Days Gone is Sony Bend Studio’s first opportunity to showcase their skills as game creators in some time. Bend was initially known for the Syphon Filter games on PS1, PS2, & PSP released from 1999 to 2007.
Sony Bend’s opportunity to develop console games didn’t happen for a long time because of Sony’s focus on the handheld market with the PSP and PSVita. For the developer, this included bringing their 2007 Syphon Filter games to PSP, as well as developing and releasing a Resistance game for the handheld.
The last game they sank their teeth into as a lead developer was Uncharted: Golden Abyss, released in 2012 during the PSVita’s launch. Even with that game, it wasn’t 100% theirs. Bend was playing within the rules and world that Naughty Dog had previously set up with their trilogy of games in the Uncharted series. It has been seven years since the studios have put out a game, which is an extremely long time between game development projects.
Now that all changes for Bend Studios with Days Gone, an original IP. Days Gone is also Sony Bend’s first native console game since 2007, their first open-world game, and the first game on an HD console for the studio. So a lot of accomplishment for a game even before release, particularly for a studio of fewer than 150 people.
Initially revealed at E3 2016 and later shown off at E3 2017, Days Gone is a third-person action game that seems very familiar for anyone who is a fan of zombie games. I want to use the word ‘zombie’ very loosely though, but I’ll get into that later in the review.
The game takes place in present-day Oregon, a setting very familiar to the developer as it’s their backyard where they sent up shop in Bend, Oregon. A similar circumstance of what fellow PlayStation Studio, Sucker Punch near Seattle, Washington did with Infamous Second Son when it based the game in Seattle.
Day Gone centers around Deacon St. John. He is a former enforcer of the Mongrel Motorcycle Club, an outlaw motorcycle gang based in Farewell, Oregon. Now, this is where the ‘Sons of Anarchy’ comparison comes into play, as well as a line that sounded ripped right from the show. The story starts after a virus breaks out. The virus turns millions of people and animals into uncontrollable cannibalistic monsters known as ‘freakers’ in the game. Which ultimately results in the downfall of civilization in this area of America.
The game’s story doesn’t dive that much into how widespread the outbreak is, or if it got to other parts of the world, but does suggest that areas affected – like where the game takes place – are quarantined off.
Deacon, with his wife Sarah and his best friend/fellow Mongrel Motorcycle Club member Boozer, is trying to escape the city. While escaping and trying to help a child, Sarah gets stabbed by child freaker – known as a newt in the game – and is losing lots of blood. Deacon and Boozer take her to the last NERO (National Emergency Response Organization) helicopter to take her to get treated.
For Deacon, there was only enough room on the helicopter for Sarah and him, but Boozer would be left to fend for himself. Boozer would have a better chance at making out of the city if Deacon stays behind with Boozer. He chooses to stay with him. Deacon promises Sarah while leaving her with his mongrel ring as a promise ring, they will find each other again.
After that, the game time skips to 735 days or a little over two years after that moment. Deacon and Boozer are drifters, and they have no encampment or community to call their home. The two motorcycle club members are also bounty hunters and hunt either freakers or people for encampment currency which they can spend on gas, repair or upgrades for their motorcycles and guns, ammunition, or other supplies. The story takes off from here.
During its E3 2016 showcase, Days Gone had a lot of comparisons to ‘The Last of Us‘ for the setting of the game and ‘Horizon: Zero Dawn‘ for the gameplay at the time. The first part of that comparison remains true not just for the environment but for crafting as well. Throughout the game, the player can pick up materials spread all over the game’s world and craft medical items, upgrade your combat weapon, Molotov, crossbow bolts and so much more.
While Days Gone is a ‘zombie’ game, the freakers in the games are more akin to 28 Days later kind of creatures. They are by no stretch the slow zombies you see on The Walking Dead or other zombie media. They are quite fast if you let them catch up and if there is a group of them than watch out. Freakers are more mutant monsters than zombies. That is one aspect the developer brings home as you go through the story or when you pick up audio recorders at the NERO checkpoints.
NERO checkpoints are also something to focus on. Inside the building of these checkpoints is an injector that benefits combat. When you find one, you can choose to increase either health, stamina or focus. Health is essential in any game, so upgrading is a must, especially for combat. Endurance is how long you can run, which is vital when running from hordes in the late game. Focus lets you slow down time. The more you upgrade focus, the longer you can slow down time, while strategically shooting down enemies in slow motion.
On top of the NERO checkpoint, you can discover monuments, take down hordes, marauder camps, ripper camps & so much more side activities to find in the world of Days Gone.
The gameplay comparison to Horizon is where it becomes clear that Days Gone is less like that game than people originally thought. Gameplay wise Days Gone plays more like the modern Tomb Raider games. Especially with the moment to moment gameplay along with its survivor vision & selector wheel that lets you equip weapons, health items, distractions, and all sorts of things.
It feels more aesthetic to that series. Especially, when it comes to the user interface and going from menu to menu. The gameplay feels like the Walking Dead game I’ve always wanted. I like to equip the crossbow. It makes the game feel even more like you’re playing Darryl from the Walking Dead. Notably, on top of the motorcycle, you ride to traverse the game’s world.
Speaking of motorcycles, early in the game the bike you ride in the game gets scrapped for parts. As Deacon you have to start all over again with a new motorcycle a nearby encampment provides you. Your motorcycle is a character itself. As you travel the game’s world, your bike is with you because it’s your only option to move from place to place.
Your motorcycle has more of a chopper/ dirt bike hybrid look to it. Especially compared to your scrap for parts motorcycle. That bike had more of a Harley-Davidson look. Throughout the game, you can upgrade your bike at one of three encampments.
To upgrade your bike you have to do main missions or side activity for the area around the encampment. You can update the engine, exhaust, gas tank, and so much more. Upgrading your bike in the game is a must, especially the gas tank. Having a bigger gas tank means fast travel gets less frustrating as the map gets slightly more prominent as you go through the game’s story.
Days Gone has a gas management system for the bike that ties into the fast travel system. As Deacon, you’ll find yourself filling up the gas tank a lot. Either at abandoned gas stations with unrealistically unlimited gas, your home base’s gas pump, or gas canisters scatter throughout the game’s world.
One con of the game has to do with the game’s encampment currency management. Mentioned earlier, each encampment lets you earn money. The money your character makes can only exclusively spend that money at that encampment. You can spend your money on either weapons, supplies, or bike upgrades. It’s a backwards way of thinking because if you have tons of unspent funds at one camp. Then your character is unable to use that currency at shops in other encampments.
The enemy types vary throughout game. You’ll meet standard human enemies types ranging from thieves & murderers to rippers, members of a cult that worship the freakers. Speaking of freakers, Days Gone has tons of different freaker sub-types. These freaker sub-types can range from screamers, freakers who create a scream that makes the player momentarily death while summoning five other freakers to berserkers, a strong type freaker who look jacked up on steroids and will end you in a couple of hits if you’re not prepared for it.
The controls of the game feel very familiar for players of open world games. Days Gone is not reinventing the wheel in that aspect. Early on a controls issue come up when driving your bike. Your bike doesn’t have a lot of tire traction, which makes it easy for your character to slide off the road. Over time, it becomes less of a problem later on as you upgrade your bike’s tires and as you get used to the controls. The low tire traction actually helps you get better at driving your bike when you change your tires, it’s a good training mechanic.
The game looks impressive, but it can look blurry at times. It’s an issue that comes up often as the game doesn’t run well on a launch PS4. In my playthrough of Days Gone, I restarted the game and my PS4 probably close to 50 times to make the game run well.
The characters’ performances in the game are well done. For some reason at times, Deacon St. John’s performance while talking on his bike through his radio always made himself sound like Kronk from the Emperor’s New Groove. Not a negative, but just something I noticed and I honestly found it kind of funny.
One thing on the negative side to mention is that at times in my playthrough, the audio mixing was missing at points. All I could hear is Deacon talking, and that’s it, no sound coming from my motorcycle, freakers or other enemies attacking my character. I know this issue was fixed in multiple patches. At the same time, the number of bugs and the problems they create in Days Gone are hard to ignore.
I will say that the multiple patches for Days Gone that Bend Studio’s has updated the game with has made the game better, which is great because we were worried about the game for a little while. The game went from completely unplayable to absolutely playable. Days Gone without updates and the game I’ve put well over a week into are two completely different versions of the same game. That is one aspect I very much appreciate from the team at Bend Studio. Even in panic mode there are trying to make Days Gone the best game it can be even after launch.
I don’t know why the game had so many bugs. I don’t want to try to focus on what they should have done because that’s not my know-how. Sony Bend chose to make Unreal Engine 4 the base game engine for Days Gone. I wonder if Days Gone would have benefited from being developed in Guerilla Games engine, the game engine of Horizon: Zero Dawn. That’s a ‘what if’ though so that’s a ‘neither here nor there’ situation. I hope the developers learn from this experience of developing this game.
Last year Days Gone got delayed from February to April of this year. Another delay to May, June or later might have helped the polishing of this game a bit. Either way, the criticism will only help Sony Bend on whatever their next project is, be it a new IP or a Days Gone sequel.
Days Gone doesn’t reinvent the wheel with familiar story aspects and game design but it made our top upcoming games of 2019 list and still deserves to be there. It has multiple bugs that bring down the game’s awaited greatness. At its core Days Gone is a great game, that has a whole world worth exploring be it on the open road or the story itself. Days Gone does not surpass the standard that new PS4 exclusives have set, but it doesn’t need to. The game is still an enjoyable experience that PS4 owners shouldn’t pass on playing this year.