The apocalypse, redwood forests, and bikers don’t seem like they would fit together, yet Days Gone from Sony Bend Studios proves there is a lot of heart at the centre of their new game for the PS4.
The zombie genre is getting a bit long in the tooth. It is hard to throw a rock and not hit something zombie related, but from Resident Evil and Dead Rising to The Last of Us , zombies have permeated our popular fiction, and especially the gaming industry, in a way that is hard to ignore. After playing a solid chunk of the early segments of Days Gone, it is clear Sony has something special in store for people that take the time to explore and enjoy it.
It is hard to imagine that Days Gone and The Last of Us both come from Sony studios. While the setting and concept are certainly similar, the gameplay is anything but. Days Gone is more about the world around you and seeing the systems play out with or without the player’s involvement. While our protagonist Deacon St. John may be starring in his own personal story, it is just one of many stories happening in the game. From the people struggling to survive to the animals and freakers (Days Gone’s answer to zombies), it is a living breathing world, and you as the player are only walking through it.
Set in the redwood forests of Washington state, Days Gone is an odd combination of Dead Rising and Sons of Anarchy. Our protagonist Deacon St. John, played by the renowned Sam Witwer, is struggling with personal demons after losing his girlfriend at some point following the apocalypse. He and his partner must struggle to survive against what seem like insurmountable odds.
It is a typical zombie-style end of the world story at its core, but it is the way Bend Studios and Sam Witwer bring Deacon to life that makes it something special. The facial expressions and small mannerisms, both during cutscenes and in the gameplay, paint the performance as believable. That is a hard thing to do in an open world game, where the level of narrative dissonance is ever present, and yet somehow they’ve managed it.
This vibrant living world offers a slew of options for many types of play. Yes, much like any open world game you can go in guns blazing, and for the most part, it works, but the thing that really makes Days Gone special on the gameplay side are the systems at play that the player can utilize. Freakers act as an active and present force within the world of Days Gone, and so do other human factions. If you set things up correctly, you can pit one faction against the other. As with any game that has a level of randomness at play, this will not work every time, but when it does work, it is strangely rewarding.
This being a game built around bikers, the motorcycles and riding play a huge role in the progression of the game. As you play, you will upgrade your bike, slowly building it up in a way that suits your play style. You also will be pushing yourself by upgrading your abilities and skills to be the best in the wasteland. It is an RPG system that we have grown to expect from the genre, and while it may be getting a bit tired, it works here. That bike means something to Deacon, so seeing him push to rebuild it and make it better makes sense in the context of Days Gone.
From the diverse biomes present to the way the weather changes over the course of the game, the world itself is one of the most striking elements to Days Gone. Riding over mountains and through woods into the sparse, urban areas of Washington state was a real treat. Games this generation have been pushing the power of consoles, and this one is no different. The use of weather and the environment would have simply not been possible in previous generations.
Gunplay and combat have a feeling that is an odd mix of Grand Theft Auto and The Last of Us. Combat felt very fluid overall, making the execution of takedowns and stealth rewarding, but Days Gone also straddles that line between rewarding violence, and the brutal reality of what your character is doing. There are moments that push the envelope by opting for a realistic concept of what each method of murder would look like rather than glorifying the violent act.
When sitting down for any demo it is a challenge to decipher what the game will feel like 20 or 30 hours in, and the same can be said for Days Gone. There is a lot to like with what Bend Studios is doing here, and there is some real artistry to what they are trying to achieve, but as with any open world experience, I remain hesitant.
There is a story here that deserves to be told, and characters I want to get to know. The apocalypse from the eyes of a biker could be interesting, and the relationship and struggle our protagonist is going through feels oddly human. Yet, though all the aspects I love, I still have that nagging feeling that Days Gone could fall into the same trap many open world games end up falling into, pushing for volume of content over quality.
It takes a lot to carry players through a 20-30 hour experience, and fetching gas tank X from location Y may get old fast. In my time with the game, there were hints of such problems, but also a glimmer of the potential under the surface. Days Gone has a lot going for it, and if it can stick that landing come April 2019 I will be onboard, battling freakers and riding off into the sunset.