What I'm Playing - No. 176
Welcome back to another weekly wrap-up of the games I’ve been playing over the past week!
Click a title to skip to that section. Games contained within this post:
Days Gone (PS4)
Days Gone is a 2019 action-adventure game with an open world. It originally released on PS4, but in 2021 it released on PC as well. In a weird way, it reminds me a little of Red Dead Redemption with zombies. Oh wait, that already exists. It’s like Red Dead Redemption with zombies and motorcyles. You play as Deacon St. John, a survivor in post-apocalyptic Oregon two years after a global pandemic transformed a large chunk of the population into mindless zombies. He gives off a kind of outlaw cowboy vibe at first, and another character even refers to him as a “biker outlaw” at one point, even if this is meant as a bit of a joke. He was in a biker gang before the world ended though, along with his friend Boozer, who’s basically like a brother to him, and even after the outbreak the two continue to wear their biker jackets.
The game opens with a short scene when the outbreak is just starting. Deacon’s wife, Sarah, is hurt, and Deacon makes the decision to put her on a helicopter heading to a refugee camp for treatment. There’s no room for him onboard, so they say their good-byes and the helicopter takes off. We then jump two years forward in time, and find that Deacon and Boozer are both still alive, but Sarah is nowhere to be seen. The story throughout the game largely revolves around Deacon coming to terms with the loss of Sarah, and searching for a reason to live in this broken world.
Honestly, this opening isn’t very impressive. It plays well on PS5 with an excellent framerate, but the graphics in the opening during the city scenes weren’t particularly impressive, and the story didn’t grab me yet either. The graphics do a sharp 180 once you get into the main game though, and the Oregon countryside looks fantastic. The intro also takes longer than I expected to introduce the “zombies.” You don’t see them at all in the opening flashback. Then after the time skip, you fight human enemies before you ever see any of the Freakers. That’s what they call the zombies in this universe, Freakers, or just Freaks. They look kind of like the Darkseekers from the Will Smith movie version of I Am Legend: pale, bald, and violent. It’s probably around 20 minutes before you encounter the first Freaks, so it’s really not that bad, but the pacing in the opening did feel a bit off. Despite the game’s slow start though, once you get through the opening section and its frequent tutorials and cutscenes, it really picks up with very fun gameplay.
Days Gone features a semi-open world where additional regions open up as the main story advances. If you try to go somewhere you’re not supposed to yet, the game will tell you you’re leaving the game area to force you to turn around. Combat is what you’d expect from a third-person action-adventure game in a modern setting, offering up numerous guns and melee weapons to use, as well as stealth kills if you sneak up behind an enemy without getting noticed. The thing that really distances this from other games is the emphasis on motorcycles. For some reason, no one seems to have a working car in this game. Deacon and every other survivor you come across rely on motorcycles to get around. Your bike is your life, serving as your main form of transportation, a save point, and you also need to be near your bike in order to fast travel. When you drive around or fast travel, you use up gas, so you need to keep a careful eye on your gas level and refill the tank to avoid running out. Luckily, gas cans are plentiful, so even if you run out of gas far away from a gas station, chances are you can find a gas can nearby somewhere. There’s also a crafting mechanic, where you’ll pick up junk you find lying around and craft medkits, molotovs, and other tools from it. I enjoyed these survival elements to the gameplay, especially having to keep an eye on the fuel level. It’s a novel mechanic in an action-adventure game like this, and it works well in the zombie apocalypse setting.
Unlike some open world games, the world map doesn’t feel too bloated. There’s enough stuff to do without it feeling overwhelming, and by the end of the game I had completed many of the optional objectives around the map. Riding around the world on your motorcycle is awesome. The world looks great, and there are a number of random events you can run into like bandit ambushes and the like, which really help bring this world to life. One of the best things to discover like this are the Hordes. One time I found a cave. My curiosity got the better of me, and I rode inside to take a peek. Well, I found a ton of zombies in there, and they saw me right away, surrounding me as I tried to reverse out. I didn’t make it out of there alive. Moments like that happen organically during exploration, and it was a joy to experience them, even when I died. Maybe especially when I died, since it really made the world feel dangerous. I didn’t know it at the time, but what I’d run into there was one of many Hordes spread throughout world. Hordes have some minor story significance later, and they’re also the star of the optional side objective Horde Killer, where your goal is to wipe out all the Hordes. Once you manage to defeat every Freak in a Horde in one sitting, you’ll wipe out the Horde for good, and it won’t respawn. Trying to clear a Horde is really only recommended when you’re in the late game, but I was actually able to defeat one of the early game Hordes shortly after I discovered it. Tackling the Horde at such an early stage was a challenge and I died many times attempting it, but finally defeating that first Horde was a great feeling. After I finished the main story, I spent a little time hunting down Hordes with my endgame weapons. The Hordes in the game’s starting area were trivial to take down at that point, but the Hordes of the later areas were much larger, and they were still able to overwhelm me easily if I wasn’t prepared.
There are moments when the experience stagnates a bit. You’ll have a wealth of things to do when you progress in the main story and unlock a new part of the world map to explore. But I tended to do pretty much everything available in that area first before I focused on story missions, then I’d be left with just one story mission to do, and doing it would unlock the next one. Missions are not all created equal though. Some are interesting, and put you into cool areas, but others are just “Story Jobs” where you go somewhere for a cutscene and that’s the entire thing. You get some experience when it’s over and the next mission unlocks. Some of the main missions revolve around stealth, and these are also very slow. I didn’t mind using the game’s basic stealth mechanics during regular gameplay, but when you’re forced to use stealth for an entire mission and you fail if you’re discovered, it gets old pretty quickly. The plot moves really slowly at times too. My wife even remarked at one point, “didn’t they talk about this already?” during one of the cutscenes, and she definitely has a point. The story tends to go in circles a bit as Deacon sorts through his feelings about Sarah. But I still found myself invested by what was going to happen next with these characters, and when the plot gets moving, it is really good. Most of the time it was the gameplay that had me hooked on Days Gone, but there were a few times I couldn’t put the controller down because of the story. I’m also really glad it never falls into the “are you infected?” trope that so much zombie media has already done to death. It never really focuses on how the infection spreads or why the survivors we see haven’t been infected and don’t seem worried that they may become infected. It’s honestly a refreshing change, and leaves the story free to focus on other kinds of drama.
On top of the lengthy main campaign, Days Gone even has a challenge mode. It was added to the game post-launch as a free patch. The main game certainly has enough in it that it didn’t need a challenge mode, but I actually enjoyed an hour or two of trying its challenges out. I’m kind of into this sort of score-based side mode actually, it reminds me of the Dunwall City Trials DLC from the first Dishonored game, which I know a lot of people don’t like, but I have some fond memories of trying the challenges out in that game casually and having a good time, and my time in the challenge mode in Days Gone was similarly casual. There’s 12 different Challenge missions in total, with several different kinds of objectives: fighting Hordes, fighting waves of human enemies, and motorcycle time trials. I also like that you can play as other characters in the challenges too, including Iron Mike, the elderly leader of one of survivor camps.
I’m not sure if Days Gone will ever get a sequel. It got mixed reviews at launch on PS4, and it reportedly didn’t meet Sony’s sales expectations and that developer Bend Studio pitched a sequel to Sony but it was rejected. But regardless of whether that story is true, I think it’s clear from the one of the post-game scenes that they wanted to make a sequel of some sort.
We’re going to enter spoiler territory for a bit, so skip to here if you want to avoid those.
After you finish the main story, you can keep playing to finish up any optional objectives or side stories. I did this for a bit, and I was pleasantly surprised when there were a few more story cutscenes tying up the loose ends for a few characters. The final one of these was with O’Brian, the NERO researcher from the beginning of the game and who Deacon’s been in contact with throughout the game trying to figure out what happened to his wife. So, the entire time you’re in contact with O’Brian, he’s wearing a hazmat suit and mask, and you never see his face. During this final scene, he finally takes off the mask for a big reveal: he’s infected too, but with an evolved form of the virus. He’s developed the same pale skin, bald head, and increased strength as the Freaks, but retains his intelligence. He cryptically warns Deacon that the NERO higher ups knew about this all along, and tells him “they are coming,” before jumping back on his NERO helicopter and flying off. And…that’s it. As far as I know, that’s the last post-game story cutscene. I really wasn’t expecting this twist, it takes it in an I Am Legend kind of direction, the book version this time. How would these sane mutated humans coexist with Deacon and the other uninfected survivors? Unfortunately, we’ll probably never know. Bend Studio has expressed interest in creating another game set in this universe, but a sequel to Deacon’s story seems unlikely given the rumored sequel pitch rejection.
Days Gone was a very pleasant surprise for me. I picked up the PS4 version after hearing online that it was an underappreciated gem of an open world game, and I have to agree. If you’re into open world action-adventures and zombie games, then Days Gone is definitely worth checking out. My final time as reported by my PS5 was 26 hours, but I don’t think this is accurate. I was playing this game regularly for just shy of two months, and there’s no way my total time was that low considering how many optional things I completed. HowLongToBeat.com lists the main story as 36 and half hours long, and Main + Sides as 50 and half hours, so I’m guessing my time was somewhere between those two, probably somewhere in the 40 hour mark.