Days Well Spent
HIGH Being surprised by a horde whilst exploring a mineshaft. Yikes!
LOW The forced stealth missions feel outdated.
WTF Deacon’s starting bike runs out of gas in about three minutes.
The original critical reception to Days Gone was a pretty interesting one. While I wasn’t able to play it at launch on the PlayStation 4 a few years ago, I came to it about six months later after a bunch of patches and substantial content updates — a challenge mode, new difficulty settings and assorted other improvements. It soon became clear that the extra time and polish made a world of difference. It may have started out in rough shape, but by the time I got to it, it was a fantastic experience that wasn’t getting its due.
At its most basic, Days Gone is a third-person open-world survival title set in Oregon where a pesky virus has gone and wiped out huge swathes of humanity. The remaining humans now inhabit a remarkably beautiful hellhole where all the usual post-apocalyptic shenanigans are occurring — disfigured cultists scream about the end of the world, marauders prey on the weak, and zombielike ‘freakers’ chew the faces off anyone who wanders within arm’s reach. It’s like living in Glasgow.
In the midst of all this madness stands a backwards-cap-wearing biker named Deacon St. John. He’s lost everything aside from his best mate Boozer, and as the adventure begins, the two of them are scrabbling to make a living doing odd jobs for local survivor camps while harboring the vague objective of heading “North” for a change of scenery before things get worse.
It has to be said that Deacon makes for a likable and sympathetic main character despite frequently acting like a deranged lunatic. He can’t go five minutes in the wilderness without bringing up how he’s going to murder every last freaker in almost-pornographic levels of detail, and he also attempts to pick fights with long-dead people he hears on prerecorded messages. He’s so unhinged that it becomes an endearing aspect of his character, though he does behave more normally when around actual, living people.
In fact, that’s one of the more surprising aspects of Days Gone. The storyline is thoroughly engaging, even though people occasionally deal with their problems in bizarre ways or miss giant red flags — one character in particular is so clearly untrustworthy he might as well have the words ‘SCHEMING BASTARD’ carved into his forehead. Even so, there’s some great dialogue during story scenes and flashbacks, and the relationship between Deacon and the people he meets is more nuanced than players may initially expect.
As an open-worlder, the basic structure of Days Gone is recognizable. Missions come in over the radio, often while Deacon’s riding around on his motorcycle, and he can complete these as he sees fit. There’s always plenty to do, from clearing out hordes of freakers (these packs can feature literally hundreds of the buggers swarming) to rescuing survivors, to tracking down abandoned government relief stations for permanent character upgrades.
Of course, there are also survival elements such as collecting crafting materials or scavenging for bike fuel. That bike doesn’t run on love, and at the start of the game, Deacon’s lucky if a full tank will carry him more than a couple of miles without sputtering itself dry. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources if he knows where to look. While it’s a perhaps a little too convenient that every police cruiser has a stack of ammo and every ambulance has a medkit, it does make for slick and effortless looting from a gameplay perspective.
Combat is an enjoyable affair, with a wide variety of approaches that evolve organically as players progress. When beginning, a couple of rogue freakers can spell trouble for Deacon, so stealth is heavily encouraged. As his arsenal and skills improve, it becomes far more viable to go on killing sprees when deadlier enemies start integrating themselves into combat encounters. It’s a well-judged power curve that keeps things interesting from start to finish. Tactically picking enemies off with headshots is satisfying, especially since enemy heads wobble around as they break into a run and attempt to dodge gunfire.
The world itself holds some interesting wild cards. It’s not uncommon to be in a protracted gun battle with a gang of marauders, only to find that the scuffle has attracted the attention of giant, man-eating wolves. Sometimes Deacon has business in a certain location, but a horde of ravenous freaks have randomly wandered into the area. Or hell, sometimes enemy patrols will just happen by at very inconvenient, unscripted moments. This emergent quality is great, and especially when it works in the player’s favor. Seeing a horde ripping apart Deacon’s pursuers whilst he hides in a nearby bush or having a bear roll up on the wolves chasing him is superb.
Less fantastic are forced stealth/eavesdropping missions with instant fail states, but these are at least easy and short. They harken back to simpler times when tossing rocks to distract guards and staying unseen within a certain distance of an target while a progress bar slowly filled was cutting edge. They’re vaguely inoffensive and well checkpointed, but their rigidity is still a little disappointing.
Design-wise, the world of Days Gone is absolutely beautiful. Taking place in the town of Farewell, Oregon, there’s a wide variety of environments ranging from lush forest to windswept mountain peaks. It’s one of the most gorgeous and detailed open worlds I’ve ever seen, and this is only further enhanced by some of the best weather on the market. Rainfall will turn forest trails into a slick, muddy mess and heavy snow can completely transform previously-sunny areas into picturesque winter wonderlands. They’re still filled with corpses, rapists and murderers, but scenic all the same. Even the skybox at night is goddamn magnificent, offering a glowing celestial mass of constellations and stars.
This quality in particular is one of the things that really pushes Days Gone over the top. The world design is phenomenally captivating, and makes for a wonderful place to spend time in apart from the quests and storyline content. It stands head and shoulders above most of its competition when it comes to providing a convincing environment for Deacon to inhabit, and this artistic prowess elevates nearly everything players do, whether they’re taking on hordes or drifting around on their bike while traveling between camps.
Despite the noted improvements since its initial launch, there are still some bugs to be found, though. One time after rescuing a drifter during a random encounter, he and Deke gazed into one another’s eyes for an uncomfortably long time, eventually requiring a save reload. Another time, a quest didn’t update correctly after wiping out a wave of enemies which necessitated a checkpoint restart.
There are also some UI quibbles specific to this PC version. I found myself unable to confirm purchases or sell items in bulk at any of the stores found in camps while using an Xbox controller. Disabling certain Steam options fixed this, though it’d be nice not to have to dip into the configuration menu to fix basic problems. Aside from minor hiccups like this, there were no gamebreaking bugs — just some occasional weirdness involving AI pathfinding and the like.
Still, none of these issues are serious enough to put a meaningful dent in the overall package, which is both a lengthy experience and stuffed full of interesting, meaningful moments. For my money, Days Gone remains one of the absolute best open-world games on the market, and now more people will have the opportunity to try it out for themselves as it puts its best foot forward. That’s something worth celebrating, I think.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Bend Studio and published by Playstation Mobile Inc. It is currently available on PS4/PS5 and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 80 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode on Survival II difficulty, and the game was completed.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes and Strong Language. All the good stuff, basically. The official ESRB description reads as follows: This is an action game in which players assume the role of Deacon St. John, a biker trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Players complete various missions, help survivors find homes and food, search for loved ones, and battle humans, animals, and hordes of Freakers (i.e., mutated humans) in frenetic combat. Players use firearms (e.g., shotguns, machine guns, assault rifles) and melee weapons (e.g., axes, spiked bats, machetes) to kill several enemies; large blood-splatter effects occur when characters are attacked. Cutscenes also depict intense acts of violence: characters tortured with blowtorches; a mutant’s head exploding from a gunshot; characters getting their throats slit; a man getting his ear cut off; a bag full of severed ears. The game contains some suggestive/sexual material: a woman dragged into an empty cabin by marauders (implication of attempted sexual assault with dialogue stating, “This one’s a biter!”); dialogue such as “Wow, she is a looker. I’d hit that” and “…only if you promise to ride me as much as you ride your bike.” The dialogue briefly references drugs (e.g., “…doc’s got me on some Oxy” and “…jacked up on some PCP…”). The words “f**k,” “sh*t,” and “a*shole” appear in dialogue.
Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are present.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles can be altered and resized. While it’s naturally going to be a little more difficult for players to play without the aid of sound to locate their foes, there are a lot of visual indicators around the world, on the minimap and within the UI to help them out. Deacon often calls out particular instance of danger as they happen, so the subtitles will reflect this. Players may miss the roar of a Breaker, but Deacon’s going to call it out and the information will wind up in the subtitles.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.
The chance discovery of a muddy, burnt out copy of '50 Shades of Grey' in a hunting pit gave him an appreciation for complex plots, characters and overarching narrative, and the unexpected gift of a Spectrum 48k allowed him to indulge in these newfound sensibilities with intelligent, highbrow games such as 'flee from the badly animated spinning turquoise dolphins' or 'avoid the deadly glowing bricks of doom'.
The fusion of both these interests finally culminated with Darren teaching himself how to write by basically guessing at what words might look like when jotted down on paper as opposed to being howled inarticulately at the skies.
Now others occasionally get to read his scribblings. Lucky them.