Days Gone review: Life in the fast lane

Sony /

Days Gone strives to combine large-scale combat against hordes of feral humans with a deeply personal story of survival at any cost in a devastated world.

Title: Days Gone
Developer: Bend Studio
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PS4
Release Date: April 26, 2019

Continuing Sony’s recent investment in single-player, open-world games on the PlayStation 4, Bend Studio takes their home state of Oregon and lovingly interprets it as a land ravaged by a deadly virus outbreak. Juxtaposing the tranquility of nature and blood-curdling screams, Days Gone creates a peculiar sense of claustrophobia as it pits the player against hundreds of people turned flesh eating monsters all at once.

About two years after the world was torn apart by what are now know as freakers, Deacon St. John and his brother in arms Boozer, still clinging to the abandon of their past lives as bikers, survive by collecting bounties put out by settlements and refugee camps, each with their own distinct feel and equally eccentric leader.

Days Gone has trouble making a strong first impression, with a significant portion of the early part of the game marred by characters that are difficult to empathize with due to limited motivations. Additionally, some critical cinematic moments too often feel less like cohesive scenes and more like a series of successive moments strung together, undermining their emotional resonance.

But as the scope expands, the game provides opportunities to focus on the personal struggles of people who have accepted their fate in this new, broken world in which they live. Helping someone find a place to belong after years of being on their own or something to live for rather than just surviving, genuinely provide thoughtful character moments that big-picture, zombie-like tropes are nearly incapable of.

Through enough of these smaller character interactions and a genuinely earnest performance from Sam Witwer as Deacon, Days Gone is eventually able to earn some of the bigger story beats and payoffs that it builds to.

That’s not to say that it solves all of its story and presentation problems, especially since some key moments still don’t receive the appropriate amount of breathing room, but it does find its voice and establishes Deacon as a character worth going on a journey with.

Days Gone
Sony /

The player’s most effective tool for exploring this deadly and unforgiving version of Oregon is Deacon’s motorcycle. It allows for a quick escape in the event of being overwhelmed, yet it also attracts attention from the very things that would send you running. In practice, however, the dual nature of Deacon’s bike heavily favors the former.

That’s because, despite the setting, Days Gone is less focused on survival as a gameplay mechanic than it might at first appear. Fuel, repair parts, and healing items are all relatively easy to come by whether found, bought, or crafted. As more fast-travel points are unlocked, there becomes increasingly less incentive to expose yourself to the horrors lurking in the wilderness.

This can, unfortunately, lead to falling into a complacent rhythm and dependency on fast-travel, especially when at times it feels like missions are being drip fed in an overly linear fashion. It’s certainly a deliberate design choice in the name of accessibility, and not necessarily the wrong one, but there’s no doubt the world of Days Gone quickly loses much of its threatening nature early on.

It would have been nice if these encounters were a bit more puzzle-like, but as it is there’s still plenty of room for creativity with traps and using the environment as an advantage.

But that all goes out the window when dealing with hordes which are by far the most distinct type of engagement found in Days Gone and force players to react in ways like nothing else in the game does. Despite their size, these massive, swarming packs of freakers can very easily sneak up on and surround you.

It would have been nice if these encounters were a bit more puzzle-like, but as it is there’s still plenty of room for creativity with traps and using the environment as an advantage. In any case, even when equipped with the best gear, unloading a full clip from an LMG as the music intensifies and hundreds of freakers consume your entire peripheral vision never fails to get the heart pumping.

Although there are plenty of hordes to take out, Bend Studio smartly shows restraint in using them. Most encounters come naturally from exploration, saving them from feeling like artificial plot or mission devices. Because hordes should be avoided at all costs until later parts of the game, they’re able to carry an air of mystique and menace around them even after credits roll.

Other common activities spread across the open-world include clearing out small camps of murderous humans, restoring power to NERO research sites, burning freaker infestation nests, bounty hunts, rescuing hostages, and more.

These can become a bit repetitive, as they generally don’t evolve enough over the course of the game, but they still provide ample rewards for the time commitment and exercise combat, stealth, and driving skills sufficiently enough that there’s always some level of fulfillment to be had.

Days Gone
Sony /

Whether facing freakers or other humans, combat in Days Gone places a strong emphasis on remaining hidden. Abundant tall grass and shrubbery allow for succinct stealth takedowns that are satisfyingly brutal in a way that makes them feel like rewards in and of themselves. It can, however, be mildly frustrating at times trying to get a handle on just how perceptive the AI is to Deacon’s actions and handiwork.

With sliding and dodging in and out of cover, melee weapons for close range, and reliance on performing powerful headshots, Days Gone doesn’t reinvent third-person shooter combat. Although enemies don’t flank or coordinate as much as they should, limited ammo and supplies in both what can be carried and how much is dropped often turns otherwise simple firefights into prolonged, scrappy brawls.

But like many other design decisions with Days Gone, it trades realism for convenience in the name of keeping the player in the moment.

Switching weapons, attaching or detaching silencers, healing, and crafting essential items like Molotov cocktails all happens within a single item wheel that nearly freezes time when accessed. At first, being able to create and use something like a bandage ostensibly instantaneously seems at odds with a game themed heavily around survival.

But like many other design decisions with Days Gone, it trades realism for convenience in the name of keeping the player in the moment. So even as you’re on the run from a raging bear, or cornered by a group of outlaws, there’s always a chance to eek your way out of a tough situation through instinct and quick thinking.

Like many open-world games, Days Gone is split up between a critical path and side quests. The big difference here is how they are presented and tracked as a series of distinct “storylines” that each has their own completion percentages, usually revolving around specific characters, factions, or mission types such as clearing marauder outposts.

In the early parts of the game, these stay relatively separate from one another, but as it goes on, many missions will often intertwine and give progress to several at once. Because of this overlap, there’s a relatively blurry line between required and optional content, especially since story missions often feel mechanically similar even if they structurally are not.

One frustrating aspect of missions is that they don’t always immediately unlock, and the game often waits for you to either get out into the open-world or fast-travel away to initiate the inciting radio conversation. This regularly leads to instances of leaving camp only to have to head back immediately, diminishing the sense of place because of how obvious the game’s logic is.

Days Gone
Sony /

Besides general experience, completing missions gives two significant rewards, credits and trust, both of which are usable only at the camp that paid them out. Credits are used to restock supplies or buy things like new weapons and bike parts, while trust unlocks the ability to acquire those things over three tiers.

There are a few other ways to earn credits and trust as you naturally explore the open world as well, such as returning ears collected from defeated freakers to the camp of your choice or rescuing survivors during small events that randomly appear on the map.

As each trust milestone with a camp is passed, the requirements for the next level increase significantly, and getting to the max level is reserved for those that enjoy scouring every inch of the map. Because of this, long stretches of the game will go by without being able to upgrade your arsenal or bike, only to suddenly be presented with an opportunity to go on a spending spree with an overflowing wallet.

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  • There are thankfully other significant avenues for improving Deacon in the meantime. Killing enemies and completing missions will eventually earn skill points that can be spent on active and passive abilities that enhance things like ranged combat, melee combat, stealth, crafting, and exploration.

    For even more immediate upgrades, NERO injectors can be found which give the player the choice of more health, sprinting stamina, or focus (a slow down ability for precise aiming). Despite the measured pace, by the end of the game, all of these options work together to make the player sufficiently powerful to take on anything thrown at them.

    Unfortunately, at the time of review, Days Gone suffers from some common open-world technical issues. Enemies can get stuck on geometry, animations sometimes don’t line up, items occasionally spawn inside other objects, characters might warp around cutscenes, and so on. Nothing particularly egregious, but it occasionally struggles meeting the high level of polish set by other recent Sony exclusives.

    One example that encapsulates this is that when Deacon is conversing with a passenger on his bike, he yells to overcome the sound of the engine. But unlike Marvel’s Spider-Man which transitions between multiple voice tracks depending on if the player is moving or not, Deacon continues to shout at the top of his lungs even if you stop and turn the bike completely off.

    Playing on the PS4 Pro, the frame rate maintained the 30 FPS target surprisingly well, with only a few noticeable dips during a playthrough that took dozens of hours. A more concerning issue was an audio glitch that would mute all sounds besides voices until the game was restarted.

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    It happened three times within the first couple of hours but was not reencountered after that. There were also two hard crashes, but since the game autosaves relatively often, no significant progress was ever lost.

    8. Like the world it’s set in, <em>Days Gone</em> is a game that’s a little rough around the edges. Yet it persists, taking characters that are easy to write off and fills them with a surprising amount of heart. Even if its systems and open-world don’t always work in perfect harmony, the core gameplay loop fulfills the fantasy of surviving in a world overrun by monstrous creatures and just as horrible people.. Bend Studio. . Days Gone

    A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.