Bend Studio has a lot to live up to, especially when one considers the calibre of exclusives that have come to call the PlayStation 4 home. Be it God of War or Marvel’s Spider-man, Days Gone has its work cut out for it.
Thankfully, the developers have managed to create a living, breathing world full of memorable moments, characters to love and hate, and creatures to fear, despite having it all wrapped around a somewhat predictable story that still manages to hook you in for a long ride.
Exploring the Pacific Northwest as one Deacon St. John, this post-pandemic world in this action-adventure is nothing short of breathtaking.
From the forests to snow-capped peaks, marshy swamplands to dilapidated infrastructure, it all evokes a feeling of time having passed civilisation by, followed by an all-encompassing dread that drums up the more you stay in this world. The motion capture and character models are beautiful, and the Freakers you face are disgustingly realised as well.
As both the day/night cycle and the dynamic weather set the elements on you, it is hard not to take a breather and enjoy the scenery. Days Gone is very pleasing on the eye, outside of draw distance and occasional wonky animations.
The elements are not just visual bells and whistles either, as they affect gameplay in tremendous ways. Visibility decreases, sounds get masked, and the humans and the Freakers adopt different routines accordingly.
Freakers are most active at night, hibernate in the day, and are strongest in the cold. The human foes like Rippers and Marauders gather around fires to keep warm at night, while they patrol diligently in the day.
Even animals go about their lives as animals should, but if you chance upon a Runner (infected wolves), Criers (infected crows) or a Rager (infected bears), get ready to fight hard.
Such interacting systems add a strategic element to how you approach the gameplay in Days Gone, and gives players much more room to experiment with for well over 30-40 hours.
The living ecosystem much touted by Bend Studio comes to fruition as well, with man, animals, and Freakers all playing their part. You can lead a pack of Freakers through an enemy encampment and watch chaos ensue, or take down the monsters as they pick through the remains of their fallen kin or while hunting deer.
A large world would be for nothing if it was not interesting, but Days Gone is chocked full of infestations to clear, collectables to collect, camps to eliminate, fearsome Hordes to take on, and much more. Sporadic random encounters also help point players to curious locations and survivors to rescue. This is a world larger than just you, and it shows.
Everything you do reward you with not just XP, but Trust and Credits with the various factions in the game.
The progression of gear and upgrades require you to put in the hard work, completing missions that are prime opportunities for worldbuilding and exploration. While side missions can be a tad repetitive, be it chasing down a live bounty or exterminating all enemies, the carrots of the rewards and the opportunity to apply Days Gone’s many lessons will tide you over easily.
If you had to walk everywhere, Days Gone would be a tedious affair. The addition of Deacon’s bike was always going to raise some eyebrows, but in execution, it suits this world perfectly and comes close to perfection. Riding your hog on broken roads, mountain paths, and across the world feels tight and responsive, and the experience gets better with upgrades.
Better traction, more fuel, durability and more, all the improvements only increase the ease and freedom in which to explore the Pacific Northwest.
Even trying to keep your bike at peak condition or fuelled up is made manageable, with plenty of scrap and fuel cans/gas stations littered around the world. Fuel allows for fast travel, but given the chance, riding is always much preferred.
Aside from firearms, Deacon St. John is an accomplished craftsman, able to craft many a useful tool with the right recipe and ingredients. Melee contraptions like baseball bats and machetes give way to nailed and sawblades variations. Molotovs, pipe bombs, smoke bombs, bandages and more are imperative to surviving in Days Gone.
Taking out an entire camp of Marauders without firing a single shot is great fun, as you watch them get confused amidst smoke and fire while you slit their throats. Materials are aplenty as well, so craft away and watch the world burn.
Utilising your skills will also put you a leg up, with Focus mode a top priority, giving you enhanced aiming while slowing down time. Other upgrades help improve your melee capabilities and overall survivability, and a fully decked out Deacon is a far cry from the game’s beginning.
Your health, stamina, and Focus can then be further increased by finding NERO injectors. These precious resources are only found at NERO Checkpoints, often the hangout spot of some dangerous Freakers, and require some light puzzle solving to gain access to.
Of course, if there is a star in Days Gone that shines the brightest, it is the Freakers, infected humans who are now monsters of their own right.
The Swarmers, Newts, Bleachers, Screamers, Breakers, Reachers, and their animal counterparts are the biggest threat in Days Gone.
From the first encounter to the last, there is not a moment of respite when faced with such a relentless foe, even a solo Swarmer can a nuisance if you are unprepared. Plus, they like to dodge bullets.
They roam the world in packs, be it day and night, often in between you and your goals. You can try to take them out silently or through melee, or risk even more Freakers descending upon you with gunfire, the choices and consequences are yours to make.
Nothing is more satisfying than coming out unscathed from a pack of hungry Freakers, or scarier as you turn to see even more scrambling over the horizon.
The zenith of fear is the Hordes, masses of Freakers that number from the dozens to the hundreds, hungry for your flesh. While the story introduces them pretty late into the game, you can stumble upon them by chance as they sleep, feed, and drink near their nests.
Taking on a Horde is always a calculated risk, going in without a plan is a quick death. Bend Studio has kindly provided some aid in placing explosive barrels and other environmental hazards in these arenas of death, all you need is to use them at the right moments.
You can place traps like proximity mines, plan out your route going between narrow spaces and explosives, gear up with the right weapons and ammo, and it still will not be enough as the Freakers’ overwhelming numbers force you to think on your feet.
These creatures are brilliant, smart enough to cut you off even as you weave through obstacles rather than follow in a straight line. Even if you manage to employ a distraction like an Attractor, it will only pull off so many Freakers.
They can scale any heights, break through any gaps, and their sole purpose is to rip you to shreds. When everything goes according to plan, however, it is an immensely satisfying payoff for all that tension.
Suffice to say, every large Horde encounter is simply the highlight of Days Gone, even late in the game with all your upgrades.
Humans like the Freaker-worshipping Rippers and Marauders are also ever-present dangers, setting up ambushes not just for you, but for the survivors of this harsh world. While they are more manageable than the Freakers, they are still forces to be reckoned with.
While the general gist of Days Gone’s plot has Deacon chasing down the ghost of his wife, Sarah, the broader themes of hope, the tenacity of the human spirit, and the value of relationships are reflected clearly in the game’s DNA.
When you first meet Deacon, it is easy to write him off as just another vengeful character who is full of rage.
The many interactions he has with the many characters he meets in the world does him no favours.
But the layers peel off eventually, and he easily becomes a character with nuance and depth, thanks to the talents of actor Sam Witwer, who plays Deacon St. John.
His rage, struggles, and triumphs become the player’s own, and in a world like Days Gone, it is easy to understand why he is the way he is, and more worryingly, relatable.
The rest of the cast put in memorable performances as well, with Boozer being a close second as a standout. Iron Mike, Tucker, Rikki, and more will live long in the memories.
There is simply too much to love and hate about these characters, and that only makes them feel as real as the people around you. Kudos to Bend also, for creating a particular villain that is so easily hateable that makes you root for Deacon even more.
You will carry out errands, make camps safer, and switch loyalties like the Drifter you are, but the ultimate motivation remains making the world you live in just a little safer.
Wonderful gameplay and engaging characters are punctuated by a soundtrack that fits perfectly with the mood and setting of the game.
Nathan Whitehead’s soundtrack is melancholic and reminiscent of bleakness, and there is a growing trend of inserting musical interludes. Red Dead Redemption 2 had it and Days Gone’s are flawlessly timed, sets the mood perfectly, and should give players plenty of feels
The sound design surrounds you with the calls of nature and the cries of terror, constantly keeping you on edge as you fire off each resounding round.
The lighting in Days Gone functions adequately, although you may have to do some tweaking to bring out the best considering the many dark areas in the game.
However, Days Gone is not without some issues. Pathfinding of the enemies could do with some tweaking, while the enemy AI can go missing sometimes, resulting in enemies not taking cover. Stuttering and framerate drops happen occasionally, and textures can take some time to load in, or not load at all.
The pacing of the story also fails to keep up with player agency, often referencing events that have already been completed. It is weird to learn about the Hordes in terms of story when you have already encountered them outside in the world.
As mentioned above, side missions are repetitive, but at least the main story missions are some of the best fun you can have in an action-adventure. There are also plenty of loading screens, sometimes even between cut scenes, so prepare yourself.
Putting these issues aside, Bend Studio’s Days Gone has put together a world that stands on its own, held up by amazingly realised characters, and an engaging gameplay loop that will keep you on your toes and constantly thinking. Get in on well-acted character drama, and stay for the freakishly good gameplay.
While the worry has been that PlayStation’s exclusives will eventually run out of steam, Days Gone carries on the seemingly unstoppable trend of awesome games only playable on Sony’s consoles.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Days Gone creates a world that wants to eat you alive, and you will gladly stay and be back for seconds despite the problems.
Gameplay - 8.5/10
Story - 8/10
Presentation - 8/10
Value - 8/10