PS4 version tested
Thank you for the days!
I think it’s fair to say that this year’s E3 was a bit of a fart in a Jacuzzi. Playstation was notable by their absence, Bethesda apparently just make mobile games now, but at least John Wick showed up to tell us we were breathtaking. All in all it gave us a lot of good memes but not a lot of good gameplay.
Last year’s E3 however got me excited about a number of games and one I was absolutely itching to play was Days Gone by Bend Studio.
It ticked a lot of boxes for me; post-apocalyptic, zombies, I get to play a biker with a crossbow and fulfil all my Daryl Dixon fantasies, and I love anything with good stealth mechanics. However when the first round of previews came round, it felt like game journalists were determined to hate it, and when the game was released it definitely felt like there was no love for Deacon St John and his survival in the undead wasteland of Farewell, Oregon.
I picked this game up on launch but didn’t play it straight away as I was engaged in a battle with the Soul of Cinder, which to be fair I still haven’t won, and because of the negativity surrounding the game I was feeling pretty hesitant to take it out of the box. But I’m really glad I did.
Is it a wildly innovative addition to the zombie survival horror genre? No, and I’m pretty certain it never announced itself as such. Is it glitchy? Yes it has its moments but nothing game-breaking, and can we all just take a look at Skyrim the most beloved yet most bug-infested game of them all!
More importantly for me, is it fun? Yes, yes, yes! Ok so it isn’t especially ground-breaking and if you are going to compare it to The Last of Us, which in my mind is a very different beast, then you are going to be disappointed. The Last of Us is a very linear, story-driven game, where the relationship between Joel and Ellie is very much the focus. Days Gone does not operate in nearly the same way. As Deacon you are very much the loner and spend the majority of the game on your own.
It’s an open-world game so there are various characters to engage with and there are multiple storylines to follow. A lot of these storylines do converge towards the end, but unlike The Last of Us you can do as little or a much of these quests as you like, or if you really wanted you could just roam about on your drift bike, doing stunts and smacking zombies with a baseball bat.
There are a lot of familiar RPG tropes in this game and the majority of the story missions can be boiled down to; find and rescue, find and kill, collect these things, or talk to this person. But, and this is the thing that really pissed me off about the attitude towards Days Gone, loads of other games in the RPG genre operate in exactly the same way and they get hailed as masterpieces.
It’s at this point I have to bring up Red Dead Redemption 2, another game I was eager for after fully falling in love with John Marston. RDR2 is a game that has had so much praise heaped upon it, and I can’t deny it is a beautiful game to look at but, and this may be an unpopular opinion, it’s bloody boring!
The high point for me was finding Lenny in the bar and then like every other RPG it was; find and rescue, find and kill, collect these things, talk to this person. I’ve basically abandoned it because I’ve moved to camp location number three and it still doesn’t feel like anything has actually happened. Then we have the whole realism in games argument.
The realism in RDR2 was another reason I got hacked off. You had to constantly feed, groom and bond with your horse. You had to constantly feed, groom and spray yourself with dubious sounding liquids to go hunting, or use the right weapon because heaven forbid you return to camp with a poor pelt or chunk of meat. There are days I have trouble bathing and feeding myself let alone a fictional cowboy who, despite it being 1899 is definitely more financially solvent than I am.
It felt like the same people who loved RDR2’s “realism” were then actively complaining that you had to repair your bike in Days Gone or find fuel. This to me was no big deal. Scrap metal is almost hilariously abundant and I only fully ran out of fuel once and had to run miles for a jerry can because I was being a massively over-optimistic plonker. This level of realism feels absolutely fair and again is not that dissimilar to another zombie survival RPG, State of Decay.
Then were those who criticised the story and the characters. I never really played the Force Unleashed games but I have to praise Sam Witwer as Deacon St John. Some of the characters could be described as unlikeable but I’d argue that three years’ worth of zombies, and killing or be killed would absolutely have an impact on your character. I’d also say that if you stick with the story, Deacon and Boozer, along with a few other characters have pretty decent character arcs.
The story is a bit drawn out in places, and there was at least one revelation that didn’t feel like the earth-shattering news it should have been, as the character involved had barely been mentioned at all. Then there were story beats which were brilliant and provoked quite a few emotional responses. Judging by the way the cut scenes play out at the end of the game it looks like if you choose not to do certain missions or build reputation, you might get different outcomes, and if you’re not a completionist like me, you might also miss the post-credit missions which tie up a few loose ends.
One thing I have to mention, as this is a zombie survival game, are the zombies. I think another reason people may have felt let down was the cinematic nature of taking out the zombie hordes demonstrated at E3. The sawmill horde, which is an absolute nightmare, you can take down in the exact same way as the developers did, but you do need prior knowledge of where all the traps are, as these aren’t always obvious and by the time you see the button prompt you’ve already run past it.
The zombies while not necessarily terrifying individually or in small groups, can definitely cause brown trousers time when you carelessly wander into a sleeping horde. The way the hordes have been animated is genuinely impressive, the way they flood out of doors, and in one memorable occasion pour out of a train like a tsunami of the undead. It’s like zombie Black Friday in comparison to Left for Dead’s mild-mannered queue of shambling corpses.
In a world increasingly dominated by battle royale games and enforced multiplayer, Days Gone is a solo experience that I genuinely loved. As Bend Studio’s first open-world, triple-A title I think it’s a decent attempt and the criticism thrown at it is immensely unfair, especially when you consider the recent turkeys from bigger and more experienced studios and developers. Bethesda’s epic bin-fire that is Fallout 76, and despite all its “vertically” Bioware’s Anthem seems to have fizzled out to a whimper.
Days Gone is not a perfect game by any means, but it is a beautifully rendered, brilliantly acted zombie romp. More recent updates to the game have brought in some much-needed changes to the controls to make looting corpses and picking up weapons more intuitive. There are the occasional glitches and Deacon does have a tendency to yell his dialogue even when the person he is speaking to is right next to him, but I love it just the same. The post-credit missions, if you unlock them, have got a couple of stingers which leaves the game open for a sequel or potentially DLC and I for one would be up for it.