It’s hard to put into words exactly how I feel about Days Gone. The long anticipated title from Sony’s first party Bend Studio looked like the next in a long line of critically acclaimed success stories for the publisher, with their iconic mix of heartfelt storylines, engaging combat and deeply realised worlds you could get lost in for hours at a time.
Days Gone is, sadly, not one of those games, so what exactly has gone wrong here? Let’s find out.
You play as Deacon St. John. A biker turned “Drifter” in the post-apocalyptic American North-West, who’s managed to survive on his natural ability to look after him and his own before everything went south.
Deacon and his biker buddy Boozer – frequently referred to as Booze-man – make their way by doing odd jobs for various settlements and generally just keeping one step ahead of this game’s zombies, known as Freakers.
The problem with Deacon, is that the game never succeeds in making him a likeable protagonist. There is some semblance of a story about his wife, Sarah, going missing on Z-day, and Boozer getting into some bother early on, but the opening beats are told so clumsily, it feels like vast swathes of dialogue were either removed or just never properly fleshed out.
The story stilts and jutters along, told in jarring cutscenes and gameplay fragments that feel entirely out of place and shoehorned in. You ping from one story mission to the next with very little idea about why you’re doing it or why you should care.
Now, it must be said that the writing does begin to pick up deeper into the story, and it is worth sticking with it to see Deacon’s arc through to the end, especially once some more interesting supporting cast arrive to give him more depth.
At the end of the 30 hour or so storyline, I felt at best indifferent toward St. John. Not because he’s a bad dude who’s done bad things (although we’re told repeatedly he’s a bad dude who’s done bad things) but because I couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d make a good side-character in another game, but as a main character, he’s just a bit tepid.
Outside of the story, the gameplay is, at least, completely serviceable. It’s mostly focused around sneakily infiltrating a situation and taking down the handful of opponents you’ll come up against, be they living or dead, before collecting a thing and taking it back to a person.
Being stealthy is the most straightforward way of completing most of your checklists because if you do decide to go loud, things can get dicey pretty quickly, especially once Freaker hordes are introduced further into the game.
If stealth doesn’t end up working and you do have to break out those weapons, general combat is thankfully solid if, again, a little uninspired. You’ve got your normal mix of guns, breakable melee weapons you find out and about and throwables like molotovs you can craft to keep you out of bother, but you’ll rarely be backed so far into a corner that running away and trying again isn’t an option.
Everything works the way you’d expect it to with minimal fuss or fanfare. Weapon wheel? Check. Upgrade trees? Check. Lootable enemies? That’s a big check. It’s paint by numbers in the third person action adventure category that fans of the genre will feel at home with, though it’s not breaking any new boundaries.
Your main way of getting around the vast map and its various biomes is your bike. Naturally, this can be upgraded over the course of the game for better durability, speed, fuel consumption, etc.
Keeping your bike topped up with fuel and repaired with parts which are found throughout the world is always top of your agenda, because if you do run out of gas or wreck it out in the middle of nowhere, you better get walking. You can’t really do much of anything without it; including being able to fast travel, which can become quite an annoyance.
Being your main form of transport you’d think that bike controls would be polished and enjoyable, but sadly they often feel soupy and weird, even after you’ve gotten to grips with them. I found myself constantly overshooting turns and clattering into environmental hazards like trees and rocks while on my travels.
Graphically, the game looks great, if a little rough around the edges at times. Weather effects and flora and fauna all give you a sense of being submerged in the stunning North-West of America, and even more built up towns and villages rarely look recycled.
Sadly the same can’t be said for the character models. Deacon and the supporting cast all look fine, but secondary characters and other NPCs look banal and clash with the clearly lovingly crafted St. John and co.
There’s definitely fun to be had in this game if you’re into it, but if you were expecting a genre defining classic – and let’s be honest, a lot of people were – you’ll want to temper your expectations. A rare blip on the largely magnificent radar of Sony exclusives, all Days Gone had to do was tell a semi-competent story in a post-apocalyptic world and it would have been counted among the other greats.
Days Gone is a hodgepodge of sub-par story telling, decent combat and apathetic world building. While the game is by no means unplayable, it is a victim of Sony’s massive success in the market of single player, story driven games, falling short of the lofty standards these titles are usually held to.