Like many others, I put off playing Days Gone when it was released back in April 2019 since many games-media outlets declared it just another zombie game. Another boring, bland, and repetitive open world.
Whilst it’s by no means a perfect game, there’s a hidden gem inside Days Gone that I feel was missed in reviews when it launched. In light of the recent news of a Days Gone 2 pitch being rejected within Sony, it’s clear that I’m not the only one who feels this way. There’s been strong willed defending of the game as fans, like myself, hold on to the hope of a sequel for an idea that has so much left to offer. Over 100,000 people have since signed a petition to have Sony reconsider their decision. Sadly, it seems as though the mediocre critical reception of the game at launch could have set the nail into the coffin long before this point.
It’s a shame because Days Gone offers an oddly unique experience, despite its ostensibly generic zombie setting. It bolsters a well-written story charged with intrigue and emotion as Deacon St. John struggles to grapple with the possible reality that he may never see his wife again. At the beginning of the game Deacon’s wife, Sarah, is injured during the outbreak of the infestation and is evacuated on a helicopter by a mysterious organisation, leaving Deacon and his fellow biker and companion, ‘Boozer’, to fend for themselves in hopes of being reunited with Sarah.
After nearly a year of searching, Deacon begins to doubt his own path and question whether to continue the search for his wife, but the fear of giving up on something so dear is a strong one. Along this journey, Deacon encounters several other survivors, some friendly, others not so. Admittedly, the game certainly does take a few hours to really get going, and the mission structure can occasionally become repetitive towards the middle of the adventure, but the experience has a heart to it. It pulled me in with a grounded and emotional premise, and I eagerly followed the path full of relatively strong characters, story beats, and twists until the end.
The experience was only improved by the stellar performances by the voice actors and the astounding animations. Deacon, voiced by the incredibly talented Sam Witwer, was charismatic yet clearly burdened, putting up a hard exterior. The facial animations during cutscenes rivaled that of Naughty Dog’s games. The meticulous animation really conveyed Deacon’s personality, with often very subtle and detailed expressions. Deacon felt like a real person, struggling to find his place in the new world, and I was gripped by every second of it. The only time this vision fails is with some of Deacon’s dialogue in the open world, often randomly shouting and looking like a crazy person.
The quality of the narrative was one that was severely downplayed by games journalism at release, but one that should not be missed out on. Days Gone’s narrative was stellar but left plenty of room for further exploration in a sequel, especially considering the conclusion of said story. I’d love to spend more time exploring Days Gone’s world and the characters within.
The gameplay is certainly no slouch either. Days Gone is centered around third-person shooting and melee combat and exploring the game world on Deacon’s trusty motorbike.
The combat was exhilarating, particularly on harder difficulties, as you manage your stocks of ammo and resources like healing items and scrap in the struggle to stay alive. Much like in The Last of Us, scavenging for resources to use later in combat was compelling. I’d need to keep stocked on scrap to repair my melee weapon so it didn’t break mid-fight, or to repair my bike if I got caught unaware in need of a quick getaway. I would search for ammo and refill my ammo bags so that I could be prepared if I came across one of the many huge and terrifying hordes.
Resources like nails and gunpowder were important for creating a variety of bombs and tools that would make the difference between life or death later down the line. Yet many games can get the balance between survival and entertainment all wrong. Days Gone, however, found a good balance between the survival aspects of the game, such as limited resources, with good old fun. The availability of items was not too limited to discourage me from spending them until the ‘right moment’, but elusive enough so as to maintain an element of survival and decision making.
If I used my resources to craft mines and set up an elaborate trap for an oncoming horde it would better my chances of beating the overflowing herd of infected, or at least of escaping, but they could also come in handy for crafting other items that would save me later. It was this constant decision-making and exciting gameplay, packed full of a variety of weapons, equipment, and different enemy types that kept me hooked.
The prospect of improving my equipment and acquiring stronger weaponry to take on the ‘end-game’ hordes was a big drive to keep pushing forward. Seemingly endless waves of infected would spill out of buildings, crawling over each other to be the first to take a bite out of you. The feeling of pure adrenaline when coming across a horde at the start of the game, lacking the equipment to survive let alone defeat the horde, was exhilarating. Taking note of the regions they patrolled to return to later in my journey with a blaze of glory was an experience unique to Days Gone.
And zombies aren’t the only foes you’ll dance with, there are also a variety of human enemies. These human enemies offer a nice change of pace from the infected but sadly aren’t as interesting gameplay-wise. Despite there being a variety of archetypes to face you, such as melee rushers and snipers, they generally do not encourage the player to make full use of the equipment on offer. Nevertheless, they add variety to gameplay and even cause some dynamic events on your travels. I still remember the first time I was ambushed by a group of marauders supported by a sniper. Peacefully minding my own business, I drove out on the open road following my marker when suddenly a laser painted my chest red and launched me from my bike as the rest of the group charged while I was vulnerable.
And I couldn’t talk about Days Gone without mentioning the excellent motorbike. Over the course of your journey it becomes its own character in many ways, as you customise it to fit your style and improve its parts to help you explore the dense world and escape hordes of infected. Through clever game design, such as the inability to magically call your bike to your current position, limited fuel, and the vulnerability of being caught on foot. I’d feel uneasy if I was exploring without my bike at hand, for I knew that if I needed to escape, I’d need my bike.
Every encounter and every scavenger hunt required thinking carefully about my approach, ensuring my bike was positioned for a hasty getaway. I loved the simple joy of riding a dirt bike through snowy mountains or muddy backroads, kicking dirt up onto my bike as I glided around a corner. I would often avoid fast-travelling just to get more time riding through the picturesque landscape on a bike that I worked hard to upgrade, a bike that worked hard to keep me alive. I don’t think there’s been any other game that’s made me so attached to a vehicle.
Much like the narrative, there’s so much more to explore with these mechanics in a sequel. The survival mechanics could be developed further, customisation extended, more enemy types, and so much more. Alas, this potential may never be fully realised.
If you haven’t experienced Days Gone then I highly suggest you do. I went in expecting very little but came away in awe and wanting more of the characters and gameplay that the experience offered. And that’s really saying something considering how long this game turned out to be. Typically, I’d burn out with a game that kept seemingly getting close to ending but instead expanded further with another development in the narrative, yet with Days Gone I kept hoping it would keep going. When I finally reached the end of the road, I was amazed by how attached I had become, and how much I had enjoyed the adventure. I even completed every single quest and activity on the map, which was no small feat given the amount on offer, but thoroughly enjoyable.
In fact, I felt as though I had robbed Bend Studio as I picked up the game on sale for only £15. Having finally now experienced the game, I wish I had picked it up sooner, even for a much higher price tag, as perhaps then we’d see the sequel Days Gone so desperately deserves. One that could build upon the successes of the first and improve where the first game stumbled, to make a game that truly does live up to the vision Day’s Gone strived for. Try Days Gone for yourself and hopefully you’ll see the hidden gem inside, finding an experience that is very much worth the investment.
Are you optimistically holding out hope for a potential sequel as I am? If you’ve played Day’s Gone then I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic. And if you haven’t played it, then give it a go and come back here once you’ve finished. Many of you might have added it to your library after it was included in PS Plus last month meaning you can hop in with no risk. It has also recently released on PC, so even those without a PlayStation can experience it.
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