Days Gone promises all the freedom of the biker life, hampered just a tad by an abundance of killer zombie-like “freakers” being out for your blood and various other bodily bits. So, is this latest PS4 exclusive dead set ace, or walking dead?
Welcome to Oregon. A land of forests, deserts, weather extremes and great scenic drives. Oh yeah, it’s also a place of post-apocalyptic horror, with various types of mutants – animal, human and formerly human – out to really go the buzz kill on your day. You step into the motorcycle boots of Deacon St John, an outlaw biker turned drifter, doing what he has to do in order for himself and his bike to survive what the world has become.
It all started two years prior with a virus that cut swathes through the population, turning otherwise normal humans into a rabid, feral state. Adults became “freakers”, kids became “newts”, and humans being humans, there was a band of nut-job survivors who decided to worship these mutations by emulating them in the form of “rippers”. We hate those guys!
Basically, Days Gone is a sprawling, open world-ish (more of it unlocks the further you progress through the story, while some gets locked out) game that takes generous chunks of inspiration from established hit game series such as Red Dead Redemption, Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry and The Last of Us, then gives it a Sons of Anarchy meets The Walking Dead makeover. If that sounds kind of cool, that’s because it is.
Mourning his wife who he believes was lost to the outbreak, Deacon trundles about the wide open spaces of Oregon rather aimlessly, doing odd jobs for a selection of survivor camps and eking out some form of a life. But as the game progresses, depth and emotional wallop is introduced to this initially cookie-cutter character. His story actually becomes quite engrossing, and despite the length of the myriad cutscenes, you’ll likely find yourself not wanting to skip them.
The aim of the game is to survive, help others… it’s all a bit vague initially, but a sense of purpose does become clear over time – and you’ll need a lot of time to invest fully in Days Gone. This is no one weekend wonder, especially if you take on the various side quests and adventures in schlepping, such as bounty runs, freaker nest bombings and the clearing of checkpoints that remain from the mysterious government organisation known as NERO. Speaking of, here’s a quick tip that we learned the hard way: when you set about reconnecting power to any of these NERO bases, take out the loudspeakers first. Trust us.
As you’d expect, there are things to collect, ranging from flora and fauna (mmm, squashed hedgehog!) that can often aid in crafting weaponry and first aid assistance, to personal belongings and sightseeing highlights. There are also guns and melee weapons, along with other types of equipment dotted around to help your various quests, however resource management skills will be required. From making sure you have enough bits to concoct another freaker nest-ravaging Molotov cocktail to keeping your bike juiced up, this is an important facet of the game to keep sorted. Especially if you encounter a horde…
Ah, the horde. The first one that we happened upon left us agape – not only because we were dead within seconds due to going in woefully underprepared, but because of the sheer scale of it. Literally hundreds of frenzied freakers converged upon us, leaving us no option but to die. We’ve never experienced such an incredible array of intelligent assailants in a game like this. These things aren’t on rails, as each encounter – and you’ll replay a few of them – sees them reacting to how you take them on. Serious strategic planning – and armament – is required to eradicate them.
There’s quite a randomness to the game’s world generally. We were fanging our bike through a traincar all The Great Escape-like when a freaker flying rugby tackled us to the ground. You may happen upon a sniper who wasn’t there five minutes ago… or a trip wire across a road. Despite there being several scripts to follow through the game, you’re still kept guessing with random occurences. Even if it’s just a little butterfly disturbing nobody just doing its fluttery thing, there’s a sense of life to this experience.
“There’s a sense of life to this experience.”
Graphically, the game is pretty impressive. The Oregon playground is rich in variation, and the motion capture and characterisation is often top notch. We did encounter the odd glitch, however. These ranged from a split second freeze here to some popup there, but nothing too egregious – or unpatchable.
While we’ve really enjoyed our time in Days Gone, it hasn’t been without hitting foibles. Load times are annoying at best, horrific at worst, and incredibly frustrating when you’re waiting for ages to replay a bit that you stuffed up. Speaking of waiting, a couple of hours in you’ll be sick of wasting several seconds when unlocking a door, carving meat or prying a car boot open with a stab of the square button. We’re all for realism in games, but things like this can be expedited for the sake of player sanity. You’ll also find occasions where trial and error are your only ways to proceed – in particular in some of the rather annoying stealth missions, where you have to stalk NERO types while not being spotted. Which leads us to the AI – it is sometimes vicious, usually reasonable and occasionally just plain dumb. Like those times when you can sprint up behind somebody/something with all the subtlety of a drum factory exploding and still perform a satisfying “stealth” takedown.
Meanwhile, a “Survival Wheel” is mapped to the R3 button, which becomes more sprawling as you progress. This allows everything from selecting your weapon of choice – be it gun, bomb or battering implement – through to accessing healing abilities, with a whole lot of crafting along the way. In the heat of an attack it can be really frustrating to use, although at least real time proceedings slow down while you’re accessing it.
Days Gone is not a perfect game, and it does lack a little polish in certain areas. But as far as entertainment value goes, we couldn’t get enough of getting our Easy Rider on and letting the increasingly nuanced story further unfold. The fact that we’ve gone back after story completion to clean up various side quests and such while our towering pile of shame glares at us dejectedly speaks volumes. As Mr Mercury once advised, get on your bikes and ride!
Days Gone is available now, exclusively for PS4.