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Days Gone – First Impressions

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I remember when I first saw a gameplay clip from the then in development Days Gone. It was a few years ago and I was immediately hooked on what looked like a mix of World War Z, The Last of Us and 28 Days Later. The 15 minute clip showed the protagonist with backwards cap and biker jacket, being chased by a huge angry mob of fast, bloodthirsty zombies. The chase scene was tense, exciting and I literally went out a bought a PS4 the next day in order to be prepared for its release (being a PS4 exclusive and all that).

Several delays and a few years later I finally held a review copy of Days Gone in my excited, sweaty and eager hands. I don’t have a problem when projects are delayed – usually it means that the developers aren’t happy with the product and want to keep fine tuning it before release and I admire that they would rather keep fans waiting rather than release something they weren’t 100% happy with. Besides, anticipation is all part of the experience. Days Gone came wrapped in a bikers bandanna and the packaging was lush – super apocalyptic cardboard with worn text, immediately bringing me into the world of the game prior to even using the download code and installing. My excitement continued to grow. My excitement then had to chill the heck out as I needed to install 60gb + as it was a digital download. I put my excitement on hold. A watched kettle never boils and other such cliches of patience were completely ignored as I painfully watched the game download.

Finally. It was time. Years of expectations flooded my tiny brain as the Days Gone logo appeared and a horrendous biker ring spun in the corner of the screen to indicate loading. I was in. Selecting normal difficulty instead of going with hard (as I wanted to play as much as I could to get this review done!) I was immediately thrust into the world of Days Gone. Several days or weeks into an infection gone viral, creating rabid zombies known as “freakers”, I met Deacon St John (lol really?), a biker with a softer side. A story is flashed across the screen with glorious graphics. Even on my standard PS4, completely free of 4k ability, the cut scenes looked stunning. I could see the blackheads on Deacons nose. The story unfolds. A love interest is stabbed. A best friend is injured. A helicopter can only take two bodies and alas we have three. So our hero stays behind. And so does his best friend in true masculine “we both go or we both stay” style. Cut to our two manly men, now speeding through an open ended forest while beautifully rendered landscapes fly by and the lighting effects perfectly create the atmosphere of a dangerous late night chase. Your motorbike is quick, handles brilliantly and is boasting a large amount of regenerating nitros for those extra boosts (enjoy the free pass on these upgrades, it’s short lived as once you are through the prologue customisation is all up to you! I, for instance, have a pink motorcycle). You feel like an expert as you zig and zag through the exciting opening scene. But then. Everything goes wrong. But I am going to leave those graphic and violent moments for you to enjoy for yourself.

Shortly after this opening cutscene and ‘prologue type’ gameplay, we are in our open world. A beautiful desert is our playground – a Pacific Northwest American landscape of dusty paths cut out of winding trees and a society that has escaped. Humans have turned to monsters – both metaphorically and literally as we try to deal with right and wrong and an ever changing sense of morality (classic Walking Dead feels here!). Like most post-apocalyptic games the roads are filled with broken down cars, deserted homes and broken bridges. The map is huge in scope and stunningly designed. Visually the game looks amazing and there is a real sense of the open world freedom. Reminiscent of great games that paved the way, such as Mad Max and Red Dead Redemption, the feeling of endless options as to where to go and what to do first can be pretty overwhelming. For example, I promised myself I would stick to the story missions to begin with but soon found myself obsessed with looting vehicles (by using your knife to pop open car boots – super satisfying), doing side missions (bounty hunting, destroying freaker nests, powering sites etc etc) and honestly there is so much to do. Although the activities and missions themselves are pretty standard open world fare, the sheer volume of things to do means you aren’t going to get bored in a hurry. They may not necessarily feel like original tasks, but they are many.

In terms of the fighting mechanics – Days Gone really nails it (pun totally intended). The shooting system operates much like the third person style of games like GTA V in that you manually shoot at your opponents by pulling L2 to bring up your weapon, and R2 to fire all whilst ducking in and out of cover. As I progressed I was able to unlock a ‘focus’ feature which reminded me of the slow-motion ability in the classic Max Payne series. As far as melee goes this is by far my favourite aspect of the game. Unlocking combos and finishers, combining and upgrading baseball bats, pickaxes or just a big ass piece of wood makes the combat feel fresh and different each time you fight. Each melee weapon has pros and cons – speed vs strength and the skill of timing your attacks while rolling away as your only form of defense is super satisfying. While this melee combat took a while to master, eventually I was taking on mini hordes of freakers and baddies alike. By adding in a level of RPG elements Days Gone really lets choose how you play. Are you going to carry a sniper rifle for distance or a crossbow for stealth? A sawed-off shotgun for impact or a machine gun for volume? Along the way you find injections in order to permanently upgrade your health, stamina or focus (I recommend sorting that stamina first – you’ll need it) and you also have skill points so you can choose if you want to focus on melee, gun combat or survival skills. The differing ways in which you can customize Deacon as well as your weapons and motorbike makes me feel like there is definite replay-ability at hand. At times the learning curve can feel a bit steep but the good thing about this is that it is often a sign that you are tackling a mission that you aren’t ready for – for example I tried to take on an insanely massive horde – and, after dying for the 7th time, realised that I should come back to this mission once I had powered Deacon up more. This provides a level of skill and trial and error to the game which only deepens the experience for the player.

Storyline wise I am not yet confident enough to comment on this in too much detail both for spoiler reasons and also because I am still quite early into my Days Gone adventure. However what I can say so far is that I have found the dialogue to be pretty typical of video game, cliched dialogue. It is inevitable to draw comparisons between this game and The Last of Us and I am hoping as the story progresses further I am drawn into an equally engaging story. Once I have fully completed the story I will write a follow up review with my thoughts on this (spoiler free of course!).

There are moments where I must admit I am a little disappointed with the occasional lack of polish given how long the game took to come out. Moments where the sound mixing is pretty poor and the dialogue is hard to understand or, for example, a large part of the game where the voice actors have recorded their dialogue to sound like they are shouting over a loud motorbike engine but due to poor sound mixing you can barely hear the engine, so it just seems like needless shouting which becomes a bit grating. Once or twice the game has glitched and Deacon has slid across the screen awkwardly (this didn’t affect gameplay but was hilarious) and on one occasion I completed a ‘random encounter’ but it didn’t trigger completion properly so I walked away without getting the progress points for it. These issues are far and few between and certainly aren’t game breaking issues however they are bit surprising given the length of time the game spent in development. Nothing an early patch or two won’t fix I’m sure.

Overall – did Days Gone live up to the ridiculous expectations that the gameplay trailer left for me all those years ago? Short answer – yes. Long answer – kind of – so far. Days Gone is a beautifully presented (for the most part) hugely exciting open world game with heaps of variety. It has an awesome RPG style system and plenty of different gameplay elements to it to keep the player engaged and interested for a ridiculous amount of time, however so far it doesn’t really offer anything overly original or new to the open world experience. While the game ensures that there is ALWAYS a huge variety of stuff to do, the variety of stuff is exactly what you’d expect from a game of this nature.  

Days Gone does what it does really well, but it doesn’t do anything I haven’t seen before. I can’t wait to finish it to see if any surprises do lay around the corner.

-Ashton Brown

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