After 6 years of development, Days Gone is finally out! Here's our official review of the survival horror game from Bend Studio...
Emotional, Mysterious, Action-Packed Story with Tarantino-like Pacing
The world didn’t end with a bang, but with a shriek. A plague spread throughout the landscape, infecting all those it came in contact with. It turned once sensible people into grotesque, hungry, mindless beings known as “Freakers”. With Freaker populations skyrocketing, and the living dwindling, modern society succumbed to chaos. Survivors fled to less-inhabited parts of the country to rebuild. Factions began to form; from extremists (Rippers), murderous scavengers, evangelicals, peaceful survivors, and drifters. The result is a lawless dystopian society for the survivors of the outbreak.
Days Gone takes place in rural Oregon, two years after the outbreak, following one of the last surviving members of the Mongrels biker gang, Deacon St. John (Sam Witwer). Alongside his fellow Mongrel compadre, Boozer, Deacon sets off in this unrelenting new world to uncover the mysteries of the outbreak and help the remaining survivors--at a price, of course.
Things aren’t so rosey for this resourceful drifter, though. Deacon is haunted by the loss of his wife, Sarah, whom he lost during the outbreak. We learn early on that she was stabbed during the calamity, which forced Deacon to place her in the hands of an evacuating NERO (National Emergency Restoration Organization) chopper. One of the main story missions in Days Gone is to discover what happened to her through memories, pieced together after each mission. It provides the emotional tug for the story, whilst creating relatability for Deacon.
How the story is told in Days Gone is quite fascinating. Bend Studio took a unique approach by thrusting players into this dangerous, dystopian world without any context as to why we were there. Then, as you progress, layers of the story begin to peel away, allowing us to see the bigger picture by the end. At first, I found this to be jarring and disjointed storytelling, but then I came to realize it’s actually similar to that of a Quentin Tarantino film.
Equating it to a Tarantino film may sound like hyperbole, but stick with me here. Quentin Tarantino is one of Hollywood’s most remarkable, innovative storytellers. His films typically require a lot of exposition and world-building through discussion, but don’t provide the viewer with much context. As we progress through the story, we find ourselves going backwards in time to uncover the truth, which tends to include a mindblowing detail we didn’t see coming. Once we return to the present, Tarantino will, then, find a way to destroy everything in the bloodiest of ways, as if he’s decided he’s over the film.
Similarly, Days Gone features a story where it takes a while to really get underway and we don’t have all of the answers. The culture of the world is built through discussions with NPCs and to fully understand what’s going on we have to go to the past. Finally, interactions with the enemies of this world results in A LOT of blood. Something tells me Quentin Tarantino would approve of Days Gone.
My main criticism with the story is more of a technical issue than anything else. As I progressed through the game, conversations would take place over Deacon’s radio, as he’s riding across Oregon. There were several times where Deacon would whisper his response or the person he’s talking to wasn’t loud enough. Thus, the conversation became muddled between the sound of the motorcycle engine, shrieking Freakers, and the various storm systems that would blow through. Then, I’d suddenly have a new mission without any reason for it. At the risk of sounding ignorant without knowing the inner-workings of making an adjustment like that, it would be nice if they raised the volume, a bit more, in these situations.
That issue aside, the story is solid, fascinating, and remains true to biker culture which, from my discussion with Game Director Jeff Ross, seemed to be a major focal point in the 6 years it took to developer Days Gone. Well done Bend Studio team.
Plenty to do in a Dangerous, Breathtaking World
One of the gifts that keeps on giving in Days Gone is the phenomenal landscape. I’ve never been to Oregon, but if this is what it looks like, I’m booking my next trip there. The incredible art team at Bend Studio found a way to capture the awe-striking beauty of Oregon, within an incredibly dangerous environment. No joke, there were too many times I found myself getting mauled to death by Freakers and wildlife, just because I wanted to take a closer look at the snow-capped mountains in the distance, the glistening lake at the end of a forest, or a seemingly hidden brook within the trees.
Thankfully, that’s when I discovered the Photo Mode, which afforded me the opportunity to take in this gorgeous environment, without fear of it engulfing me in the process. A lot of studios have begun adding Photo Modes their games, so gamers can share one-of-a-kind experiences. In fact, it’s become such a mainstay that it’s a disappointment when they aren’t in the game. So, it was a nice surprise to find that Bend Studio for included it.
Days Gone isn’t limited to just sightseeing, though. The post-apocalyptic Oregon landscape employs a bevy of things to do and they all serve a purpose. For instance, if you’re taking a break from reminiscing about Sarah, Deacon can get on the road to liberate infected zones. This involves clearing out Freaker Nests that look just as gross as they apparently smell. Clearing out nests reduces the amount of Freakers that dwell in that area, making it a bit safer to drive, explore, and open up the Fast Travel function. Mind you, once you clear out the Freakers, any number of enemies can call these liberated areas home; so watch your back.
If that’s too terrifying for you, as it was for me on plenty of occasions, Days Gone provides bounties and other variety of quests to build clout with certain colonies. The more they trust you, the better equipment you can get and the more formidable you’ll become. Remember, literally everything is out to kill you. The better gear and parts for your bike, the easier it’ll be to survive.
Another way to earn better equipment is to knock out Ambush camps. A lot of them will hand you a new recipe for a unique weapon, be it a baseball bat with nails or an old school lawn mower rotating blade melee weapon, upon completion. The more unique the melee weapon, the easier it is to kill Freakers.
The point is, better equipment is vital to survival in Days Gone. There is another way to boost your stats for the long fight, however: locate NERO outposts. NERO outposts will require eliminating surrounding Freakers or Rippers that call this place home. Then, it’s up to you to restore power to access the base. Once you do, you’ll earn a buff increase for Health, Stamina, or Focus.
Even more important, you’ll learn more about what happened on the day of the outbreak. In doing so, however, you’ll also attract any number of nearby enemies as a recorded message will blast through the speakers. It’s up to you to have the forethought to remove these sound traps ahead of time...Unless, you just like living dangerously.
If that’s the case, the biggest test of Days Gone comes in the form of Hordes. Dangerous, unrelenting groups of Freakers, hell-bent on going overkill on Deacon. Until you’re outfitted with the best equipment and traps, Hordes are on the list of things to avoid in Days Gone. Several of the hordes are enclosed in certain areas, while others roam the land. It’s likely you’ll see them on your travels so steer clear, because they can and will knock you off your bike. With that in mind, it is the coolest feeling in the world to eliminate a horde. It’s a pulse-pounding, highly tense experience, where death is all but certain. But when you finally take out those last few it’s the most invigorating moment I’ve ever had in a game. Plus, if you eliminate all the hordes, you’ll get a pretty fancy trophy for your trouble.
Fascinating Gameplay Innovation
Days Gone features a gorgeous landscape with tons of things to do and fascinating story to follow. What else do you need? I’m glad you asked, because Days Gone includes some really cool gameplay innovation, the likes of which I haven’t seen in a game to date.
When I wrote my Days Gone preview, I talked about how impressive it was to seamlessly switch between a melee weapon and a firearm in the demo. In the full game, it became critical to survival. Just by clicking the right trigger for the melee weapon and aiming with the left trigger to switch to the firearm, it grants a certain ease when fighting off loads of enemies. However, that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
Another really cool innovation, that I appreciated was how the menu screen was accessed. Bend Studio utilized the touchpad in a way that I have yet to see in other games. To access the menu, you simply swipe on the touchpad. Swipe up for the quests, swipe right for the map, swipe left for inventory, and swipe down for skills. Most games use the touchpad as another menu, but you only press it to access what you need. I loved the fact that you actually could use the swipe motion. Granted, at times I swiped for the incorrect menu screen, but that’s more user-error than anything else.
Furthermore, while it’s not a new innovation, it’s still one that isn’t used as often as it should be, and that’s playing audio through the controller speaker. Bend Studio made sure to incorporate it in Days Gone. We spoke earlier about exploring NERO facilities and finding tapes. With the NERO tapes, any time you picked one up from a NERO camp, it would automatically start playing. Although, it wouldn’t be playing on your television. Instead, it played out of the speaker in your controller. To some, that may be a bit frustrating, especially if you game with headphones on, but for me it was a cool feature. Think about it if you were in their shoes. If you found a tape recorder, you wouldn’t be able to hear it in full surround sound on the road. No, you’d have to put it to your ear and listen to what happened. That little feature further engulfed me in the game. That said, if you want to hear it on your television or headset you can replay it through the menu screen.
I have to commend Bend Studio for being willing to think outside of the box with Days Gone. Studios tend to stick with a certain format because it’s easier to complete games and make it convenient for gamers. Whereas, the Bend Studio team really pushed the envelope and tried to access every part of the Playstation 4. Not many games can say they’ve done that.
Surviving is the Ultimate Reward
The best part of Days Gone is surviving Days Gone. One of their mottos has been that This World Comes For You. That is true in every sense. Every time I loaded into Days Gone, I knew I was in for a tough outing, whether I was burning down nests, hunting bounties, or desperately searching for gas to tank up my bike for the long journey ahead, all while deciding whether to fix up my bike or my favorite melee weapon.
Days Gone doesn’t want you to survive. Bend Studio gives you every tool to succeed (which typically ends up breaking or has limited ammo), but the mind of this world wants to kill you and it’s invigorating. That may be a bit odd to read, but games are all about emotional reactions and memorable experiences. Days Gone provides both by incorporating teeth-gritting tension in terrifying situations and memorable feelings of relief when you accomplish feats you never thought you could.
The story of Days Gone is good, the world is gorgeous, but it’s knowing you survived this unforgiving, dangerous world that is the true reward. The entire team at Bend Studio should be proud of what they accomplished. It’s a terrifyingly dangerous, beautiful game.