Days Gone is a mystifying kind of game. It deftly walks the tightrope between brilliance and mediocrity with such finesse that at times it feels almost intentional. It wants to have the story of The Last of Us, the open world hijinks of a Ubisoft title and the vehicular fidelity of any good racing game but the problem lies in the fact that Days Gone does too much and consequently, doesn’t really specialize in anything.
But let’s start at the beginning. Days Gone is the latest in what has been a fairly exceptional run of first-party Sony Entertainment exclusives, more specifically, it’s from the team at SIE Bend Studio who many will recognize from the Syphon Filter series and the PSP exclusive Uncharted: Golden Abyss.
The team has experienced fairly modest success to date but now they have turned their hand to the first-party post-apocalyptic effort of Days Gone, a title which follows the tale of one Deacon St. John and his journey through a world ravaged by a pandemic. Almost immediately, Days Gone begins to encounter some problems.
To put it flatly, the story here is simply not up to the standards established by other Sony exclusives, let alone its peers in the genre. The game is rife with moments of head-scratching inauthenticity and stunning stupidity which really pull you out of the supposedly revelatory moments throughout the narrative.
The central crux of the story follows Deacon as he attempts to find out what happened to his wife, Sarah, during the onset of the global pandemic. I won’t spoil anything here as there are genuine moments where the game flirts with being emotionally impactful but more often than not these moments are dashed as quickly as they appear. During one cutscene which predates the apocalypse we are shown Deacon and Sarah’s marriage, this moment is actually quite sweet and feels earned, that is, right up until Sarah comments on Deacon’s biker status and flatly states that Deacon must promise to ride her as much as he does his bike. Baffling.
This is especially irritating as the flaws of the story would perhaps be less glaring if the game chose not to shove the details down your throat so willingly. By far the games most egregious sin lies in its over-reliance on cut-scenes, which I found to be genuinely insulting at points. Having just barely held my attention for one poorly written exchange I would be given a brief reprieve in which I was able to cross a room and boom, long loading screen and I’m right back into another. It becomes especially exasperating as many of these exchanges could easily be handled during gameplay and wouldn’t shatter both the pacing and immersion quite so ably.
It must also be stated that the voice direction here is equally peculiar. It seems that in order to make the hardened biker a more emotionally tolerable protagonist Bend Studio have Deacon constantly voice his inner thoughts so as to bring you in on his emotional struggle. The problem here is that this internal voice rarely lets up and often fails to match the context of the situation around it. More often than not I found myself siding with other characters over Deacon simply due to the fact that he sounds as if he isn’t grasping fairly simple concepts in his immediate environment.
There are several instances in which Deacon angrily rails against someone who had actually posed quite a rational point or he will snarkily respond to a stranger in need and I would be left questioning whether I’d missed some extraneous piece of information or whether the acting simply wasn’t up to polish, it was more often the latter unfortunately.
However, Days Gone isn’t only about its overbearing plot and to its credit the game saves face with the quality of its gameplay. In game design there’s something to be said for titles which make you feel powerful, leaving you like a bit of a weakling at the beginning of the game but progressively empower you as the game goes along. Days Gone fumbles a bit here and the first 20 hours of the game present a fairly unremarkable uphill climb but once past this, the game begins to open up and you become aware of your ability to handle more and more ‘freakers’ or marauders at once.
It’s here that we have mentioned the ‘freakers’ of the game. Though not zombies, these animalistic creatures form the majority of what you’ll be fighting throughout your post-apocalyptic journey. Fighting in packs, these monsters are suitably fun to battle and you’ll go from struggling to fight five at once to destroy literally hundreds of them during a single bout. The greatest flashes of brilliance to be found whilst playing Days Gone occur when you’re struggling to survive whilst running from thousands of infected figures. The game sells these ominous hordes via impressive animations and group tactics that really never fail to thrill and you genuinely owe it to yourself to tackle this challenge.
It’s during moments like this that you’re glad for the second side of Days Gone’s gameplay systems, this being your bike. Your bike is a lifeline in this hostile world, getting you from A to Z and storing valuable resources should you find yourself in a pinch. It’s a genuine pleasure to upgrade and customize your vehicle as you progress throughout the game and it bolsters the already interesting skills that you can apply to Deacon whilst on foot.
The relationship becomes symbiotic throughout the campaign and ultimately you come to rely on your bike to make efficient guerilla warfare strikes on a pack or camp. There’s also just enough depth to the system to keep you invested during the moment-to-moment driving sections and eventually you’ll be power sliding round turns whilst hammering the nitrous and it all becomes genuinely exhilarating.
It’s a shame then that this is when Days Gone experiences its worst performance hitches. Though the game is genuinely pretty, it becomes hard to enjoy, explore and even properly register it when driving as the frame-rate begins to tank to astronomical levels when not on foot.
During my time with the game, I experienced several 0 frame pauses which lasted some seconds and did impact my ability to survive properly. Once you sink some time into the game and your bike is even quicker it gets worse and there were also numerous moments where I showed up to an area a little too early and I would be sent cascading through the map into nothingness, a fact which became particularly aggravating considering that checkpoints can be few and far between.
Days Gone is at its absolute best during its endgame. The game slowly ramps up and ultimately drowns the player in fun content once the campaign is complete, once you’ve gotten past the incongruence of it’s narrative and once you’re finally let off of the leash, it’s just a shame that the uphill battle to get to this point lacks the polish and freedom that this segment represents.
In many ways Days Gone feels like a game made at the beginning of this console generation, it’s still yet to iron out the creases; the game is a couple more months of development polish from being excellent, it’s just a shame that it didn’t get it.