After sinking 40 hours into Days Gone, the game has been truly a mixed bag of good and bad but constantly leaves me wondering what could have been. Buried deep (and I mean deep) beneath the serious graphical issues, inconsistent narratives, frustrating glitches, and repetitive gameplay elements lie the foundations of a game that honestly could have been one of the best in the PS4 lineup, but these problems ultimately hold the game back from achieving its true potential.
Originally lauded as the “next big thing” on a Playstation console, Days Gone’s hype dwindled as its release neared. When first previewed as a part of their 2016 E3 presentation, media outlets immediately began calling it The Last of Us meets Sons of Anarchy and geeking out over the dynamic weather and environment, advanced zombie AI, and survival mechanics. Originally slated for a 2018 release, the title was pushed back to 2019 to distance it from the competitive titles of Red Dead Redemption 2 and Spiderman. Despite this valid reason, Day’s Gone’s marketing initiatives seemed to be scaled back on the title and developer news came to a standstill in recent weeks, causing some fans to worry that the game may be another No Man’s Sky. That being said, Days Gone was released in April of 2019 to spectacular sales numbers, topping the charts in the UK as the biggest physical sales launch of the year.
Buried deep (and I mean deep) beneath the serious graphical issues, inconsistent narratives, frustrating glitches, and repetitive gameplay elements lies the foundations of a game that could be one of the best in the PS4 lineup
As a fan of zombie games and post-apocalyptic titles, I was first in line to pick up Days Gone and one of its biggest believers in spite of the skeptics. On the surface and in game trailers, the title seemed destined for success. Deacon St. John, a rough and tumble biker, struggles to survive in an undead wasteland as he searches for clues about what happened to his dead wife. Using his motorcycle, Deacon must travel between the groups of various survivors to make it in the Oregon wilderness, using either stealth or firepower to last against the zombies and maniacs that roam the countryside. Along the way, he forges bonds with local survivor camps to earn better upgrades for his guns and his bikes, ultimately trying to uncover the secrets behind the infection that plagues mankind.
Days Gone is such a disappointing title because it falls victim to some of the classic video game development blunders that haunt well-known 3rd party developers like Ubisoft. Namely, these are graphical concerns. Greatest of all these sins, the title absolutely LURCHES on a standard PS4 when transitioning from one area to the next as the game engine struggles to bring out the assets of a larger city area. When riding on a motorcycle in-game, Day’s Gone can barely keep up with the speed at which new pieces of landscape and houses must be generated. Of course, this is just one of many graphical faults as the game is rife with glitches as well. Occasionally, zombies will fall to earth in t-pose, dialogue will lag a few seconds behind the cutscenes, and enemies will spawn from nowhere, making some laughable and unforgettable moments.
Days Gone’s narrative also is lacking some respects, as its dialogue, character development, and storyline raise some eyebrows throughout a playthrough. The dialogue ranges from cliched biker jokes, unreasonable reactions, and painfully bad attempts at romance (a personal cringe was “I’ll give him his ring back if he promises to ride me as much as he rides his bike”). Although Deacon influences other camps and earns their trust by completing various quests, these actions hardly lead to anything meaningful in the story outside of upgrades. Days Gone being an open world game, I expected these various factions to be in competition for power or materials and that favoring one group in game would result in a negative outcome on Deacon’s standing with another. Alas, nothing that places your footprint on the in-game world is implemented. Also, some storylines (Boozer’s dog, Lisa’s life, etc) felt out of place in the context of the larger game and seemed to be tacked on to the larger story in order to influence the player’s feelings with classic emotional flags (animals, children). Although developers promised a “very strong narrative,” Days Gone’s lack of the gravity and weight commonly seen in Playstation first-party titles was one of many disappointments.
Although the game seemed to catch its stride around the 15th or 20th hour, Days Gone eventually becomes bogged down with the repetitive quest elements that plague other open world games. Initially, the novelty of the missions is fun, but after some time with the game I noticed that most missions boil down to drive here, look around, find/kill this, loot crafting items, drive back, and repeat until the pattern feels like doing chores in order to progress. As the game goes on, instead of adding new and surprising gameplay, developers just make the rides longer and the searching harder, leading to some frustrating moments. Nothing kills a “one more mission” buzz like another repetitive, longer ride to nowhere just to head on back again.
Although the game is not without its flaws, I still maintain that the Days Gone has some foundational elements that could have made it an essential part of the PS4 library. In other words, when the gameplay works, it REALLY works. Nothing is more satisfying than staking out a zombie-infested base, sneaking in, grabbing the item that you need, getting seen by the horde, running away as the music swells, hopping on your bike, and zooming away from sure death. This is the mechanic that the game truly was built for, and the sensation that it brings when experienced is like nothing seen before in a zombie game. The motorcycle’s momentum, the zombie AI, and the dynamic environment work really well in tandem and feel incredibly fluid in motion. It’s too bad that these moments are few and far between, often resulting as the culmination of hours of fetch quests and bounty missions.
Furthermore, as a sandbox to play around in, the game is also incredibly fun. Nothing beats driving around rural Oregon, searching random caves, finding collectibles, and looting bandit camps away from the main story. Similarly to another great sandbox, Red Dead Redemption 2, Days Gone’s weather and varying climates also create a great atmosphere. Even the odd selection of guns feel pretty nice and varied in battle against the horde and the different approaches to combat (stealth, gunplay, distractions, weaponized zombies) give a plethora of options for the patient player.
Nothing is more satisfying than staking out a zombie infested base, sneaking in, grabbing the item that you need, getting seen by the horde, running away as the music swells, hopping on your bike, and zooming away from sure death
It may sound ridiculous, but the disappointment that results from Days Gone’s wasted potential is really its greatest downfall. It doesn’t have the anger or backlash of a colossal PR mistake like No Man’s Sky, but Days Gone truly feels like a mismanaged idea that never reached its full promise. Although one can never know what happens behind the scenes, it is possible that Sony Bend, having never published a full console title since 2004, couldn’t handle the intense level of detail that goes into crafting a modern open world game. The vision and mechanics behind Days Gone may have been fantastic but the actual scope of the project may have been their ultimate downfall, leaving them with too many moving pieces, a meandering story, and AI glitches nearly impossible to solve.
All in all, Day Gone is mostly a disappointment, having some fun gameplay mechanics that are marred by subpar writing, painful glitches, and repetitive gameplay. Despite these criticisms, the game is still a pretty fun romp for a fair amount of time even if you can’t get all the way through its larger issues. Don’t get me wrong, Days Gone is absolutely worth your attention, probably just not at full retail value. Fans of the survival-horror genre or zombie titles will probably find their energy well spent, and those looking for a mediocre replacement to open world titles like Red Dead Redemption 2 may find an average quality diversion. In all honesty, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the title on a North America PSN sale in a few months, so sit tight. As for me, it was an okay adventure, and I’m still not angry, just disappointed.