Two Flat Tires
HIGH Traversing the Oregon wilderness on a rad hog.
LOW Dreadful technical issues and boring level design
WTF Seriously, why does my motorcycle get 1 MPG?
As a native Oregonian, if there’s a more random place for a triple-A development studio to be located than Bend, Oregon, i’d like to know about it. SIE Bend (mostly known for the Syphon Filter series on PS1) has been chugging along for over 20 years and became Sony’s flagship mobile developer during the PSP and Vita days with excellent titles like Resistance: Retribution and Uncharted: Golden Abyss. However, it seems the transition from handheld to home console must be a difficult one… Days Gone is a problematic title, although it’s brightened by the world outside the developer’s windows.
It’s that world that drove me to play Days Gone relentlessly. Admittedly, I have a personal bias here, but the central Oregon setting is one of the more memorable open-world sandboxes I’ve experienced in a long time. It’s a lovingly detailed and heartfelt vision of the Pacific Northwest wilderness, and struck me as a realistically plausible representation of what rural Oregon would be like, post-apocalypse — a lot of guns, libertarians, some hippies and tweakers, and a weird-ass cult thrown in for good measure. Driving past Crater Lake and seeing Wizard Island turned into a militia stronghold was chilling.
Driving is something the player will be doing a lot, and it’s made enjoyable thanks to the main character’s motorcycle — I felt a connection to it in the same way people seem to love their horse in Red Dead Redemption II.
The bikes handle great and feel appropriately weighty, as riding a chopper is definitely a different experience compared to riding a dirtbike or a Japanese speedbike. Traversing the world is helped by its verticality. The real Oregon isn’t particularly flat, so there are lots of opportunities to cut through the woods looking for shortcuts, or catch some big air.
One moment in particular stood out. I was driving to a mission when a pack of infected wolves started coming after me, leading to a truly exhilarating chase trying to lose them while zigzagging through the forest, narrowly avoiding trees while fighting the wolves back with my sidearm. It’s stuff like this that make Days Gone‘s world feel far more alive than one might imagine a game in a rural setting might be.
While Days Gone features a formulaic zombie story, I liked the core narrative, and it’s carried by Sam Witwer’s outstanding performance as protagonist Deacon St. John. Sometimes he seems a little overly angry during combat and it clashes with who he seems to be during cutscenes, but it’s not too much of a stretch and Witwer is incredibly convincing. While some parts (most of the flashbacks involving his missing wife) fall a bit flat, the tale is mostly successful due to a wide variety of interesting, well-acted characters reading a solid script.
On the other hand, while the Oregon setting speaks to me and I enjoyed the characters, I simply can’t ignore the serious issues that arise constantly throughout the adventure.
While the narrative was fine and the performances were great, a lot of the story is delivered via radio chatter while riding. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but if I ended up crashing or fighting some enemies, the incoming conversation would stop and then restart — just imagine hearing the same 1:58 multiple times because the two minute audio clip got interrupted. Also, while at camp, Deacon can’t get calls about story missions or jobs, leading to multiple situations where I had to drive outside of a camp, get a radio call from somebody in the camp, then immediately drive back to the camp to take the mission.
Technically, Days Gone is a mess, and that’s coming from someone who didn’t see the pre-release version other reviewers got to play. Apparently it was patched four times before it hit retail, and since launch day it’s been patched three more times, as of the time this review was written.
While improvement has been made, these patches still left a litany of gamebreaking bugs — things like driving through the floor of the game world, or falling through a roof while being chased by zombies. I also frequently saw enemies running in place away from me while stuck in a piece of geometry. Another funny moment involved pushing a car out of the way. The windshield had a bullet hole in it, which I thought was strange since the windshield itself was missing. Then when I pushed the car, the phantom bullet hole stayed in place and floated in the air. There’s some pretty wretched pop-in as well, which caused me to do things like driving directly into a fence that hadn’t loaded in yet. I also went to multiple locations expecting to find a group of enemies, saw none, went to gather materials, and then turned around to see ten guys who appeared out of thin air and were ready to turn me into swiss cheese.
Days Gone game also has some of the worst texture pop-in i’ve ever seen, and it detracts from the majestic beauty they’ve created in the landscapes when driving by a blocky, blurry objects that haven’t loaded properly. The framerate is fairly stable for most of the adventure, but there is a point in the story when Deacon goes to a new location, and that location has all kinds of stability issues. The change in locale is also a pretty good marker for when Days Gone goes from being problematic to unforgivable.
I also experienced a whole lot of freezing and hard locking, as the game crashed on me six times, including twice immediately after completing the second-to-last mission of the game without auto-saving. It also caused my PS4 to automatically shut down on a couple of occasions due to overheating, and I have never heard my PS4 Pro be as loud as it was while playing through Days Gone.
While those are theoretically fixable issues, there are plenty of problems that patches aren’t going to solve.
Upgrades to weapons and equipment are given to the player at an extremely slow pace. The mission design lacks variety in objectives, and the main story missions don’t feel more developed or intricate than the side content. The vast majority of missions boil down to “go here, kill stuff, come back” or “go here, get item or person, come back”.
While melee combat is satisfying, gunplay is clunky and unresponsive thanks to jerky aiming and a bad auto-cover mechanic. It works well against large swaths of enemies, but doing any sort of precision aiming is highly problematic.
Since this is a zombie game, encounters with hundreds of screaming, crazed “freakers” at once are highlights that require careful planning and strategy. The problem? The player is only given the means to defeat a horde once they’re about 90% of the way through Days Gone , so they’re hardly a factor in the experience at all. Any attempt to fight a horde earlier is a death wish, so I ignored them or escaped. Being able to deal with hordes earlier would’ve been beneficial in making the campaign feel less monotonous, and I find it disingenuous that one of the hooks the game was marketed around is essentially inaccessible for 40 hours.
Speaking of monotony, the biggest issue with Days Gone is that it’s just too damn long. Apparently modern devs are sick of eight hour games getting dinged for being ‘too short’, so they’ve gone too far in the opposite direction. The core loop of fighting enemies, collecting resources, tracking prey, and driving through the world is serviceable, but when stretched out to nearly 50 hours (or more, if including side content) it wears out its welcome.
Rarely has my opinion on a game turned around so drastically, but I was absolutely enthralled with Days Gone for the first 15 hours or so. As the hours dragged and dragged and dragged, the repetitive mission design and the technical issues kept whittling away at my enjoyment. Eventually, all joy was dead and I just wanted it to be over.
I was ready to love Days Gone, and in some ways, I still do. It didn’t love me back, though. If SIE Bend had cut the length by a third, cleaned up the technical problems and had more variety in level design, it could have been one of my favorite games of all time. It’s tragic in hindsight, because I can feel the love and passion flowing through it. Unfortunately, the shared appreciation of our homeland pales in comparison to the astoundingly long list of problems on display here. It’s heartbreaking, but only homesick Oregonians like myself need apply.
Disclosures: This game is developed by SIE Bend Studio and published by Sony. It is currently available exclusively on PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via purchase and reviewed on the PS4 PRO with an HDR certified 4KTV. An estimated (the game features no in-game timer) 45 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. The game has no multiplayer
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and features Intense Violence, Blood & Gore, Sexual Themes, and Strong Language. This is definitely one of those games to keep away from children, as the violence can be extremely graphic, the script is as vulgar as one would expect where the main characters are bikers, and there are a few extremely disturbing scenes thrown in for good measure.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The story is told through voiced cutscenes and radio dialogue which are subtitled, and the text is large and very readable, but there are no sizing or color options for it. The sound design allowed me to pick up on enemy locations based, but their location was also available on a mini map. There is one flying enemy in the game that makes one audio cue right before they attack — gamers with difficulty hearing will have huge issues whenever these characters are around.
Remappable Controls: This game’s controls are not remappable. Due to the nature of the game, fast reflexes are needed and people without the ability to input them quickly may have issues playing it. There were also a lot of moments where I was moving in slow motion while crafting things with the weapon wheel, which required a fair bit of dexterity.