After more than three years in development, Bend Studio has released their post-apocalyptic survival title Days Gone, which sees players take on the role of Deacon St. John, played by Sam Witwer, in a world where infected known as Freakers have taken over. Through an emotional roller-coaster of a ride, it’s time to see if the wait was worth it, let’s find out starting now.
+One of the best scores in the current generation of games led by Nathan Whitehead
+Combat feels satisfying and as if every weapon has an impact
+Limited supplies make for a true survivalist type experience
+Multiple story arcs add depth to the game
-Limited supplies can lead to a difficult time clearing out nests and enemy bases
-Deacon’s voice audio doesn’t always match what he’s doing
“Someone asked me once if I remembered how it all went down; as if it happened so long ago anyone could forget. So yea, I remember. I remember when our homes and our towns turned into graveyards. When the wilderness became our only hope for survival. I remember when the planes fell out of the skies. When the trains stopped running. When the turbines shut down. When the world went dark.
I remember when we put up the razor wire – like it was going to stop anything. When the feds ran out of body bags. When some of us sort of lost our minds. Some lost more than that. Much more. I remember when we lived by a code; when brotherhood meant something, and living meant more than surviving. So yea, I remember how it all went down, but now, I don’t give a damn about any of that.
But you know what I remember most? Riding down the open road. The smell of your hair. The touch of your skin. I remember you… But those days are gone. Now… I’m a drifter, a bounty hunter, a mercenary.
And for me, the broken road is all that’s left… But I’ll always remember, days gone.”
When I first heard those lines from actor Sam Witwer in 2016 during Sony’s E3 conference, I knew Bend Studio was onto something. Not just something, but a masterpiece. Not because of how broken of a man Deacon is, but because of the man he was and the steps he’d been walking since those days. It was a game that instantly got my attention, leading me to consume what I could about the game: Gameplay trailers, the announcement trailer, story trailers, and even developer updates about the game.
Just as the trailer suggests, and now the game, humanity has been all but wiped out, but those who have the will, do persevere, just as Days Gone has since its release just a short two weeks ago. Since then, I’ve put countless hours into the world SIE Bend Studio has created, one brought to life by actors such as Sam Witwer (Being Human, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed) the voice of Deacon St. John, Jim Pirri (Final Fantasy XV, Red Dead Redemption 2), and Courtnee Draper (BioShock: Infinite, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD), among many talented other actors in the game.
Before we continue too far ahead, we do want to give you one chance to click away, as this review does contain minor spoilers ahead. None of the major plots will be discussed outside of one single spoiler.
Days Gone is an emotional rollercoaster spanning multiple across multiple narrative arcs
Your first major experience is about the first twenty hours, give or take, which sets up the narrative for the entirety of the game. It puts you in place, much as Horizon Zero Dawn had, giving you the emotional strides it’s looking to achieve with Deacon coping with the loss of his loved ones, the unsurety of his wife’s death before the outbreak, and where his concern for a rather injured Boozer stands.
Just as you would expect, Days Gone doesn’t hold back from its attempts to be an emotional rollercoaster. Through the beautiful score composed by Nathan Whitehead, Days Gone delivers in all three areas audibly, graphically, and narratively through its environments. However, it’s not necessarily just these three things that drive Days Gone home and brings it to life. Rather, it’s the culmination of acting, art design, the set pieces, and how the story is delivered.
Much like one of my favorite books of all time – I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson in 1954 – Days Gone borrows a few key elements that made me ache for Doctor Robert Neville. Much like him, Deacon is in an existential crisis, one where he’s unsure about where he stands in the scheme of things. His wife is dead, the world around him is dying, the Freaker swarms are only getting worse, and those who do survive, aren’t actually living.
Just like I Am Legend, parts of your story will unfold in flashback scenes, before the outbreak, before Sarah’s death, and even during the outbreak itself. All these scenes set up a bigger picture, ones of where Deacon had hope, he had the will to push on, but also put his friends, his loved ones, and those he cared about before himself. Even moments such as when Boozer injured himself as the epidemic took the world by storm. It’s not the first time his troubles have shown through the craps.
His troubles, however, aren’t just about the state Boozer is in, the fact he lost his wife or the fact he feels something’s off about the world around them; he’s not sure what to do anymore and it’s implied that his only reason for living, is to give those who survive, a chance at life. In many ways, it almost has the same ring to it Robert Neville has in I Am Legend. He’s hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel, which he eventually finds, almost 20 hours in when he heads to Tucker’s Camp.
On his way there, he meets a young lady, one that’s been surviving in the wilderness on her own. Away from the Raiders, the Rippers, and somehow surviving the infected swarms of Freakers. But as the game implies, Deacon’s adventure’s aren’t just about himself, but the road he travels – The Broken Road.
His road is troubled, damaged, and beyond repair. His bike is central to it all. It’s his means of helping people like the young lady he has been tasked to save, getting Boozer’s medicines or wraps he may need, and even clearing out Freaker nests to drive the story forward. However, there’s something along the way that drives the story forward, and in ways – it is what kicks the game into overdrive – it very well sets the tone for the second part of the game. A chapter if you will.
There’s more to the world than meets the eye
In the world, Deacon’s not the nice guy you want to like in the initial moments of the game. He’s the bad guy, the biker where 1% determines where you stand when you are riding with colors on your back, an unspoken loyalty to those you ride and or die with. Sarah, unlike him, is the nice girl, one where they show that opposites can attract. She’s the nice girl, the scientist who wants to help make our world a better place, one who works for a biotech company that seeks to help cure diseases and make our lives a bit better in the scheme of things.
Just as you would expect in an arc called the NERO arc, the story itself decides to kick it into overdrive, hitting the nitrous, and taking us for the ride of our lives. It’s here that we really get to see Deacon blossom as a character. He’s not some hardass you want to hate, but a man overwhelmed with heartache, an unconditional want to know the truth about his wife’s death, and if she actually died. All of this is brought to life during these missions as he spies on NERO scientists – scientists that work for the company she had before the outbreak happened.
Their goal is simple: They are studying the infected. They are often trying to find what is truly going on with the Freakers, if they’re evolving, what motivates them, but even what’s happening to the world around them. As you can imagine, nothing here is great, and for Deacon, more questions than answers have begun to unfold. He’s learned that the Freaker’s have evolved, they aren’t just carnivores, they eat plants, they eat the world around them as well, and that they aren’t going to starve, they aren’t going to degrade, like a zombie would. They’re here to stay.
Along the way, you meet a scientist, one who was with Sarah the moment she took that fateful helicopter ride over the horizon, escaping a city on fire, a city filled with the infected. That’s where the story truly picks up, allowing Deacon to not just become a beacon of hope, but a man with questions who wants more answers than “is she alive”.
It’s a question that will become integral for the entirety of the story, providing Deacon with more split than a single one. The way they introduce new types of infected, are through these very story elements, tying them directly in with the sequential order of your story, allowing you to fight familiar foes, but with greater strengths and resilience than their fellow infected.
The NERO story arch is the most important, so pay attention, and do those NERO checkpoints
As told before, the story does fall through with a bit of a flashback sequence whether it’s through NERO medical units, which is most common, that contain recorders that give you an idea of what’s going on. One such recorder describes what’s going on in the world outside, another about two soldiers discussing the outbreak itself, and one even being a doctor who has been studying an infected. They’re various on what their stories are, but they all are at different points in time, each one giving a different side of the outbreak itself.
But getting to these story elements isn’t just a walk in and take it scenario. You have to get the NERO station up and running once again. Doing this also means the speaker systems will activate, playing a recorded message that explains how and what the checkpoints are for those fleeing from the infected. But finding these speakers isn’t an easy manner. You’ll have to look around and some checkpoints are easier just to let them activate and prepare for the Freaker swarm that will make its way to you.
Rewards, however, are great. You’ll enhance Deacon’s stats, giving him more stamina, more focus, and even health. These little injectors aren’t just important, they’re vital, and they’ll increase your odds of surviving against the more powerful types of infected. But there’s more to this game than meets the eye. There are layers to it and every layer is completely unique from the others.
Everything, literally everything, plays a role
One design choice that stands out is how the world itself stands out, how each part of it stands in as a larger piece to the puzzle and sets itself up as an eventual portion of the story. Narratively speaking, the world itself is the main character, with us only controlling a small moving cog in its much bigger wheel.
Whether it’s the remaining human factions you face down, the remnants of a camp you will visit, or those who still cling to hope – everything plays a role. Even the small transition from one end of the map to another via a once-busy tunnel. All these remnants of humanity aren’t just to set a tone, but to serve as a constant reminder of what is, and what has been, a narrative push to keep the world moving forward.
Just like the primary characters, namely Boozer and Deacon St. John, everything grows with time. Each of the stories themselves develops the characters, even more than you might imagine, showing some of their past hardships they had to encounter, or choices that they hade made which came with a consequence to their actions.
It’s not just Deacon and Boozer that will find this to be fact. Many of the NPCs themselves will also find this to be a truth. Many of them will face harsher realities. Some will find camps they hate being in, driving Deacon to take them elsewhere, and some NPCs will even react to choices you previously made such as who went to their camp and why. It’s an interesting role they play and it doesn’t go unnoticed.
Bend Studios’ design choice was ingenious and it works well in their favor when all things come said and done, however, not everyone might be able to appreciate it through the difficulty of the game, no matter which one you put it on, as the game is all about survival.
Survival is the name of the game
When you think of horror-survival, you’re most likely going to think of something close to Slender Man or SOMA, but the reality is, it’s nothing like them. It’s something more along the lines of what Horizon Zero Dawn had to offer when coupled with elements from The Last of Us.
It’s a beautifully painted experience, one where resources are limited, Deacon’s chances of survival are dependant on the player’s ability to enter and exit combat without using too many of their resources. Scrap, ammo, crafting supplies – they all come in limited supply and finding them is harder than actually buying the items from a vendor.
Even then, survival isn’t just about what weapons you are packing, what location you are in or having some inkling of an idea about where your enemies actually are. Rather, it’s also about knowing when to fight and when to flee. A swarm is rewarding in the sense of bounty, experience, and progression to clearing out a zone. There’s also the reputation to be had from a nearby camp, but at a cost. You can die, you might die, and at times – you will die.
Combat itself feels realistic. It feels as if every bullet shot, every Molotov thrown has an impact, and every swing of a bat swing has a sense of power behind Deacon’s landed hits. Even when you aren’t navigating his bike down the broken road, there’s a sense of urgency as you explore, even in the moments where you are in combat while riding on the bike or crouching just over the edge of a cliff.
Not every fight is at the long distance ranges you might hope for – some fights will need to be planned out, traps placed carefully, stealth used to its advantage, and played through with caution. Traps such as proximity mines, trip mines, and even remote detonators can play a key role in how a combat scenario might play out.
On the other side of the coin, you may opt for suppressors on your rifle or your pistol, using them to pick off one target at a time, using Deacon’s ability to focus (bullet-time) to land critical headshots before moving on. Another tactic might be to down someone, lay a trap, and lure an enemy into your trap, watching them detonate it before picking off the others from behind.
You might even opt for something a bit more interesting, using special bolts for your crossbow to cause enemies to attack one another, watching them tear one another apart before making your way through their camp without being noticed. But take note, there is always a risk versus reward experience and not every encounter will play out in your favor, which will lead to improvisation for a chance at success.
Performance and graphics are absolutely stunning
One of the things about this game isn’t just how it looks, but also how it performs. Days Gone isn’t just a small thing to stick your nose up at any point in time. It’s beautiful, it’s believable, and it feels organic. Everything about the game as far as graphics, animations, and detail goes – Days Gone is a step ahead of many of today’s biggest hitters both in graphics and performance.
It easily stands side-by-side with Killzone: Shadowfall, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Devil May Cry V. All of them packing extremely beautiful graphics, a sense of depth, and a great level of design choices that have been made. Along with the graphics and attention to detail comes performance, which does not disappoint whether you are on a PlayStation 4 Pro or standard model.
The game itself runs rather smooth, taking advantage of the hardware that it uses, including HDR, to bring the world of Days Gone to life. Even if it’s simple moments as taking a ride with Boozer on the back of the bike, revisiting memories with Sarah, or watching a Freaker swarm down below as the rain falls from the sky and lightning lights the world around you; Days Gone is a magnificent experience and it’s one that any and every PlayStation 4 owner should give a chance.
You won’t see details quite like this anywhere else this generation and this could very well be one of the games that stands as equals to the likes of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey.
It’s time for one last ride down the broken road as we come to our conclusion
Whether you read reviews that released just as the game hit the shelves or not, it’s hard not to recommend Days Gone, a beautiful masterpiece that tells the tale of survival, heartbreak, brotherhood, and what it means to be alive. Whether it’s one story arch coming to a conclusion of what happened to Sarah or the dangers that face Deacon and his best-friend turned brother, Boozer, there’s always something there.
The game is always delivering one experience or another, even if it’s during those few minutes riding down the road, or the moments you’re fast-traveling to a camp. No matter where you go, there’s a narrative, and every little thing tells a small story that adds to the bigger picture.
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Platform Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Developer: SIE Bend Studio
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: Available Now
The only thing left to say now is this: Days Gone is one of the strongest titles we’ve yet seen this year and it is one that stands as one of the best PlayStation titles of this generation and it’s one I highly urge you give a chance ahead of clearing off your backlog of games.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was purchased by the writer for this review. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.