“And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.”
–Revelation 6:8 [KJV]
“The following is a contributor post by the Green Phantom Mage.”
6 years in the making, Days Gone is a game created by Jeff Ross and John Garvin of Syphon Filter fame. SIE BEND Studio has been affiliated exclusively with PlayStation for many years but this is their first creation since the Syphon Filter & Uncharted: Golden Abyss games. It is a brand new intellectual property coming into the PlayStation family of games, and, of course, any brand new IP is good news for us gamers.
Upon my initial inspection, I was reminded of The Last of Us from the previous generation. Both Days Gone and The Last of Us feature a game world that is drab in parts and this makes it, at least initially, hard to appreciate the game to a high regard in terms of graphics, especially since this gen has moved on and improved.
Of course, upon closer inspection, the game itself is impressive, more so than I had initially thought. Some of the visuals on offer are superb. The weather effects, in my experience, tend to enhance the graphical experience. Be it driving at sun-up showing off some impressive lighting effects or drifting through the mucky wet regions in the dead of night. Both are impressive and both showcase some excellent graphical prowess. In terms of skins and textures, these are very good overall but can be a little hit and miss at times if you look carefully. Some weapon skins look great but others, not so much. For instance, Deacon’s initial starting pistol looks like a light gun from a previous generation of gaming.
The facial animations are very good within Days Gone but are nothing to write home about outside the main characters. It is my view that facial expression and digitisation of character models have been showcased in a much more impressive way in other titles before now, Detroit Become Human being one that springs to mind here.
The overall aesthetic of the areas you travel to is positive, as each area does have a different look and feel. Each “zone” is different and reminded me, at least in my own head, of The Crystal Maze. These zones are very enjoyable to discover and scavenge through. They really do give a realistic view of what the world would be like if a global pandemic took place and definitely upped the immersion.
Unfortunately, from time to time, when partaking of some real scavenging, you will come across some copy-and-paste jobs in terms of buildings and in-world objects. As the game does not contain procedural generation in this regard, or at least doesn’t to my knowledge, you can expect to see this from time to time to pad areas out due to the sheer size of the game.
Draw distance is a positive here and I was able to make out many landmarks and even enemies at varying distances.
Overall the graphics are excellent but not genre-defining. This is something I was hoping for, considering this game has released at close to the end of this eighth generation of gaming.
Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War are the shining lights this generation for the PlayStation 4, and, yes, they’re not a huge amount better in terms of visuals but they are, in my opinion, better.
The sound in Days Gone, for the most part, is excellent. Weapon sounds, motorbike, footfalls, etc. are all of an extremely high standard. The ambient sound when exposed to the various weather effects is definitely one of the highlights and is great for the immersion factor.
All weapons, and I sampled them all, were very good, giving off a satisfying bite that really gives a sense of satisfaction. Bullet hits are also a plus point here and have that desired snap or sharp thud when making contact with an enemy.
Upon silencing your weapons, the sounds for handguns and rifles, etc. are very similar and could have used a little more of a “Hollywood” licence when being implemented in the game world. There is no variation. Rifles sound like a dull thud and so do handguns. Check out any movie where a silencer is involved and they differ, from movie to movie. This is a minor point but I love that sharp piercing sound that many films utilise for silenced weapons and it would have really hit home with me if they included it.
Freaker sounds are sufficiently horrible to give you “the fear” especially when a horde is nearby. The sounds that are produced when that happens really do make the “oh s**t-o-meter” jump up a few notches.
I was a little disappointed with the sound on show when taking out nests with Molotovs. The crack or snap you hear from fire when blazing hard seemed to be sadly missing. Yes, this, again, is harsh from a review standpoint but every little extra detail counts, in my opinion.
One other annoyance – and is definitely something that should not happen, in my opinion, when we are discussing a AAA developer – is sound synchronisation. In the latter part of the game, some cut scenes are painfully out of synchronisation with the audio. As a fan of single-player story mode games, this is a poor show and has still not been rectified more than three weeks past launch.
The music by Nathan Whitehead in Days Gone is very good, when it actually plays. It’s a reactive score so the music really only activates when danger is close, a battle is taking place or a cut scene is in play.
When the music does appear, it is excellent and really does make the action all that more enjoyable. I set time aside to listen to the soundtrack in its entirety on Spotify and it is a fine score. It’s just a shame that it’s not as evident as I’d have liked it to be.
Furthermore, some of the songs that SIE Bend Studio and the music head honchos have chosen for parts of this game are spellbinding and I found myself listening to them when driving to my day job.
Overall the sound/music is generally very enjoyable and immersive.
Days Gone, when taken without glitches and frame rate drops (of which there are many) is a really enjoyable and fun game. It takes place from the third person perspective and asks Deacon St. John, a Mongrel Motorcycle Club biker from Farewell, Oregon, to lay waste to as many “Freakers” as he can get his tattooed hands on. The game itself borrows many successful elements from other games and, as such, gives off a tone of familiarity, which some people may not like but I certainly dug. For example, how many games have you played where the throwable objects are highlighted by a curved line with an arrow on the end?
The shooting mechanics are good, but not superb, within Days Gone. I turned on target snapping in the options, and this did help, but even it did not function with the same slickness as, say, a Call of Duty game. This could be by design, due to the realism on offer within the game, but it is a game, after all, and I think it’s definitely something that needs a little refinement. It’s telling that I preferred using melee attacks over weapons, especially early-on in my playthrough. As better weapons became available, then, they were, of course, more effective at turning Freakers into mush but this is more a power issue than an accuracy one.
The menu system is something I was a fan of. Most of your gear can be accessed by a wheel similar to Red Dead Redemption 2 and countless other games. Days Gone, however, manages to make this an easier and more enjoyable experience. This is down to “crafting on the run”. The wheel itself allows you to craft and repair items easily, which is a great mechanic to have in a survival game. Items are reasonably plentiful in the game world, meaning creating most items is not an onerous task. Ammo is also plentiful and is available in numerous areas, namely in the trunk of cop cars, military bases and even your bike (upon upgrade).
The touchpad is also put to good use in this game for accessing menus and is very slick, once you get used to its operation. Each section of the pad is responsible for an in-game menu: map, skill upgrades, missions and inventory. Each selection of a menu is seamless and is something I feel elevates the game into that “cool” zone as the selection is a little different to most other games out there.
In terms of missions, they’re fairly standard for an open world game of this type – save this person, kill that person, clear that camp, etc. The fact that this game has additional missions based around hordes of Freakers means that these missions take on a new, fresher meaning than before. These missions are like mini-games within the game and require a fair amount of planning if you don’t want to be someone’s dinner. For example, running into an area with the idea that you’ll simply mow down whatever comes your way with your fancy, newly-unlocked, machine gun won’t get you very far. The use of strategically placed gasoline barrels, flammable crates, gas trucks, gas cans, grenades, Molotovs, etc. all have a use and, in many cases, a requirement.
My only real annoyance with the story missions is that, occasionally, when performing a side task in a story mode area, the story mode starts up mid-task. This was frustrating and certainly broke the immersion. The option to start the story mission would’ve been a welcome addition here, in my opinion.
As I mentioned before, this game has certain parallels with others and the main one I would suggest that this game is closest to is Mad Max. Obviously, the traversal is totally different, as Mad Max uses the Magnum Opus to tear across a desolate wasteland, whereas Deacon, in Days Gone, uses a drifter bike which is built for short, off-road journeys.
On foot, this game is very similar to Mad Max and improves upon many aspects that Mad Max employed. I would go as far as saying that if you are a fan of survival open world games, then this is a similar experience to Mad Max and is very much an upgrade in many ways.
This game could easily have used another few months on the crafting wheel, so to speak. The frame rate drop is painful at times and even caused my game to halt completely, even although the in-game sounds were still chirping away. Onboard your motorbike is where this is most noticeable. If you crank up a decent rate of knots, you will notice huge slow down and frame rate drops. It’s not completely game-breaking but it can be extremely frustrating at times. Likewise, encountering hordes can also summon the frame rate demons and, although my experience was mainly in terms of traversal upon my drifter bike, I did experience a few drops when encountering a horde.
Speaking of hordes, if this were The Matrix, there’d be hordes of black cats cutting around as the glitch count can be off the charts at times. I had a plentiful share of these during my playthrough. Apart from standard collision detection foul-ups or standing in mid-air, I climbed aboard my drifter, which was situated near a wall, and, to my surprise, it disappeared through the very wall it was next to. Luckily, I was merely knocked off the bike with Deacon having a somewhat puzzled look on his face. One bike recall later sorted the issue but it was fairly hilarious/frustrating, to say the least.
In the latter part of the game, many of the cut scenes broke the immersion and almost ruined the story element. The synchronisation with speech and the facial animations was completely off and didn’t correct itself. This, to me, after more than 3 weeks since release, and numerous patches, is a poor element to the game. It completely hampers the immersion and makes a mockery of what has been, up to that point, an extremely enjoyable and fun game. In addition to this, the loading of textures and skins took a hit for me in the latter part of the game, during cut scenes. Many faces would seem bland without that weathered look you’d come to expect. For example, Boozer’s head tattoo was completely lacking any definition at all, compared to the start of the game, and did provide some irritation on my part.
As I mentioned previously, this game needed more time in the workshop to fix the multitude of issues which definitely hold this game back from jumping into the gaming classic category.
Initial load times upon booting-up the game are painful. There’s a similarity to the Grand Theft Auto games, although not quite as long. Once the initial boot phase is complete, the remainder of the game’s loading issues seem to be fairly quick indeed. Most loading screens were completed within 20-30 seconds and the reload screen for death is also quick, meaning that load times within a level won’t cause anyone to rage quit. Again, in the latter part of the game, and especially if you’re fast-travelling over large distances, the load time does increase but, again, not to a level that caused huge upset on my part.
If you keep your PlayStation 4 on rest mode, you’ll obviously skip the long initial load time and this is definitely something I took advantage of whenever possible.
Overall, the gameplay here is extremely fun but is held back at times due to optimisation and bug issues. Most issues aren’t game-breaking but can be extremely frustrating. I can’t help but feel that the game itself could have used another few months to iron out some of the more irritating issues that are contained within the world of Days Gone.
The controls are good overall but, like some other open-world titles, they’re a little clunky to operate. This “clunkiness” comes to be an annoyance when you’re ripping across a parking lot or field with a horde breathing down your neck – and believe me, once you’ve gained an initial grasp of the game, clearing hordes is something that is a big part of the game. The motorcycle is an immensely enjoyable vehicle to drive but is painfully slow at the beginning of your journey. It also can take a fair bit of adjustment and, depending on the terrain, be a bit of a handful to control.
In open world games similar to this most button configurations follow a similar pattern and Days Gone is no different in this regard. Most operations are exactly where you’d expect to find them and are relatively easy to pull off. Before initially starting the game, I checked out the options for controls and did have to tweak them as I made my way through the first hour or so. Vertical/horizontal sensitivity can be altered – and needed to be for my taste. Target snapping is also something I added to my list of options as I felt the gunplay was a tad inaccurate and needed to be sharpened up.
The story from Days Gone was a very positive one, in my opinion. Some games tend to follow a fairly linear storyline but Days Gone changes this up and is definitely something I dug. Sure, the story itself is no great shakes and is fairly predictable but the way it’s delivered makes the nature of the story so much more appealing.
One of the main criteria I have for narrative-driven games is: can the game manage to elicit an emotional response (be it empathy, sadness, etc.)? This game definitely does hit this mark, on a couple of occasions, but not to the same levels as some other games within the same mold. One of the more poignant moments is when you’re riding your drifter with Boozer and an acoustic segment of music plays. This part was the first occasion that made me sit up and listen, at least in terms of narrative; very well done and a great part of the game, in my opinion.
In terms of character development, Deacon St. John is a character you root for one minute and then are disappointed and annoyed with the next. He is very much akin to the characters from Sons of Anarchy and does have an evil element to his nature, albeit tempered by his good side always longing for a simpler, peaceful life with his wife. A complex character for sure and one that I enjoyed as his story unfolded.
Boozer, Deacon St. John’s close ally and friend, on the other hand, is a more straight forward and affable character and is one I instantly took to. Many other characters inhabit the realms of Farewell, Oregon and are well written, some even more so than Deacon St. John, in my opinion.
At the heart of Days Gone, ignoring the drab wasteland that you inhabit, is a very poignant love story. I mentioned before that the story in Days Gone is fairly predictable but the heart that beats at the centre is certainly an emotional one and is one I thoroughly enjoyed.
The voice acting within Days Gone is very good where the main characters are involved. Sam Witwer (Deacon) and Jim Pirri (Boozer) both give excellent performances and really bring you into the world of Days Gone. They’ve a believability that is necessary to keep the immersion levels at their peak. I enjoyed their performances and the performances of most of the main cast.
Some NPCs, on the other hand, is where the game falls flat on its face, apart from the few attached to the main story/camps within the game. Encountering anyone outside of the game world is very generic and doesn’t look as if much effort has been made to digitise their actors’ performances. For example, any person you come across in the open world who is in need of rescue is essentially a copy-and-paste job. There is little variation and the voice acting, whilst good, doesn’t match the facial expressions; this means they don’t convey the level of relief/dread they must be feeling at that particular moment.
With respect to challenge, I’d say that Days Gone does have a high level of difficulty but this is not due to the player “getting good”, it is more in line with grinding out the missions and gaining better, and more efficient, weapons and explosives. For example, taking on hoards at the start of the game is essentially redundant, as you’ll be killed fairly quickly. The only alternative you have at the beginning is to run. After progressing through a sizeable amount of the game, the weapons you unlock and explosives you can craft, become more in-line with the type of weaponry required to take on an army of Freakers. The sawmill horde which featured in the infamous tech demo, in particular, is a tough hombre to handle, even with the upgrades I mentioned. In terms of standard, the story missions, including the many side missions, taking place in Days Gone all are pretty much standard open world fair and won’t cause a great deal of upset. That said, I’d tend to go along with the Boy Scouts’ mantra of “always be prepared”. If you decide to take on a hoard, or any sort of mission where you’ll encounter a large number of enemies, you’ll need to make sure you’ve sufficient ammo/explosives, and possibly even more stored on your bike, to truly feel confident in your ability to win the day.
Not too difficult but more of a time commitment to get to that elusive badass level.
This game can be addictive and, as such, the number of hours you put into the game could be well into the 60 hours + mark. I spent around 50 hours with Days Gone game and still hadn’t completed every single task. The game has a massive open world, riddled with many missions and places to scavenge. If you’re a fan of this type of thing, then I’d imagine you could get lost in the world of Days Gone for a very long time indeed. After completing the main story, it becomes very obvious that there is no New Game + mode, which in many respects would be a welcome addition but in others not so much. It would of course be fun to come back to the world of Days Gone with all of the advanced weapons, etc., but it wouldn’t suit the story, as many missions lead you through your own advancement. If we’re talking about value for money here, I’d say this is 100% worth your full recommended retail price, as you’ll spend many an hour traversing the plains of Farewell, Oregon – especially if open world survival games are your bag.
If you’re a seasoned veteran of open world survival games such as Mad Max, Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game, Horizon Zero Dawn, etc., you’ll be right at home here. If we talk objectively about how unique this game is, you’d have to break it down into certain elements: most open world games have a traversal system like a car or bike, etc.; most open world games have an inventory wheel; most open world games have progression trees for skills and abilities. If you remove those generic aspects and look solely at the world of Days Gone, then it’s a fairly unique environment filled with, for the first time in any single player game I’ve come across, hordes of enemies – and not just 10 or 20. We’re talking hundreds of enemies, streaming towards you in a fervent rage, clambering over each other to tear you apart. After dispatching one particular horde, I turned in over 300 credits, each signifying a single kill. This aspect makes this game very unique, in my eyes, especially since it’s a single-player, story-driven experience and not a horde-mode multiplayer game.
My Personal Grade: 8/10
This game is a complete blast when everything is working smoothly. This does happen, for the most part, and I had a great time playing Days Gone. The tension can be extremely high in places and the stealth action is enjoyable. The combat is solid and driving around the state of Oregon on your drifter bike is a top-notch experience, once your bike has a few upgrades.
The hordes and scavenging elements make this game special and if you ignore the many technical issues, and a few more little niggles along the way, then you’ll have a whale of a time. At the end of the day, who wouldn’t like laying waste to a couple of hundred Freakers as Deacon St. John, tough grizzled biker dude who can craft on the move? There are many elements to enjoy here and I’ll look back on my time with Days Gone with fond memories.
Aggregated Score: 7.6
The Green Phantom Mage exited “The Phantom Zone” to write video game reviews / articles and can be found at phantomlordgaming.com, Twitter- @justcallmeplg & Instagram @phantomlordgaming
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