A Patchwork Of Many Influences
Days Gone is not a perfect game. It never quite reaches the narrative mastery of The Last Of Us nor does it manage to instil the same awe-inspiring exploration games like Assassin’s Creed have managed so successfully in the past. Its zombies are far less intimidating than those in Dying Light and some of the core gameplay loops, including Deacon’s motorbike maintenance, are outright detrimental to the entire experience. Yet as I played through the 65+ hours of this open world game, Day’s Gone really started to grow on me. So much so that if you can persevere with the issues, Day’s Gone opens up in the best possible way to deliver a memorable and narratively compelling adventure well worth experiencing.
The opening cut-scene of the game helps present the zombie threat and lay the foundation for the story to follow. Here, we see our lead protagonist Deacon abandoning his lover Sarah in favour of best friend Deacon, before we cut forward in time to our grizzled biker hero, determined to try and find out what happened to Sarah. With the possibility of her death hanging heavy on his shoulders, the first 15 hours or so of the game sees you floating between several different camps as you do jobs and piece together fragments of information, all the whilst rendezvousing with Nero worker O’Brian for crucial intel on Sarah.
The middle chapter sees you spending a considerable amount of time at a larger camp called Lost Lake. If I’m honest, this segment does go on a tad too long, with 30+ missions to complete in this area. However, as you move beyond this area and reach the Southern regions of the map, the extended period of time at Lost Lake does a surprisingly good job of making you really care about everyone there. This is especially important as a bigger threat than the zombies arrives during the game’s final act, bringing everything together for a final fight and offering some good closure to the Sarah storyline.
Although the story does outstay its welcome a little, the character progression is fantastic and the actual story rivals some of those seen in big budget films within this genre. When it comes to the story, this is easily Day’s Gone’s strength and how invested you get in this will determine how much you’re willing to look past the flaws of the game.
With open world titles I like to spend a good few hours familiarizing myself with the landscape, wandering off and getting lost in the beauty of the world. Thanks to the rigid structure and questionable design of the world, Day’s Gone’s mechanics feel intentionally designed to prevent you exploring too much of the world until near the end of the game. Stamina depletes incredibly fast, your health takes a battering pretty quickly, your pitiful petrol reserves barely last until your destination and in general the whole idea of exploration is really frowned upon here.
Some of this can be alleviated through the various different side-missions dotted around the map. Nero checkpoints see you hunt for loudspeakers to destroy before turning the electrics back on and heading inside for a stat-boosting injection, ambush camps see you destroy a group of human characters in exchange for another fast travel point and item upgrade while infestations see you tackle zombie nests. The motorbike is a particular problem with this though, although later camp upgrades do help with the fuel reserves.
The bike is incredibly inconsistent too, with some main missions in the game seeing you spending an extended amount of time on your bike without a petrol gauge. Even a simple explanation – like the bike has a a leaky petrol tank but for sentimental reasons Deacon refuses to ride anything else – would suffice as early on, the motorbike maintenance will take up a good chunk of time as you strategically plan fast travel routes without depleting your reserves whilst making sure there’s petrol nearby.
For many people, the real hook here will be the hordes of zombies. The E3 demo showcased an adrenaline-soaked charge against a seemingly endless horde, with a dramatic finish to proceedings uniting the gaming community in agreement that this was really Day’s Gone’s main selling point. For most of the story though, you never really engage in combat with these enormous groups, although the final act does see you tackle 2 or 3 in quick succession. Hordes can be massive too, with planning crucial to taking these on. Here, stamina plays a huge part as a combination of sprinting and rolling can easily see you depleting your reserves and forcing you to walk, allowing the zombies to catch up and overwhelm you. These are easily the highlight of the game though and the first few times you come up against them, it’s a real heart-pounding experience.
Instead, Day’s Gone presents a number of different human enemies and small, manageable groups of zombies to deal with through most of the game’s run time. There’s a fair amount of variety with this although the stealth isn’t great, with poor AI path-finding and the same stock knife animations growing old pretty quickly. There’s a good variety of guns to choose from though, and each have a good variety with things like range, power, rate of fire etc. allowing you to really mix things up and find a load-out that works for you.
The soundtrack to the game is fantastic too. Taking influence from Red Dead Redemption 2, the game peppers in several Country-inspired vocal tracks at key parts of the game. Although the first feels a little premature, the others are perfectly placed here; a fitting reward for taking on the game’s mammoth story and coming out the other side victorious. The score itself is tense, full of dramatic spikes and really helps accentuate what’s happening on the screen.
Graphically, the game isn’t perfect. There’s a fair amount of pop-in, blurred textures and a pretty small field of view. At times, these graphical glitches are accompanied by some technical problems, even after the various updates to the game, but a quick restart of the application usually fixes this. Despite that, the game is beautiful to look at. The different seasons progress perfectly, with the snow-peaked mountains contrasting beautifully to the sun-soaked locale of Lost Lake during the Summer.
The handy menu helps show how many days have passed too and the unique design of this – with its many different storylines and various percentage markers that pop up throughout the gamer – is unique and unlike anything else out there. Admittedly, this does take some getting used to but also helps give a sense of progression throughout the game, as well as making good use of the touch pad as you swipe around to check on different elements, including a handy trophy tracker that shows the exact number toward certain milestones.
Along with challenges, a fair amount of end-game content and the ability to replay the game in survival mode, Day’s Gone is a surprisingly deep, well written narrative adventure. While it doesn’t quite hit the same lofty heights other PS4 exclusives have achieved in the past, it’s a highly enjoyable and memorable experience nonetheless. The hordes are intense, the world looks beautiful and the length of the game, although intimidating, is actually paced surprisingly well to add to the emotional weight at the end. It’s ultimately the story that’ll keep you coming back to this one and if you can look past some of the gameplay hiccups, Day’s Gone is easily one of the best games of the year.
All of our videogame reviews are also featured on OpenCritic
Verdict - 8/10