like the infected from 28 Days Later or I Am Legend.
They’re scrawny, grumpy and don’t much care for sunlight or shotgun blasts.
Deacon St John (Outlaw biker and man with the most pornstar name ever) is one of a few bands of survivors making their way through the Oregon wilderness. He’s trying to survive between hordes of angry wolves, bears and the occasional horde of ravenous infected humans.
On my first day with the title I’ve played to Day 750 of the apocalypse, totalling about eight hours and a great deal of dead. The game starts two years after the end of the world, and handily keeps track of the date on the pause screen, so all up it’s been about 20 in-game days.
Much like Mad Max of 2015, this game is all about your personal ride. This magnum opus is a road hog that’s somewhere between a Kawasaki Vulcan and a BMW R1200 GS; if you’re into your bikes. If you aren’t big on bikes, that means it’s part bikie gang rumble-box and part off-road rock-crawler.
It’s a lovely piece of machinery and one that I’ve already grown pretty attached to. If you pick up Days Gone, do yourself a favour and name your bike early on. You’re going to spend a lot of time in the wilderness sliding around on the thing, and frankly, by this point, I’m more attached to the bike than I am to most of the characters.
I’ve been calling mine Sascha, in reference to JD’s scooter from Scrubs. But whether you call yours Shadowfax, Captain Rumbles or Licorice Pony, it’s a good idea to let yourself grow attached.
As you push through the story you’ll join up with camps that give you the option to upgrade and customise your bike. Something that I’ve already spent way too much time doing. You have a suite of options for performance that range from engines to exhausts, tyres and frames.
Then there are cosmetics like lights, fenders, spokes and cowls. Lastly a handful of colour and decal options to pimp it up, as well as heaps of custom paint-jobs as rewards for quest lines and working with the game’s various factions.
Even still, Days Gone has the best motorbike handling I’ve played in probably any game to date. As a biker myself, it’s incredibly refreshing to realise that as I was riding Deacon’s bike around the wilderness, I was tapping the throttle at the same time and in the same way as I do on my own real-world bike.
The bike slides and moves into corners exactly how I expect it to and has this deep throaty rumble that always puts a smile on my face. This is the gold standard for motorbikes in games and if all the other developers could sit down and pay attention to how Days Gone approaches motorbike riding, I’d certainly be happy.
Throwing a punch (or three)
Days Gone is certainly about the bike, but of course, you won’t spend every second on the road. The bike is loud, and rolling up to the edge of a camp with your pipes blaring is a good way to get yourself shot, or eaten or both.
When all else fails you have hand-to-hand combat, stealth kills and a handful of weapons at your disposal.
Stealth is great so far, and very akin to Horizon Zero Dawn’s stealth system. You’ll spend plenty of time huddled in shrubbery waiting for enemies to pass or laying traps for them to walk over. This is almost crucial when you hit up against a larger group of the infected.
They tend to move in groups and can grow to massive hordes of hundreds. Each of them is still an individual though, even in a massive horde you can still see each one working independently and taking a swing at you if you get too close.
You’d best avoid more than a small handful of the infected in the early game.
I’ve found one horde so far. I was trying to get into a NERO facility between two of the main towns. To get into these locations you have to turn on the power and deactivate the perimeter speakers, which will give you a safe zone to sleep and an injector to improve your health, stamina or focus.
I was setting about turning the power on when I saw the first freaker peek out from behind an empty train carriage. Rather than fight, I threw a stone to draw him away in the other direction. But as he walked towards the noise, I saw three more follow him, then more and more.
They poured out from behind the train carriage like a wave, and I quickly ran back to my bike as fast as I could go. I’d say there were maybe 30 or 40 in that group, but I know if they caught me I’d be dead in seconds.
When you’re up against human enemies and larger groups of infected, guns and explosives are your best bet. You have access to the normal array of shotguns, machine guns, pistols and rifles, and can take three with you at a time.
The guns feel and sound great and my absolute favourite moment was being in a gunfight in a darkened tunnel. It was between me and the three enemies I was fighting. Each gunshot would ring out around the tunnel and light the whole area for a brief second, as everything went black again. It was incredibly cinematic and exactly as I hoped, the noise called nearby infected to join the fun, while I snuck back out the other side of the tunnel.
Getting down to business
So far the story of Days Gone has been one of revenge and survival. Deacon and his buddy Boozer are roaming Oregon and helping out a series of camps while keeping track of the NERO scientists who are roaming the area. I covered the story in more detail in my initial preview, so head over there if you want the breakdown.
Over the last few hours though, I have gained a much deeper understanding of the factions within the game and the motivations of the people that you’re helping throughout the adventure.
Copeland is the first camp leader that you work with. He’s tough and idealistic, spending as much time broadcasting on “Radio Free Oregon” about the perils of consumerism and how the government abandoned the people, as he does running his camp. At first, he seemed rough and manipulative, only out for himself. But as time has gone on I’ve seen a more stable leadership to him than I expected, more off the “tough but fair” type than I first thought when he dragged me into working for him.
Then we’ve met Tucker, a grizzled older woman who previously worked in a prison. At first, she seems like a strong matriarch who only has her people’s best interest at heart, but as my interactions have gone on, I’ve seen a ruthlessness to her that has her handing out bounties for humans to be captured alive, and protecting her drug-running business.
These more nuanced approaches to the classic gruff male leader and supportive counterpart female have me very interested in how they grow over the course of the game and wondering what’s going to come next as their camps come under threat. Each of them has had me pushing back marauders and defending against groups of freakers at one point or other.
The third faction so far is the NERO troops. We don’t know all that much about them yet, only that they’re treating the land as their own experimentation zone. They enter in Hazmat suits, all kitted up to enter the “quarantine zone” and fire on anyone who comes close to them. I’ve had some back-and-forth with them so far, but definitely want to learn more about their plans.
Needing a tune-up
Days Gone is a massive game and even though it’s been in development for some time and delayed more than once, it’s still a massive endeavour from a team that hasn’t built anything this size before.
That being said, there are certainly a few rough spots to be seen here, and hopefully, some things that will be fixed with patches coming after release.
I think the most obvious for me is the framerate. I’m playing on a launch PS4, not a Pro or even a Slim, and this game can really drop some frames. Particularly when you’re riding at full speed through heavily forested areas, or when the rain picks up and the road starts glistening. It looks great but can look like a very beautiful slideshow.
When I first played the game at the preview event, I didn’t have any slow-down, which I would chalk up to the extra power of the PS4 Pro. Though performance on the original PS4 is said to be addressed in an upcoming patch, it felt worth mentioning.
The other prominent issue I found is in the animation department. The facial animations in cutscenes are great and the character models at times feel on par with God of War. Movements and particularly interactions, however, have a few weird graphical hiccups.
For example, I’ve had my bike get knocked over by freakers and when I went to pick it back up Deacon went to sit on it while still laying down, which isn’t a very effective way to ride.
Another consistent one was when carrying a gas canister, the throw animation was great, but getting him to drop it somewhere was more trouble than it was worth. The canister would bounce or ping-pong away, or float in the air for a second before dropping down.
Nothing game-breaking, just a few weird moments that made me remember that I’m in a video game.
This is where I am so far with Days Gone, one day into the story I’m loving the customisation and the realisation of the world. The combat is punchy and challenging and the stealth is suitably sneaky.
There are a few rough edges and I’ll be keen to see how the system handles larger and larger groups of the undead, but at the moment, I’m looking forward to seeing more of the Oregon wilderness.
This review will be updated over the coming days.
UPDATE: 800 Days Gone
Over the last few days since release I’ve spent more hours on Deacon’s bike than I have spent asleep, I’ve found more survivors and bought more upgrades, and more spent time killing zombies in Days Gone than I have at work (thank god for public holidays).
And now that I’m writing my final review, I have to ask – what’s my verdict? And how do I value the last few days. Because Days Gone has its hurdles – some repetitive missions, some performance issues and a fair share of bugs. But I’ve really enjoyed the game, and even if our review code wasn’t provided by Sony, I’d still buy it and be happy with the purchase.
Here’s my last word on Days Gone, more time with Zombies, saddle sores and ungrateful survivors I should probably leave to the hordes.
Over the extra weekend with the game, here are some more thoughts:
At the end of the day, the story of Days Gone deals mostly with ideas of humanity, it asks what you value most about your life and what you’d most value if the world ended.
There are some incredibly touching moments in the story, and they really helped cement the narrative for me. You see, there are two sides to Deacon Saint John, there’s the gruff biker dude who survives in the world by dissociating himself from the horrors of a world-gone-south, then there is the friend and the family man hiding behind that biker who needs someone to share the world with, and those people are few and far between.
Intermittently the game gives you a mission to go speak to Sarah, if you’ve seen any reviews or trailers, you’ll know that much of the game revolves around Deacon dealing with the death of his wife Sarah, which happens before the opening credits. Deacon heads to the site where Sarah died and talks to the memorial stone he made for her.
These are totally character-focused spots that tell you more about Deacon’s inner monologue than anything else in the story.
One of my absolute favourite moments comes midway through the game when Deacon goes to speak to Sarah, I’d been pushing through a series of infestation zones and working to free up more of the map for fast travel, and the slower mission sounded like a good break.
The mission mostly consisted of Deacon talking to Sarah about the types of people he’d met in camp, and how he and Boozer liked to play a game where they’d guess people’s occupations before the end of the world. It’s the kind of conversation you’d have with your wife after a long day at work, not really about anything of consequence, just about the weird things that happened.
Suddenly I thought about how incredibly lonely Deacon’s life would be out on the road on his own, when everyone coming over the radio just wants him to go out a kill things for them, or rescue someone they care about more than him. These moments made Deacon feel really human to me, and like a man who just needed someone to chat to.
The world comes for you
“The world comes for you” is one of the marketing taglines for Days Gone. I thought this was an interesting tagline because what they really mean is that the game world is dynamic and throws different challenges at you as you play.
One example of this was when I was riding back to camp after a mission that had me chasing down a bounty for Tucker’s camp. I’d caught up with the rival bikie, run him off the road and signaled for the camp to come collect him.
Riding back to the camp down a road I’d travelled plenty of time before I saw the light glint off something ahead of me. I tried to slow but before I knew it I’d been knocked off my bike. Laying on the ground with the bike metres ahead smoking, I realised it was a tripline that had thrown me off.
As Deacon stood up a group of rough-looking bandits strode out from the trees and the first one charged at me with a pick-axe, taking me out with one swing (I was on low health after the earlier fight).
Coming back down that road after I’d respawned, I remembered the curves that led up to the ambush point, remembered the trees that lined the road, and slowed in time to get off my bike and be ready to ambush the ambushers.
But between those trees the wire was missing, behind the trees were just shrubs and the smoking wreck of a van. The ambushers weren’t there, and they weren’t waiting for me.
I realised the world isn’t preset in the way I assumed it was, I thought that the developers expected me to ride down that road after the fight with the bounty, and had laid that trap for me. But in fact it was pure chance that I was on that road and the bandits came for me, and I’d have to wait til they had me by surprise again to get my revenge.
Another surprising moment like this was when I was just out and about near one of the camps, just exploring the world and heading towards an enemy camp. I was skirting along the edge of a riverbank and winding through a mountain area.
Coming around a bend in the river I saw a mass of bodies suddenly ahead of me, I’m sure my eyes nearly jumped out of my head as I swerved the bike to avoid a horde only metres ahead of me on the road.
Heads turned and the closer freakers too swipes in my direction as I powered the bike straight off the road and onto the dirt. The horde hadn’t been there before, and even though I’d gone up against hordes before I knew that it took planning, patience and plenty of ammunition – none of which I really had at the time.
These are just a couple of ways Days Gone surprised me in my playthrough. The game has an incredible way of making the world feel threatening, and feel like anytime you’re outside of a camp’s walls you’re unsafe. It’s wild and unpredictable, and just when you start to feel like you know the roads or you know where you’re going and the shortcuts to get there, it’ll throw something different at you.
Love it or list it
The above paragraphs might make it seem like I’m all sunshine and rainbows for Days Gone, but really the last few days have shown me both sides. I’ve had a great time riding through the hills and customising my bike, but more and more I’ve seen the blemishes in the game, and some problems that are too big to fix with a patch or two.
Take the framerate – I mentioned in my first day’s impressions that I’d had problems with the framerate dipping in larger areas. These issues have become more obvious as the game has gone on. I can’t help but think back to when Nintendo released the New 3DS, and games could still run on the old 3DS, but really, REALLY shouldn’t. It feels like Days Gone was developed purely for the PS4 Pro, and plays exactly that same version on the PS4.
On my PC if I was having framerate issues I’d just mess with the settings, drop the shadows or the textures a little and see how it goes, but that is supposed to be one of the big selling points of console gaming – it just works.
There have been moments in Days Gone where I’ve been riding down the road and had the framerate drop down to what feels like single digits, before picking back up, and that really pulls me out of the serene nature-fantasy. Thankfully it mostly feels isolated to when you’re riding through the world, because if it were in combat you’d really be stuck.
Like I said earlier, I don’t believe that this is a matter of patches, because it feels like if the PS4 was having issues it could have been fixed in development, this feels like a case of my little launch PS4 struggling under the weight of too much processing, and it’s too late in the game to lighten the load.
So that is one major point here, if framerate is an issue for you and you don’t own a PS4 Pro, do your research, watch some gameplay and see if you’re okay with Days Gone’s problem.
The other point is that Days Gone is a long game, I mean really really long. I would have been happy with a 30-hour story, but you’re far more likely to have double that here. I am totally fine with long games, The Witcher 3 is an all-time favourite, and last year my review of Valkyria Chronicles praised its meandering approach to storytelling. But Days Gone has a tendency to feel like it’s talking without saying all that much. I could have been totally happy with half the content if it made for a tighter experience.
Days Gone is one of the more hyped releases for Sony this year, and hot off the tails of Spider-Man, God of War, Horizon: Zero Dawn and with The Last of Us 2 coming (hopefully) soon, this game is sitting at the big-boys table.
And frankly I think it earns its place, but only just. Days Gone feels like a smaller, tighter game – blown out by a long development.
I love the core experience here, the motorbike is far and beyond the best I’ve ever ridden in a game, and that’s coming from a lifetime bikie.
The world is varied and terrifying, while the people are human survivors pushed to their limit by the insane situation they’re in. It’s a human story, told in a world where humans are the main course.
So yes, I really like Days Gone – blemishes and all.
Days Gone is being reviewed on PS4 using a digital code provided by PlayStation.