Much like the way zombies are portrayed in the media, the zombie genre is quickly becoming a vast, seemingly endless wave of content. Ever since series like The Walking Dead exploded onto the scene, companies everywhere have been trying to leave their mark on the genre. While video games centered on zombies have been around for years, there has never been a game that tries to portray the sheer size and seemingly inescapable feeling that a zombie apocalypse has.
Enter Days Gone, the latest title from Bend Studio. In an era where Sony has absolutely killed it in narrative-focused titles, many fans thought that Days Gone would be able to continue that success, and align itself with titles like God of War, or Marvel’s Spider-Man. Unfortunately, Days Gone is nowhere near either of those masterpieces and instead finds itself too bogged down with tedious work alongside a generic zombie story to ever rise out of the muck.
Things aren’t all bad in Days Gone, however. The first thing you’ll likely notice as you step into the world is just how beautiful everything is. Everything we’ve seen from previews of Days Gone suggested that SIE Bend Studio was aiming to make this one of the most visually stunning games we’ve ever seen, and they succeeded. The world of Days Gone is *huge*, and the attention to detail on things is sometimes breathtaking. The way light reflects off of surfaces to the experience of walking or driving in the rain is all captured incredibly well. Where Days Gone fails in other areas, it certainly doesn’t here, and it’s clear that tons of thought and care went into crafting this world.
Unfortunately, when you get into the meat and potatoes of the game, things become a bit more disappointing. Much like many other zombie games, Days Gone takes place in a world that’s already thrown into chaos, with 700 plus days already having past since the initial outbreak. Some sort of viral outbreak has caused people to turn into “freakers” (the game’s codename for zombies), and Deacon St. John – the lead protagonist – is surviving with his friend and survival partner, Boozer. While Deacon’s main quest is surviving the apocalypse, the story does do a decent job of touching on some of the more interesting facets of an apocalypse, including co-existing amongst other humans and trying to figure out what caused the actual outbreak.
Where games like The Last of Us are filled with memorable characters and attempt to tackle something like the apocalypse in a unique manner, Days Gone is mostly the opposite. Characters in the game either aren’t memorable or simply don’t do much to stir up any emotions throughout the story. Aside from occasional moments, even Deacon doesn’t stray much from your typical “tough guy who is aiming to make it in a tough world” which is extra disappointing considering just how much potential the game has. There are moments sprinkled where Bend manages to achieve some incredible beats throughout the campaign, but it’s mostly buried underneath tons of ideas that are, simply put, boring.
When it comes to gameplay, Days Gone doesn’t stray too far from the path of other open-world titles. You’ll find yourself dropped in the middle of a massive map of Oregon (which, to its credit, is impressively large) and will be scavenging for supplies in a similar way to The Last of Us, combining rags and tonics together to create potions for you to healing. You’ll have to find ways in and out of areas in an effort to gather supplies, often sneaking by or around the many freaker infested sections that you come across.
There are tons of abandoned areas to explore, and things to see, but the main problem with Days Gone’s open world is that eventually, it starts to feel like too much of the same. Too much of the beginning of Days Gone consists of mainly gathering items and returning them to one character or another, and when you eventually do break out onto your own, you’ll be so tired of the same “gather this item” quests that the map loses its appeal.
That isn’t to say everything is bad, though. Days Gone presents some incredibly creative ways at keeping track of things, allowing players to follow specific threads in the menu to keep track of what they’re doing. Likewise, the upgrade system in the game is intuitive and simple to keep track of, with Deacon able to form bonds with other survivors and building up trust, which allows him access to better items.
Story-wise, the game does a good job of making each human held outpost feel entirely different, with each area having its own unique flavor if you will. One outpost may be run by a gun-wielding psycho, and the other might be a kinder place, inhabited by folks just trying to get by. Moments like these just make the larger experience of Days Gone more frustrating, as it’s clear that there are good things in the game, they just don’t get to shine.
While much of the campaign is spent roaming around the map, doing so often feels a bit boring, too. Deacon comes equipped with a motorcycle to start the game, and while riding around through the beautiful, somewhat desolate Oregon is great, the fact that you have to constantly make sure your bike is in good enough shape to ride is a bit frustrating. It certainly adds to the realism of things, but just ends up being a bit too annoying, especially in a world as big as the one Days Gone presents.
For those willing to put the time in, Days Gone will reward you with tons to do. The campaign will easily take you some 20 plus hours (if not more) to complete, and the game will also support various play styles, especially if you love playing things more stealthily. Going all out as a guns-blazing survivor is an option too, although that will result in you getting eaten alive more often than enough. You’ll also be looking at plenty of upgrade options, to both Deacon and the motorcycle, so there’s always something to do in the game.
For its many failures, Days Gone does succeed in plenty of other ways, including the tension of being surrounded by hundreds of zombies. The freakers in Days Gone are a terrifying bunch, capable of hearing you from pretty far off and also capable of delivering tons of damage. Perhaps the most impressive thing in the game is just how quickly situations can get out of hand when you attract the attention of one, too. Due to their hearing capabilities and general behavior, once one or two freakers spot you, it causes a horrific snowball effect that will usually have you running away into more enemies, or firing off weapons that attract them. Either way, you’re usually left being chased by a legitimate horde of enemies, and Days Gone captures the thrills of that incredibly well.
The combat in Days Gone is also extremely well done, with weapons having a great kick to them and a melee system that is simple and sometimes more fun to use. Players will always carry a knife with them, but can find stronger weapons throughout their travels. While these weapons break down over time, there’s nothing like taking down a freaker with a table leg or some other blunt object that really makes you feel like you’ve just survived a zombie encounter.
It’s pretty clear after a couple of hours that Days Gone tried its best to take aim at titles like The Last of Us, offering a fresh perspective on what is definitely a stale genre. Unfortunately, Days Gone just never quite seems to find its footing. While the game is breathtaking to look at and features some truly enjoyable and memorable story moments, it’s too often bogged down by its own tediousness, and it never manages to reach the heights that it seems to be striving for, which is legitimately upsetting considering how many fun features that the game has. At the very least, Days Gone features a massive world and displays incredible scope, and that might just be enough for even moderate fans of the zombie genre to dive in.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Days Gone for the PlayStation 4 provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment.