The world comes for you is an incredibly apt slogan for Bend Studio’s apocalyptic sandbox. The latest in a long line of Sony-published story-driven exclusives, Days Gone doesn’t quite have the character of a Game of the Year contender like God of War, but it’s just about imaginative enough to set itself apart from the many open worlders already on the PlayStation 4 – even if it lifts ideas from virtually all of them.
As alluded to above, it’s the white-knuckle tension of the sizeable Oregon-inspired map that sets this debut current-gen effort apart. Playing as mercenary biker Deacon St. John, you’ll rarely feel truly equipped for what the world is about to throw at you. This means that preparation is key when you’re out in the field: run out of fuel or ammunition, and you’re going to find yourself Freaker fodder faster than you can say, “They’re zombies, actually!”
There’s just enough survival horror in this otherwise formulaic open world experience to distance it from the likes of Far Cry, and that can help to ease fatigue. The motorcycle is your sanctuary out in the field: the only place you can save, and the fastest means of escape. But it’s delicate: gas is in short supply, and one bad crash will leave you hunting for scrap. Actually tending to the bike is straightforward, but factoring it into your plans is essential.
The same is true of your artillery. Ammunition is generally easy to come by, but weapons are weak in the early exchanges, and the headline hordes are devastating. They’re so brutal, in fact, that the game takes its sweet time introducing the really deadly undead armies – it gives you some time to hone your craft, so that you can build traps and get creative with how you want to bring the bleeders down. All this preparation is the most entertaining part of the game.
Unfortunately, the missions don’t really involve enough of it. There are some excellent objectives here: some inspired by Uncharted as you work alongside another AI character, and others which subscribe to that popular “black box” style of design, where you have multiple opportunities in order to fulfil the task at hand. And then there are the fetch quests – so many fetch quests, many of which are anti-climactic and borderline inconsequential.
You can’t fault the effort that the developer’s invested here: it wants to go toe-to-toe with Naughty Dog and Sony Santa Monica and feast at the top table of PlayStation’s first-party developers. But the story drifts like its protagonist, wasting time with far too many sub-par supporting characters and trying your patience in the process. The cut-scenes look impressive, but the direction is sometimes weak and the script is as ham as a hog roast.
That’s not to say it’s bad by any stretch of the imagination: it’s entertaining in a popcorn flick kind of way. And there’s some cool lore here that will keep you engaged about the nature of the world that you inhabit: what actually happened to Oregon, and how do those still living survive without any good tattoo parlours lying around? It just takes far too long to get to the point sometimes, which may kill your interest all together.
This is a sizeable game, with multiple plot threads to uncover and a hearty selection of open world busy-work to keep you occupied. You’re looking at a good 30 hours to see the campaign through, and that’s going to be extended depending on how you play. Mechanically it’s dense enough to support many different play styles, so while stealth and caution is generally recommended, a guns-blazing approach is a possibility – assuming you have the requisite resources.
Perhaps second to the way the bike is implemented is just how many layers there are to the gameplay. There are encounters where you’ll need to clear out enemy camps, but if you want to get creative you can craft a little radio alarm and use it to alert nearby Freakers, pitching the living against the living dead. Of course, if you’re approaching during the day then there’ll be less zombies to leverage – but at night the larger swarms will generally be weaker.
It feels like there’s an ecology to the undead, which is neat. But there’s also a logic to the world itself, like the way snow muffles your footsteps or rain affects the handling of your chopper. It’s just a shame that the developer falls into copy-and-paste mission objectives, as tasks like eavesdropping on scientists in insta-fail stealth sections and burning down nests feel like they’re going through the motions – sometimes less is more, we’d suggest.
At least there’s plenty of eye candy to ogle while you’re ticking boxes, though, as at its best this is a visual feast. Naturally it never hits the highs of a Horizon: Zero Dawn, but the sandbox itself is extremely varied, spanning dense forests to deserts and snow-capped mountains. It’s a fun location to traverse with some unique, authentically American landmarks – it’s just a shame the framerate’s prone to failing as it streams in certain areas of the map.
Bugs can be problematic as well – at least in the review build we played. One side-quest completely glitched out on us, rendering it unsolvable; clipping, sound issues, and other minor technical hiccups also detracted from our experience. The game generally suffers from a lack of direction at times, too: we don’t expect to have our hand held every step of the way, but when you’re running around in circles looking for the entrance to a bunker for 25 minutes, we’d argue that’s dodgy design.
There’s heart here that’s easy to admire, though. Forgive us for trotting out clichés in order to accommodate a more favourable rating, but you really feel Bend Studio poured its all into this project. Beyond the long load times and the occasional signs of creative bankruptcy, there’s something here – a moreish kind of comfort food, with just enough identity of its own to set it apart from its many contemporaries.
Days Gone’s survival horror underbelly gives it just enough personality to distance it from the dozens of other open worlders already available. A dense selection of overlapping gameplay mechanics make for entertaining action, even if the title’s unremarkable mission design doesn’t always make the best of them. The story can drift, and the overall package isn’t quite as polished as its PS4 exclusive counterparts – but as far as gaming comfort food goes, you could feast on much worse snacks than this.
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