Developed By: SIE Bend Studio
Published By: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Reviewed On: PS4PRO
*Disclaimer – Review was updated with additional info and final thoughts on 26/4/2019
Days Gone is developed by Bend Studio who is best known as the studio that developed the Syphon Filter franchise. In recent years though Bend Studio has been developing primarily for the PSP (Syphon Filter and Resistance) as well as for the PlayStation Vita (Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Uncharted: Fight for Fortune). Days Gone would mark the studio’s first console game since 2004 and has been in development for the past six years and in full production for the past four.
Days Gone starts with our titular character Deacon St. John, his wife Sarah and his best friend Boozer caught in the middle of a chaotic situation in Farewell, Oregon desperately trying to escape. Sarah is critically wounded as they managed to find a chopper evacuating people from the town and she escapes. Deacon and Boozer were left behind in the hope that they will reunite once again.
Our story starts roughly two years after the infection broke out and our hero Deacon and Boozer are Drifters who move from camp to camp doing runs to earn their keep. The world has changed, Freakers (basically zombies) roam the streets and the few that are left establish camps to try and survive.
The first few hours of Days Gone was rough. I mean there is a certain expectation that comes from playing a game produced from a Sony first party studio due to how they have been knocking it out of the park again and again without missing a beat. But this game did not give me that impression at all. It started out slow, awkward, and shy, kind of like the new kid at school who didn’t know where his place was and how he would fit in this new environment. I will admit I already had a score in my mind and that this game would be the first game that came from a first party studio to disappoint this generation.
Something weird happened though. I realized that I could not stop playing and not because I wanted to get this review done. I could not stop playing because just like when you give that awkward, shy weird kid a chance, you realize that he is an amazing person. The story in this game started out typical and rough but it did something that only the best games are remembered by, it gave you amazing well-rounded characters for you to be invested in and care about. Deacon St. John is one of the best characters in a video game period. There is so much subtle nuance to his performance that provides so much layer to who he is as a character. It gives so much weight to the person he is in the game and the motivation behind the choices he makes. I dare say that aside from the NPC’s there is not one wasted character in this game at all. They are there for exactly how long they need to be and linger long afterwards in your thoughts. Take for example Boozer the best friend and the other last surviving member of the Mongrels motorcycle club. I was honestly surprised by the amount of depth they gave to his character and the relationship he has with Deacon. Although at times (very rare occasions) the writing does leave something to be desired, the story hints that it could be almost on par with another post-apocalyptic game with zombies starring a man and a girl. I didn’t want to delve too much into the story, but I feel I must in the next section which will contain spoilers so beware readers.
(START OF STORY SPOILERS) This section contains spoilers due to the need I have to talk about the story. Earlier on I mentioned that there are no wasted characters and up to a point that is true. The game is filled with great characters but over time I started to notice that the story kept hinting like it was going to go towards interesting directions and then just not really doing anything with it. I really like how the game story weaves characters in and out and the most notable one for me is the character Lisa and the traumatic experience she goes through the game. It truly is tragic what happened to her when the virus started spreading and what continues to befall her when Deacon meets up with her. Going from a lost lonely girl to being one of the Rippers was just heart-breaking to see for me at least. Her story arc then ends, until after the post-game where you will get a small cutscene showing her coming to Lost Lake for a supply run. That was a great side mission arc for me. Unfortunately, it felt like the most impactful one. There were times that the game implied that Tucker (in charge at the Hot Springs camp) is basically running a slave labour camp but then after hinting it nothing happened. It really felt like they were trying to set something up but as quickly as it was implied it was just dropped. When I finally finished the entire campaign then I realized there were serious pacing problems where some parts needed more context to connect with me as the player. It’s like I really could see what they were trying to go for, but it just doesn’t come off very well at all.
I liked that when Deacon finally reconnects with Sarah, they were awkward as the years have not been kind to either, but they came together and had their happy ending. That’s great and all considering what Deacon had to go through, but I felt that once you had access to the Southern part of the map and the Militia the story kind of loses its direction until it just ends incredibly safe. I wouldn’t say I was disappointed with the story as I really could see what they were trying to achieve. I just feel that if you are going to go to places like having zombie kids and teenagers being subjected to torture in your game you would think to push the storytelling, especially in the final act much further. The final confrontation with Skizzo and the Colonel ended so anticlimactically. Compared to what came before with Carlos it was just so weak. It’s a shame because Skizzo’s comeback was such a well-done twist in the story and then is just completely wasted. Also, you could see a mile away from where the Colonel and his motivations were going to end up but his whole character turn was done so poorly where his partner (vaguely hinted at once again) was murdered off screen which sparks the downward spiral. He then becomes a non-entity in the ending by poisoning himself in a cutscene and then the game ends after a couple more revelations. I didn’t hate it, but I felt like it relegated me as the player to just a passenger instead of invested in the story arc Deacon was supposed to be going through. (END OF STORY SPOILERS)
The game is incredibly deceiving. It presents a very bleak atmosphere but by god is this game gorgeous. Playing it on a 4K TV with HDR turned on is a godsend. There were just countless times where I just stopped and kept taking pictures with the included Photo Mode (go here to see all the amazing photos we took) because time and time again the game would outdo itself. The image quality is just so crisp at all times and HDR is so hard to do right (The Division 2’s HDR gave me a headache no matter how much I tweaked it) but this game does it so effin’ good. Utilizing the Unreal Engine 4, the character models themselves are very detailed and adds so much to their personality. The environments are varied from lush jungles to deadly deserts are all so beautifully created and I haven’t even gotten started on the weather effects yet. Truly one of the best weather effects in a game I have witnessed yet.
Presentation & Gameplay
Part of the reason why the game felt quite rough for me, in the beginning, was that it didn’t feel very fun to play. The shooting took some time to get used to and felt very floaty. It was hard to get a headshot, so I just gave up trying. But then you also waste a lot of bullets landing body shots because those damn Freakers man they keep on coming. Driving the motorcycle was the same as it felt too heavy at times then felt too light at times. Good news though as the further you go into the game you will earn skill points that you can utilize to activate perks in the three tiers which are Melee, Range, and Survival. Melee focuses primarily on Melee attacks and gives you options such as being able to fix your melee weapons (2X4s, Baseball Bats) before they break and give you a higher chance of performing a critical melee attack. The Range Tree focuses on range weapons (Crossbows, Pistols, Rifles) that you can augment by levelling up perks such as being able to retrieve your crossbow bolts or even healing when you land a headshot. Just a hot tip, use your first point to unlock the Focus Ability in the Range tree as it will allow you to slow down time to line up those headshots. If you don’t unlock it, you will never use it. Lastly, the Survival tree gives you perks such as decreasing stamina cooldown or increasing the range of your Survival Vision.
The game will also throw several different enemy types at you to deal with. The first ones you will meet are the Freakers (standard zombie), Newts (kid zombies) Swarmers (zombies in groups). Now if you have watched 28 Days Later, the enemies in this game will act exactly like those where they are incredibly fast and agile. I was quite surprised that they included Newts in the game. I don’t know if it will be a controversial inclusion, but I am glad that it is included. It is very disturbing to be killing Newts as they are essentially kids who have been transformed into zombies and it adds to the realism that the game is trying to achieve.
I found the User Interface (UI) to be very clean and easy to navigate as well. I like how they used the touchpad for players to navigate between the world map, skills, story threads, collectibles, etc. its easy to use by just swiping left, right, upwards or downwards. However, I don’t understand why the framerate is unlocked in the menu screen that causes the PS4 to prepare for hyperdrive speed.
Now there are a couple of things with the game that underwhelmed. There are a couple of bugs and sometimes these bugs are quite annoying. I started out playing the game with version 1.02 and up to literally today it has been updated to 1.04. The newest patch did not do much for me as I notice the frame drops in certain areas still happen way too frequently and now it introduced a new one where just before a radio transmission or cutscene plays the screen would freeze for a split second. The dynamic world that was promised sometimes does not work as it should, but I’ll admit it happened early in the game and hasn’t happened since. The enemies sometimes ignore each other and focus on the player so it gets annoying. If you try to clear out an enemy camp and somehow die during the attempt when you try again the enemy will have Deja-Vu like moments whereby when you approach them stealthily again they will suddenly know you are behind them even though the first time around it went without a hitch. Some missions will also bug out if you don’t complete them in the exact sequence that you are meant to play through. One of the missions I am talking about is the mission Gone Fishin’ where I was meant to find a body then open a door to release the hostage. Somehow, I was able to release the hostage first then the game bugged out and didn’t give me EXP for completing that mission and the next one. Luckily, I had an earlier autosaved and went through the sequence properly and didn’t duplicate the bug. Sometimes characters will also talk like you haven’t been to a specific location even though you have been there multiple times with them. Characters will interact with you as if it is the first time they are meeting you. There was a sequence where during a stealth sequence a guard was literally looking at my friendly NPC character and just turned around and walked away like it was nothing but when he saw me I failed the mission. I do hope that these bugs are eventually ironed out as everything else in the game is fun to play with.
Speaking of the dynamic world, the random activities that pop up on your minimap are also not great. In this era where The Witcher 3 and Red Dead Redemption 2 exists, random events are judged on a whole other level. The random events that happen here are usually consisting of just tracking some people who will ambush you or you will ambush them to release a hostage and it is just as shallow as it seems. The A.I as well is nothing to shout about as most of the time they don’t put up much of a fight even though I played the entire game on hard mode (it just disables aim assist making shooting much more difficult). It’s always funny to see a flamethrower enemy trying to burn you from 20 feet away with the flames not even close to you.
What I Loved
- Graphics – Seriously, play this on the best screen you can. This game is a visual treat.
- Music and Audio Design – I really love the soundtrack used for this game as it is incredibly atmospheric and beautiful. The audio design as well is top notch as even while you stab a Freaker through the throat you can hear the gurgling sound of blood. Guns sound great and using the Melee Weapons are satisfying.
- Characters – Deacon is going to be another mascot for the PlayStation brand. The supporting cast is amazing as well, Boozer, Rikki, Iron Mike, Sarah, Skizzo, Carlos, all amazingly well rounded.
- The Busywork – It never feels like it is just busywork. Everything flows great and you are never funnelled into doing an activity you don’t like.
- Logs – I love that the audio logs play through the controller. It really immerses the player into the game further.
- Hordes – It’s bloody stressful dealing with Hordes but once you are fully equipped it really is fun.
What I Wished Was Better
- Meaty Campaign – The liked that it was long, but I really wish they took more risks with where they wanted the story to go to really set itself apart from the oversaturated zombie market, but they played it too safe.
- Side Missions – it’s just too shallow and ultimately pointless.
- Driving and Shooting – It got better but still feels far from perfect.
- Pacing – I think one of the biggest problems for this game is how the pacing seems to be all over the place at times. As I mentioned earlier the awkward dialogue pauses, characters misremembering you or locations and even the mission prompts. I really can see what they were trying to do but compared to what we have been exposed to on a great storytelling level it can come off looking very amateurish.
What I Disliked
- Mostly just the bugs – Honestly, there isn’t anything major about the game that I actively hate. It’s just the bugs that happen can sometimes be mostly annoying but sometimes hilarious as well. The performance issues that plague certain areas as well can really put a dent in player excitement. I still don’t understand why dealing with a hundred zombies does not produce a frame drop yet in the camp the frame rate will suddenly stutter for whatever reason. They had a couple of patches to iron the issues but some of them are still there.
The initial score I gave this game was an 80/100 but I’m lowering it down by just five points. Since finishing the long campaign and finally having time to digest properly the experience of the game, I do think that this game has the potential to be a franchise starter but unfortunately, there are issues from a storytelling standpoint as well as performance issues that are yet to be fixed. As fantastic as the motion capture performances in this game are it’s strange how I love the characters yet wish the pay off to the story was just so much better than what I got. It may not hit the highs of the other Sony first party titles that have captured the attention of millions of fans around the world but it is still an admirable effort from Bend Studio. I really do enjoy riding around this world that they have created slowly picking off Hordes to work toward my Platinum Trophy (should be an easy one). I do hope though that if the sequel comes around, they trust themselves more to push the envelope further than it has been before in this genre.