There’s a feeling, and not just in the gaming world, that franchises, remasters and reboots are ruling the roost with very few original IPs coming through and doing well. Whilst that’s not strictly true, as there are some success stories, it’s an understandable feeling. It seems as though every other week either a new remaster is announced or another iterative entry in a franchise is released. Not all of them are unwelcome and not all of them feel like a money grabbing exercise (we’re looking at you GTA V). After many hours slaying zombies and helping survivors in Days Gone, we’re grateful that this one made it through, though perhaps not for the reasons you might expect.
Slaying zombies, or freakers in Days Gone parlance, is nothing new for gamers but very few can make that world feel believable and lived in. The Last of Us is probably the only other recent game that comes to mind so perhaps Sony has a thing for this genre. Having a somewhat grounded backdrop helps not just the game but the story it’s trying to tell. The characters feel more relatable, their decisions more gut-wrenching and your desire to help them survive more palpable. Whilst you don’t get to choose how Deacon St. John, our protagonist, acts throughout the story, the further you get, the more you understand the decisions he makes and how he feels about them.?
Days Gone, at times, can look stunning
Whilst we rather enjoyed the story it sets out to tell it’s probably slightly longer than it needed to be. The last few missions feel drawn out with a couple of tasks thrown in that feel like they are there to pad things out. We took just over forty hours to complete the story along with a decent amount of side quests and collectibles. Even then there’s still plenty left to do as we have zombie hordes to take out, nests and a few tangential storylines to complete. The story padding seems like an odd choice as you could take a few of these missions out thereby shortening the runtime by a couple of hours and still have plenty to do so as to encourage players to keep playing beyond the main story.
As far as console ports go, Days Gone is pretty good. It leverages the extra grunt modern gaming PCs can muster and allows you to play with unlocked frame rates alongside better textures, greater draw distances and greater resolutions than those you find on its original launch platform, the PlayStation 4. Even our now antiquated GTX1080 was able to garner an average of eighty frames per second even when tackling the hordes. This is far above the locked thirty you originally would have experienced on Sony’s last generation console though it must be noted the PlayStation 5 could surpass this as long as you are using a compatible display. It certainly plays wonderfully smoothly and the ability to play on keyboard and mouse makes hitting those pressure, pin-point shots, much more doable than on a controller, trust us, we tried!
You know, I’ve got a bad feeling about this…
That being said, our experience wasn’t without issue. There were a few instances where a horde was meant to be triggered only for them not to turn up. We had almost half of a path in front of us not rendering at all through which we fell completely off the map. Not to mention one or two crashes. Most issues, such as events not triggering, were often resolved by a reload of our save or, at worst, the game. However, it’s likely that these little niggles will eventually be ironed out with one or two post launch patches. Overall, Days Gone is very stable and we were more than comfortable relying on the autosave with only a few manual ones done to avoid having to retread some ground should we fail and die which happened more than we would care to admit.
Whilst the story may take longer than we’d want it to, at least the environment you’re in is rather stunning. The day/night cycles along with weather further enhance the believability of your surroundings. Mountain passes turn into mud after a heavy rainfall which, if you don’t upgrade your bike via the mechanics at the survivor camps will cause it to handle rather badly. Same goes for snow. Upgrades also allow for you to carry more fuel, more ammo and, should you want to, you can even change its colour. The survivor camps are dotted around the post-apocalyptic Oregon setting and are safe-havens for those who managed to survive the outbreak of the virus that caused the Freakers.?
Line ‘em up and knock ‘em down!
However, to get anything of worth in terms of weapons and upgrades you will need to earn each camp’s trust. This normally takes the form of running jobs for the leaders of each camp taking out nearby Freaker nests, marauder camps or handing in the ears of slain Freakers. There are also still some animals roaming the hills which you can also take out and hand into camps for food. Each camp has three levels of trust with each new level unlocking new things to buy from the weapons dealer. It’s pretty simplistic but it doesn’t take too long to unlock the first two levels which will give you access to some pretty impressive weapons.?
It’s a shame that only vendor bought weapons will be available in your locker. If you take a weapon from a fallen enemy it’s only available for as long as you have it equipped. Buy a new one or swap it and it’s gone until you buy it from a vendor. In a way it makes no sense as, if we were to survive a zombie apocalypse, we’d be hoarding any weapon we could find. Equally annoying is the fragility of almost any melee weapon. Sure, they can’t be invulnerable but repairing them needs scrap, which is also needed for bike repairs and some throwables. Scrap isn’t hard to come by, at least on normal difficulty, but it’s the sheer frequency of repairs that make you start to get overly frustrated with them.
It’s the little touches around the world than can’t half tug at the heart strings
Out of everything that Days Gone tries to achieve, it’s how it tells its story that sets it apart from most other games we’ve played in its genre. Often, open world games start things off with a few story missions before opening things up and just letting you have at it. Days Gone weaves various threads into its storyline and allows you to tackle what it offers how you want to like most open world games but we never felt overwhelmed with map markers and missions. As we progressed through new storylines would open up but only as others were closed. At no point did we feel confused or at a loss as to how our story ended up where we were. Nor did we have to grind hard to be able to complete the missions set out before us. By taking us through the story in neat chunks which helped raise trust at survivor camps and therefore our ability to purchase better weapons we were more than prepared for the finale.
Whilst the story Days Gone tells will not go down as a classic, its ambition and approach to do something different should be acknowledged. It set out to tell a human story in a way that wasn’t what we were used to. It had a protagonist who was hard, at times, to root for but felt human all the same. There are better games out there in terms of story and others that make taking out zombies, sorry Freakers, way more fun but the fact that it almost succeeded in doing things a little bit different should be enough to warrant a sequel. We would love dearly to see what Bend Studio could do now that it has got the experience and the feedback from developing Days Gone. The fact that they may never get to do so seems like a kick to the guts for those of us who enjoy games that dare to create something new.