Days Gone (2019)

Days Gone, originally shown off in 2016 went through so many delays, that when it finally released on the PS4 in 2019, it got passed over by a lot of gaming media. They mocked it, said “no one needs more zombie games” and said the Biker main character was a meathead only made because of the popularity of Walking Dead’s Daryl Dixon. And while the zombie genre has worn thin, and the similarities to Walking Dead’s Daryl being a biker is there too… Days Gone really goes out of it’s way to tell a great story with a ton of fun and enjoyable gameplay.

I will admit, I fell for the media’s dismissal of this game, and I really have regretted that. About a year after the release of the game, there was a lot of forum talk about people playing the game and enjoying it, enough for me to buy it on sale for $20 on my PS4. Once the game got released on PC, I decided to actually sit down and start playing it, and once it got its hooks in me, it was the only thing I could play for the next 42 hours.

Days Gone follows the story of biker Deacon St. John is trying to keep himself and his biker brother Boozer alive in a zombie apocalypse. After 2 years of dealing with the infected, called “Freaks”, the bikers have held themselves up in a nice little forest fire watchtower and routinely go out collecting bounties for other encampments around the Oregon forest city Farewell. Deacon, who mourns the loss of his wife Sarah who he lost in a helicopter crash, just tries to get by.

The game itself is an open world game where the whole environment is very dangerous, and night time is deadly. The zombies are of the Romero running type, and travel in hoards, which are the game’s big gimmick. These hoards are around 300+ zombies and travel around the map. Once detected, they’ll chase you and hunt you down. Along with several mutated variants, like the Berserker, Hulk, Screamer and Stalker, they are the main enemy of the game and can be terrifying in the right atmosphere.

I’m not a big zombie fan at all, and I will admit there were a few times where I thought about quitting the game because I knew it was going to give me nightmares. But I stuck with it, and I’m glad I did, because even though on the surface it’s a basic action zombie game, the storytelling and cutscenes bring these characters to life like very few games do. I ended up caring so much for the characters that I got emotional several times during the game, they are written so well.

Deacon is portrayed as a biker, but his wife Sarah dies at the beginning of the game, he mourns for her, talks to her gravesite, and opens up about her to his Boozer, his motorcycle club brother. As the game progresses, the cutscenes and gameplay expand on Deacon and Sarah’s relationship. Showing them meet for the first time, date, propose, get married, and spend time together. They build up the relationship, so when you see the scene where she leaves on the helicopter again, it makes a much more effective impact.

Boozer, again another character name that seems ludicrously ridiculous, just like Deacon St. John is so much more than just a one dimensional Brother In Arms yes man. He struggles with a blood infection and later on, losing an arm and you continually have to find ways to keep him wanting to stay alive and keep fighting. Other camps and friends you make along the way have so much more depth than an average game character. Most of the people you come across in the game feel like real people who struggle not just to stay alive in a zombie apocalypse, but also try to balance love and friendships and the work they do at their camps as well.

The gameplay is fairly basic open world fare. The camps have a leader who tasks you with running errands, be it tracking down a bounty, or going on a supply run. Sometimes you’ll come across a survivor in the world, and if you are able to save them in time, you can send them to a specific camp, that will give you a better reputation. In the camp, that reputation might unlock better weapons at the merchant, or parts for your bike in the mechanic shop. You can also turn in zombie ears that you pick up when you kill a zombie, to earn currency at the camp, or if you find plants on the outside world, you can give them to the camp kitchen to make more money and earn reputation.

The main story revolves around Deacon and Boozer, who are drifters and go from camp to camp and try to survive. While out exploring, Deacon comes across the helicopter pilot who was helping his wife out the night she died. As he starts helping him out, he realizes Sarah might not actually be dead and sets off to find her. And that’s really when the game gets good.

I won’t spoil the game too much, but the game was so much larger than I originally though. After around 15 hours, I had explored the majority of the map, and it felt pretty large, but not as massive as some other games I’ve played in the same type of open world genre. Near 25 hours in, the game gives you a warning to finish everything up because you won’t have access to the region you’re in for a while. And you set off to the southern map. Then the game unlocks an even larger and more diverse area for you to explore, with much more dangerous enemies.

Zombies aren’t the only enemies that you encounter, as there are several human types, Ambushers, Rippers and Malitia can cause a lot of problems too, and I had a much more enjoyable time fighting the humans, as it didn’t scare me nearly as much as the zombies did. Rippers can come off fairly creepy because of their crazy cult like personalities, and the camps with human torture, but again, I prefered fighting them, than the zombies.

The atmosphere is built up so well in certain areas, but emergent gameplay also can create such memorable experiences. Riding up into an abandoned town, and exploring the houses, scavenging for anything I can find, only to get trapped and have to hide as a hoard wanders in, and have to quietly creep around and escape was something I’ll never forget. I felt like I held my breath for a solid twenty minutes as I slowly made my way between buildings. The sound design is also spectacular as it really brings out the unnerving screams and howls of the undead echoing in the distance.

Taking on the hoards is a fool’s errand until late in the game where you get access to very powerful weapons that can take down zombies in droves. Coupling that with the unlocked Napalm Molotov, taking down hoards becomes much easier, but I won’t say it’s easy. There are two times in the game, near the end where you are required to destroy a hoard, and it took me much longer than I’d like to admit to pass those missions. One was because I wasn’t aware of how to actually take down the hoard and was able to find a building that blocks the entry points for zombies, so you have some breathing room to kill them all without dying. Although I almost wasn’t able to because the majority of the zombies wouldn’t come to me and they all stayed on the other side of the building I couldn’t get to unless I left the safehouse.

The hoard missions were really the only issues I had with the game. Coming across multiple outposts taken over by human enemies was just fun, as you can tag the bad guys from far with the binoculars and can take them out one by one, or go in guns blazing like a 80’s action movie star. I usually tried to tag all the enemies from a distance, and then go in and take down as many as possible with stealth kills. Usually when there were only a couple people left, I’d get spotted and have a firefight showdown. No matter what, though, it was fun and reminded me of taking outposts in the FarCry games.

The game runs beautifully on my PC with settings maxed out in 1080p running at a locked 120fps. Running the game in 4K introduced a bit of dropped frames, and capping it at 60fps just didn’t seem worth it. The faces of some of the characters look absolutely stunning, and I continually will be amazed when the time is given to make characters look like real people. But in game there is definitely a drop in visual fidelity compared to the cutscenes. Also certain characters just look better than others.

There is a certain humor to the game that comes across really well in the cutscenes, and some characters feel almost like they were written specifically to say a single line of dialog and once they serve that purpose, you don’t interact with them much anymore. Others come in and out of the story at key points, reminding you of how long the game really is. I got a feeling of Deja Vu a couple times, and even at some points, it feels like the development team were trying to evoke other games. One character in particular reminded me of a scene from Metal Gear Solid V, and another made me think I was playing a new Dead Rising game as he felt like he was one of the psychopaths.

I only really had a couple main issues with the game. One was actually at the beginning of the game where Deacon makes several decisions that don’t make logical sense, but it pushes the story forward, but a lot of conflict could have been resolved from some simple conversations. The second issue is the fact that the game feels unbalanced. The first two thirds of the game feel extremely throughout, dedicating plenty of time, long missions and cutscenes to fairly mediocre story beats. As the game moves into the final third, lots of scenes feel cut off or shorter than they should. There is a rush that feels apparent, as characters talk a bit faster, moments don’t take the time to breath or land like they have earlier in the game. This could have been due to the game just needing to be wrapped after years of delays, but it is something that I noticed, and made the game just feel a little bit special, when certain things aren’t addressed like they normally would have been, if it took place earlier in the game.

For a game that seems like a fairly basic open world action game featuring a biker killing zombies, the game has a surprising amount of heart, and care given to not just the world, but it’s characters. Even with a stupid name like Deacon St. John, he shows so many different emotions and is much more complicated than your average video game protagonist. Days Gone has shown me to not judge a book by it’s cover and to really stop listening to Video Game media coverage without investigating it myself. If I knew how good this game was going to be, I would have picked it up on day one. If I can just get more people to realize that these games, while big budget exclusive games aren’t all the same and shouldn’t just be written off because the character or genre seem like they’ve been done to death, I think people can find a real special game that truely does something special.