|Dev: Bend Studio|
|Release: April 26, 2019|
|Players: 1 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language|
by Jenni Lada
Many games explore the apocalypse, and there are plenty of titles deal with zombie infestations. Days Gone, at first glance, is another one of these titles that explores the space where those two elements intersect. We have a major apocalypse and Freakers, zombie-like versions of humans, shaping the world around us. What sets it apart is how these situations are handled. Freakers can easily appear in major swarms that can quickly overwhelm, and the human side of things shows the good and bad sides of people that can come to light in desperate situations. The result is an adventure that has more depth than people may expect.
If you're an ordinary person, you don't get any sort of explanation when the world ends. Your life is just upended and you are expected to do what you can to get by. That certainly seems to be what Deacon St. John went through. Days Gone begins when everything was at its worst. Freakers, the game's term for zombies, took over. He was on a roof with his wife and best friend, trying to get a helicopter for a rescue group called NERO to allow them to evacuate with them. While there was room for two, Deacon knew his best friend, Boozer, wouldn't survive if left alone. So, his gravely injured wife, Sarah, was taken onboard the chopper and he stayed behind.
Oddly enough, it seems like the decision may have worked out for the best. Both Deacon and Boozer survived the night, though it is unclear what has happened to Sarah. The two are now drifters who ride their motorcycles across the Pacific Northwest and attempt to get by as best they can. After events of the story convince them they should head north, coincidentally in the direction Sarah was taken years before, we get to see what life is like for most survivors after the end, help Deacon continue to get by, and maybe make some sense of everything that is going on.
Days Gone is an odd sort of survival game. Someone might look at the tattooed, leather-clad biker of a protagonist and his rough ways, then assume this is a shoot first, ask questions later kind of title. Appearances can be deceiving. This is actually a more thoughtful title. You have to be aware of your surroundings. Look at the HUD to see how much noise Deacon is making and if anyone around you is aware of your presence. You might need to track animals, people, or enemies that might have been nearby. Do you use a more lethal and accurate gun to attack a Freaker or use the quieter, more finicky bow? How often do you track things or mark enemies with your binoculars? You need to learn about priorities. Do you use your crafting materials to create as many Molotov Cocktails as possible right away? Or do you want to wait a bit longer, in case you get a new crafting recipe that could alter your melee weapons?
There is a sense of finesse here. Fortunately, Days Gone is an incredibly substantial game that allows people opportunities to explore every option. Story missions abound, with some taking place at the same time as others to add a sense of realism and allow you to see if they intertwine. Side missions, involving clearing things like Freaker infestations, allow you to practice tactics you may later employ in more critical missions. It is helpful. Especially when these instances take place during a rainstorm or snowstorm, as the weather influences character awareness.
A downside is, some of these quests can feel like busywork. Deacon will often find himself running errands. Think of clearing out an Ambush Camp or Freaker infestation as the Days Gone equivalent of running to the store to pick up toilet paper. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it is designed to intentionally pad out an otherwise short story. More that this is a world where these situations are commonplace, and the game makes sure you know that.
You are also constantly upgrading things in Days Gone, suggesting that not only is the player becoming better at the game, but Deacon is becoming more adept at surviving. This can help with dealing with quest fatigue, since at least you are seeing results. Performing actions will give you experience, which can be used to level up various fighting and survival skills. (Grabbing one that lets Deacon reload while sprinting is a godsend.) Performing story missions and side quests for encampments makes them trust you more, which increases the number of actions that can be performed there. A convenient plot point means Deacon ends up with a more rudimentary bike, which can be upgraded after building up trust with camps and spending money on new parts. Additional recipes for different weapons and items are found. You're always making a difference.
The AI in Days Gone helps keep things interesting. There is a sense of awareness in the game that inspires real caution. The Freakers are alert, agile, and will easily build up into a massive swarm if you do not tackle them quickly and efficiently. Given the weather in and around the area and the day-night cycles, we get to see how conditions affect their responsiveness. Meanwhile, infected animals can prove to be far more deadly. While crouching in the brush, out of sight might keep Freakers and humans from noticing you, that will not fool wolves. Which can mean a pack of them could attack Deacon, causing you to make noise when fighting them off, alerting Freakers to your location, and eventually causing a swarm of at last six of them to race in your direction.
This also means that dealing with missions that involve clearing out infestations or NERO stations can be exceptionally harrowing. Freakers in Days Gone aren't like zombies in other games. In Metal Gear Survive, putting up some walls can save you. In Resident Evil 2, you could board up windows or make a mad dash for a safe room. There are no safe spaces in Days Gone. The Freakers will not be deterred when chasing their prey. If Deacon enters a building, they'll follow. If he ducks under fences or goes under a truck, they will eventually go over. If you think you've gotten away from them on one side, you might find them flanking you. It is very easy for a sense of desperation to set in.
It is that ambiance that permeates every part of Days Gone and makes things feel genuinely threatening. There can be multiple storylines intertwining. Every encampment or major character is going through something. Very early on, the game establishes that no one is safe, as a major character is badly injured. Worse, when that person is hurt, the events take place in a way where it can feel like it is partially Deacon's fault. Days Gone never comes out and says it, but Deacon's facial reactions and responses to the situation show that he is feeling the pressure and responsibility, evoking far more emotion than a more overt assertion that hey, maybe what happened is partially your fault.
Consequences are a big deal, and the fact that Days Gone doesn't really force certain approaches for missions helps you feel that. You have plenty of options for addressing situations. Deacon could be stealthy and attempt to clear out a Freaker infestation by picking them off one-by-one. You could try to wipe out an Ambush Camp by attracting a pack of Freakers, then heading into it so the zombies could defeat the human enemies inside. You could visit a location on foot, to draw less attention to yourself, or go driving in on your bike, knowing that the sound will absolutely attract opponents. Even when story missions aren't showing you how clearing out Freakers and doing good will built up trust with camps or advance the plot, the way missions play out let you see the positive (and negative) responses to different approaches.
Aside from the repetition, there's only one other thing people need to be aware of. Days Gone feels like a game that needs a PlayStation 4 Pro. The standard model can handle it, but ahead of patches, there were some crashing and texture issues. Things seem better following the release of patch 1.03, with textures loading better, tattoos appearing a little more clearly, and only one crash occurring since it was applied. As long as people keep up with patches, everything should be fine, but people should be aware that without the patches, there will be problems on a basic PlayStation 4.
Days Gone is a more thoughtful zombie game that offers people multiple approaches to solve problems. It shows us a world where the Freakers are dangerous enemies with a mob mentality and enough stamina to chase Deacon down. It lets us see heartfelt situations where people are pushed to extremes and do all they can to get by. It shows us someone who has strong bonds with the people who are close to them, but knows it is very likely that people will be gravely injured or maybe even die. There is a lot to Days Gone, and it is a larger game than people might expect.