Country road rash.
I’ve always wanted to check out Portland, Oregon in the US. During my time studying/working in North America, I’m always curious as to how vast the woods and trails are especially when you want to arrange a road trip just to see how lush it all is. As fun as it is to drive along the rocky roads from Kuching to Sibu with nothing but green and finding longhouses/campsites to relax & bask in, it’s definitely not the same as in a lush field and highland as Oregon.
In Days Gone, the latest action adventure zombie-killing PS4 exclusive, I sort of got my wish. As former biker outlaw and drifter mercenary Deacon St. John, you ride out on your bike on the lonesome roads of the Pacific Northwest, which also contains Portland, Oregon. From four seasons weather to the rocky hills and lakes, Days Gone boasts a huge landscape for our “hero” to drive around in on his motorcycle. You’ll be doing that a lot while fending off random zombie hordes (called Freakers), cutthroat drifters and marauders, “cultists” called the Rippers, and the occasional infected zombie bear or two.
And to be frank, satiating your wanderlust in SIE Bend Studio’s version of forest-heavy America is the best part of the game.
The Lost & The Damned?
Imagine the “aimless yet free-form” gameplay of last year’s State of Decay 2, but with every aspect of combat and survival feeling polished. With tight controls, engaging action portions, and solid gunplay-slash-melee-bash, you’ll have fun traversing and exploring the great unknown. And the aforementioned bike? It’s a blast to ride around in especially when you get more upgrades.
You’ll spend lots of time ransacking abandoned houses to find crafting materials for weapons and tools you create via the Survival Wheel. Protip: you can slow down time when you whip out this feature; you can repair weapons, create pipe bombs, and put on suppressors onto your guns mid-combat.
Stealth gameplay is also rewarding too; you conserve bullets and weaponry that you can use for future battles. It’ll be useful for the lot you will face from zombie wolves to cultists. They can deal a lot of hurt, so you need to be quick with the dodge button, manage your stamina, find the best time to reload, and counterattack.
Much like an RPG, Deacon can “level up” and gain skill points that bolster his ability to fight and flee for each monster he kills. The fastest way to gain experience points is to finish side missions and main quests, of course, but unlocking most of Deacon’s skills can amp up your play style further.
So you’ll want to finish up your story bits with one of the few human camps to get that sweet ability that lets you do max damage when you switch from guns to melee. Or get that ability that lets you recover stamina quicker than usual or get it back after a kill.
Like your Zeldas and your Okamis, you can also find special permanent health/stamina/focus-boosting buffs by way of NERO injectors found in abandoned NERO border crossings and camps.
Exploration in Days Gone yields bountiful rewards, be it materials for crafting or all-out survival. The game thrives in this aspect by the boatload.
Part of the reason why you want to be on the road all the time is because of Deacon himself. He’s not an altruistic guy and he’s not your world’s saviour. He’s a drifter who wants credit for each job he does; together with his pal Boozer you were the duo who wandered around the countryside to survive. After a particular story event early in the game, you end up going out alone to be the provider and survivor, helping out different camps and furthering the game’s story as you go.
Without spoiling the story, Deacon’s story arc and his main objective of “escaping north” is fraught with a lot of baggage and makes us feel for the guy who has gone through a lot to get to where he is. He’s not necessarily a nice human being, but he tries to be despite the circumstances. And thanks to particular spoiler-heavy revelations, he does his damnest to preserve whatever humanity he has left and fights for it in a world gone wrong.
Even his ramblings and mumblings when he’s doing a mission solo makes me pity the guy, try as I might not to laugh since it can get immersion-breaking (I’ll get to that later).
Loneliness & trust issues will do a lot to a man’s psyche, especially in a universe filled with everything trying to kill you, so I can understand why Deacon is the way he is.
All of this ties into how atmospheric the game is. When it runs fine and doesn’t stutter, your eyes will be treated with grand vistas of the Pacific Northwest’s redwoods and its lush lakesides and ponds. As you head down south in the second half of the game, you’ll be treated to a slightly-more charred locale which is still detailed and has some sense of wonder and desolation. You know, just to remind you that this is still a post-apocalyptic zombie-filled wasteland. Hell, there are even story segments where you’re riding to the next locale and an emotional acoustic piece plays on to set the dreary mood. It’s obviously cribbing off from Red Dead Redemption, but it works here.
As you play the game further and longer, you’ll start seeing some technical issues getting in the way. I don’t mean hard crashes; I mean just getting around, moving while the game does its best to process all of this, sounds getting clipped off a bit, and the occasional animation goof during pivotal story scenes. And also a bit of loading, though to be fair, it’s only noticeable when you start the game.
There’s also funny instances where enemies “velcro” and “snapback” to cover during gunfights. This leads to many “insta-teleport” moments where I would usually waste bullets because my target disappeared to cover in a flash.
And then there are rare instances where I cannot finish a crucial story mission because one of my Survival Wheel options is locked out unless I downloaded the game’s pre-launch patch.
Lord knows what’s going to happen in the rest of the game that feels like an open world game that can fudge up at any key moment. And that’s not even counting the frame dips when you’re running the game on a regular PS4.
I also got a bit tired with some of the mission repetition and enemy types. As fun as it is to fight and run away from hordes, I’d like to have some enemies switch up their routine instead of being bullet sponges that hit hard. Oh and you have your usual hostage-protecting and “snipe enemies in NPC’s way” type missions that we’ve seen elsewhere and arguably done better.
A New Franchise In The Making?
Somehow or other, SIE Bend Studio has taken the concept of Xbox’s State of Decay and condenses the experience into a more savvy and single-player meaty experience that I actually give a s*** about. At the same time, the game is loaded with so many technical issues that I won’t be surprised if the game’s Day One patch will be very huge. Nonetheless, it doesn’t sour the entire package.
There’s a lot to appreciate here, ambition and all, especially a game that uses the post-apocalyptic zombie survival action trope. Expect a ton of emotional twists and turns in Days Gone‘s narrative that will get you invested coupled with some great survival and exploration gameplay. Just be prepared for a 25+hour haul. And the eventual repetition disguised in different areas. And the occasional chinks in the game engine.
Days Gone may have the heart and soul of a champion, but it still needs more spit and shine, especially in the gameplay and flow department, before it can become a big league player.
-Great open-world gameplay with its own challenge.
-Harrowing survival story with an interesting lead character.
-Some missions can be fun & challenging.
-Deacon’s bike is fun to ride on.
-Needs more enemy & story mission variety.
-Story pacing and gameplay doesn’t flow seamlessly unlike other PS4 exclusives.
-LOADS of technical immersion-breaking bugs & issues.