Here we are, the release of another PlayStation exclusive. Will it be able to stand up to its colossal brethren or will Days Gone finally be a miss for Sony? Find out in our in-depth game review.
|Release Date||April 26, 2019|
|Genre||Action Adventure/Open-world Survival|
|Platforms||PS4 (Reviewed), PS4 Pro|
|Developer||Sony Bend Studio|
*A copy of this game was provided to FYIG by Sony Interactive Entertainment for review purposes*
*This is a spoiler-free review – meaning I will not be discussing any large reveals/story events. The screenshots in use and story elements discussed in this review reflect an early knowledge available to the player*
*This game was reviewed on the base PS4 console. Everything stated in this review pertaining to performance and graphical fidelity should be noted to only be referring to this version*
Finding a sawblade I just might later attach to my new baseball bat, I wrap up my looting of the local abandoned town, keeping an eye out for a group of raiders or meandering Freaker hoard – so far, nothing. On my way out I find a strange body that looks like it could lead to something more interesting, so I begin to pick up on the track of what happened. As it leads me up onto the heavily forested hill next to the town, I quickly find myself in a small clearing with a large tree overlooking the land. The trail of clues leads into the bushes at the base of this large tree. Being overzealous for the loot that I knew awaited me, I jumped into the bushes, only to find myself hanging in a tree by my ankle, snared in a trap. Before I can comprehend my foolish error, I’m was struck in the back of the head with a broken table leg and everything faded to black. I come to on the dirt floor of a rickety shack being used as a cell, all of my weapons and tools stripped from me… but they forgot to check for my boot for my hidden blade. I stick the blade in the door as I prepare my revenge. But nothing could have prepared them.
These are the type of the unscripted self-made stories that pack your time within the wild and dense world of Days Gone.
Days Gone is the latest PlayStation exclusive brought to the world by Bend Studio, the creators of the bygone Syphon Filter series and PSP and PSVita hits such as Uncharted Golden Abyss. But with this as their first mainline console outing in quite some time, it beckons the question of if they are destined to fail like famed portable gaming studio Ready at Dawn did with their first console outing with the Order 1886.
Days Gone is an open-world survival game with a heavy leaning towards cinematic storytelling. The player assumes control of Deacon, a rebel spirit from a local biker gang in rural Oregon, who finds himself separated from his lover during a biological crisis that turns people into zombie-like creatures that have come to be lovingly known as “Freakers”. After a few years of surviving and living life as a bounty hunter in the new tattered world, Deacon now carries on his life with his friend while struggling to let go of the grief felt over losing his wife. This is where our adventure with Deacon truly begins. Players fill these shoes by taking bounties, taking out enemy camps, Freaker nests, and ultimately find themselves caught up in something much bigger (but mostly just upgrading their sweet set of wheels).
Days Gone was initially a very off-putting experience for me. I booted up the game and was immediately greeted with a hop between segmented cutscenes, load screens, and extended tutorials, leaving me with a pit in my stomach for what I was about to endure. However, as Days Gone unhooked my leash, the world began to unfold and pretty much never stopped up until the end of my 60-hour experience.
“A WORLD OF SPLENDOR WITH UNEVEN GROUND”
GRAPHICS & STORY
One thing this game has in spades is world building and detail. I have played hundreds of games in my life but I have never come across environmental design quite like this. The rolling hills, the dense forests, fluctuating weather and beautiful sunsets that both alter the behavior of the creatures. These creatures also act independently. It isn’t rare to find a bear mauling a pack of Freakers or a pack of Freakers hunting dear, making the world feel living and breathing. The graphical finesse and writing of this world are so intertwined that they serve a similar experience. Where graphical fidelity is concerned there’s nothing quite as stunning as watching the bullet you fire quickly travel and light a dark tunnel or looking over the nearly endless rolling lush forests (seriously the draw distance for a console game is unparalleled). I come from the Pacific Northwest (where this all takes place) and the accuracy of it all is stunning. It makes me miss home. Freakers, the seemingly simple zombie clones, get fleshed out with science background information. Rippers, Days Gone’s seemingly knock-off Mad Max (or Borderlands) crazy cult, are given depth with a unique motivation in the form of envy of the Freakers themselves. Eventually, everything is given its place in Days Gone’s world, and that is particularly needed in a game trying to carve out its place in the well-trodden territory such as another zombie shooter.
The comparisons will unfairly (for any game really) and inevitably arise between Days Gone and the Last of Us. The Last of Us is so touted and worked as well as it did due to its focus. It is the story of a man trying to get a little girl to a designated place and the relationship between them. Days Gone revolves around the mess of surviving and what that does to the human experience. As encompassing and interesting as that premise and its execution are, it is also unfortunate a sacrifice. The game’s pacing takes several hits, some due to the structure of its story and some due to the vehicle in which they’re telling it. For example, you may reach points in the story where you just wonder what’s next, and not in the anticipation way you would normally do while experiencing a story heavy game. But also for its delivery, it’s not uncommon to watch a cutscene, walk down the street and have to watch another cut scene. I do love the cutscenes, but with the useless walking between them and the loading screens for both – it’s just a lot of wasted time.
That isn’t to say that this almost nomadic storytelling doesn’t have extreme moments of resonance with the chaotic human experience. The idea of going with things to see where they take you and the broad focus of trying to know more while staying alive is hit home with some, at times, profound writing and deft skill that makes it something unique and ambitious to take in. There is also something to be said for Days Gone strive for diversity in all personalities, genders, and ethnicities – it’s not uncommon to see just as many women in the ranks of bad and good as men. This extra little step in the gaming industry spoke volumes to me as far as integrity and service to its story of all humanity. Complex characters must deal with the hell around them of this fleshed out world. The beauty of this game’s writing is not captured within its main plot but within its world… and what a wonderful world it is.
PUNCHY! (AND ALSO SLASHY AND SHOOTY)
The main gameplay loop of Days Gone goes something like this:
- Get mission – story or optional
- Ride your motorcycle to the location – enduring the troubles along the way as well as repairs and gas management
- Perform mission – usually in the form of taking enemies out, sneaking, or finding an important object
- Upgrade and restock – skill trees, guns, and bike
- Rinse and repeat – with some change-ups
When broken down like this you miss out on how truly consuming this cycle is (no pun intended). Particularly the riding your bike through the detailed world, drifting while shooting down shortcut trails and abandoned cars on streets. There hasn’t been something in a game that I have enjoyed quite as much as riding Deacon’s bike slip-sliding around in the rain and the snow. Through just enough customization and improvements to be made, the game compels a sort-of kinship between you and the bike, appealing to the sentiments of the Deacon’s biker lifestyle.
The stealth within this game is deceptively bare-bones but natural enough in its implementation that it becomes second nature, with only the rare feeling of unfairness of enemy spotting. The world is scattered with natural-looking tall grass to hide in as well as the occasional dumpster. This combined with the ability to craft traps and other valuable equipment make the stealth and planning feel challenging and rewarding. But of course, there is also guns-blazing.
The shooting feels powerful and crunchy to the extent that you’d be hard-pressed not to wince at the feeling of pulling the trigger and seeing the effects. Guns, while staying grounded, each feel completely unique in how they perform in the battlefield against Freakers or humans. Humans are handled as you would come to expect from a modern videogame, but it is great to see variety in their armor, combat abilities, and tactics from person to person. Freakers, on the other hand, act as a very unique enemy in gaming due to their numbers, speed, and resilience. Most of your encounters with Freakers turn into an alternation of either skilled shooting as they run towards you or a dodging scramble away filled with last-second Molotov throws and quick shots while running backward. This is made all the more fun, easier, and cinematic due to a focus meter that acts as bullet time. During these shootouts, it is paramount to keep on eye on your stamina that allows you to sprint and roll away from danger. The true final form of this premise takes the form of the Hordes. Hordes, being one of the most unique features of the game, are a mob of staggering proportions (usually around a couple hundred to several hundred) that put the player to the test in almost all aspects: Reflexes, shooting, dodging, planning. Hordes will also lose numbers if picked off and taken on later, creating a feeling of a cohesive world. The first time coming across a horde (and frankly the last time) makes your blood pump that enemies can rarely do in a game.
Progression essentially takes the form of three systems, the first of which is three base stats: Health, Stamina, and Focus – these are leveled up by clearing this game’s version of safe-houses. The second is a skill tree focusing on Melee, Ranged, and Survival – this is filled out by gaining experience through killing. The third is the progression of your gear, being weapons, consumables, and bike improvements – these are obtained by obtaining trust and credits to different camps through sending survivors to their camp and performing side-missions for them. This system is all the more interesting by each camp offering a different supply of weapons, bike parts, and even bike paint, adding an interesting progression in and of itself. Days Gone also does a fascinating progression shift of the actual game itself – starting the game as a hardcore survival loop to ending it feeling like all-out hero as you are successfully equipped to then take on hordes (don’t worry, the hordes never truly become easy). It’s a gradual shift that fundamentally changes how the game and the player themselves feel.
When the game hits its highs, they’re like mountains – creating some of my personal highlights in gaming within the past couple of years. Unfortunately, there are also valleys. For every exhilarating horde chase through a town I jerry-rigged with traps, there is an instant fail stealth sequence. As far as instant fail stealth goes it’s truly well done and wasn’t that bad, but the truth is it just simply is not as fun or engaging as what the player could be doing. But as stated before the ambition of this game lets this title soar when it truly hits its sweet spot, easily outshining the bad.
*BOOM* *SCREECH* *SKRRRT*
The audio hit a level of excellence I have rarely seen in games. Footsteps and screeches heard last second have saved my life many times as I dodge through the dark, but where the audio truly shines is in its weapons and its motorcycles. There isn’t a single weapon that doesn’t sound powerful and dangerous, capturing the true sound of guns like I haven’t heard before. The motorcycle (or Hog *in-the-know wink*) similarly feels like a beast through the sound and feel of the rumbles and roars of the engine alone, thus helping inspire this respect and kinship between Deacon and his bike. Yet despite these groundbreaking improvements to gaming sound, every once in a while there is a sound effect that harkens back to the PS2 era, such as the level up and mission sounds, though these come off as much more endearing rather than detracting.
While not hitting the same heights of excellence as its sound effect audio, a similar amount of craft is applied to Days Gone’s other audio fields. The scoring and soundtrack is a mix of dramatic orchestral arrangements mixed with experimental acoustic sounds that echo the game’s Pacific North West setting, with really only one odd-track out it all that felt ill-suited. The game also tried the risky and rare full-voiced tracks that play as you traverse the game world in key sections – this decision absolutely pays off by giving the player a somber road-trip like spirit as they trek the land. Despite Deacon always sounding confusingly out-of-breath, the voice cast is similarly suited with emotional weight and some killer lines of dialogue within the game’s second half. Each actor seems to fit their roles well, with the main issue being slip-ups dealt with in editing and context. That being said, with the number of lines and melodrama in the script each actor commits and for the most part hits it out of the park – particular props to Nisha Munshi as Rikki, who steals every scene she’s in by bringing a subtle yet strong vulnerability adding weight to each of her lines.
“GREATER THAN THE MESS OF ITS PARTS”
TECHNICAL PERFORMANCE & VALUE
Days Gone’s largest hiccups come down to its performance. Though Sony is notoriously known for coming through and fixing issues with performance, Days Gone was on another level for an original title. Between textures that permanently fail to load in, cutscenes that lose syncing with the audio (this is a rough one when trying to be emotionally involved), and the most common being Days Gone’s framerate issues. While traversing the world on your bike, which is most of the time, the game has a habit to turn into a fun flipbook; but a fun flipbook doesn’t make a fun game. Other than common performance issues such as framerate dips, there is still some underlying jankiness in some of Days Gone’s systems, such as its flow of cutscenes and smoothness of animations.
Luckily, some of this will likely be quickly resolved with patches and go unseen by many players who pick this game up in its early days, making it hardly the issue it would normally be. Though it needs to be stated that Days Gone could have used more time in the oven, and also falls victim to its own ambition at some points.
Although these issues that plague Days Gone are more than just small blemishes; Days Gone, in my opinion, is still an experience that is begging to be played. Through taking some aspects of gaming, like environmental design, to heights that have never been seen before, Days Gone is able to justify its rough edges and just might be enough to propel a smaller game developer into stardom.
Even though I have already logged around 60 hours and completed the main storyline, there is still plenty more things for me to discover and Hordes to kill. I can’t wait to sink my teeth back in. To me, that speaks volumes about this game’s value.
But what do you think? Do you think that ambitious ideas and exemplary aspects negate the jankiness and flaws of a game as much as I do? Do you think a heavy length can sometimes be a bad thing? Are you excited for Days Gone? Let me know what you think in the comments below.
|Impactful Audio Design||Clunky Beginning|
|Unparalleled Environments||Pacing Issues|
|Addicting Gameplay Loop||Jankiness|