Zombies are here and not going anywhere soon, despite seemingly a growing weariness. Whether they’re the result of a bio-weapon gone wrong, some undead curse or just a natural flu mutating, their moment in fiction, just like their characteristics, are swelling more and more.
So in this beyond overcrowded genre, how does Days Gone find its footing? Especially being the first major zombie release this year behind Resident Evil 2 and World War Z?
Days Gone tells the story of Deacon St. John, a biker turned bounty hunter working in the ruins of the Pacific Northwest. Deacon, voiced and based on the likeness of Sam Witwer, only goal is for him and his fellow biker brother, Boozer to make it further north. A little over two years since the world as fallen apart, Deacon as had enough of the infected and the settlement camps in the area.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a game without conflicts of interest to mess up his plans. After an incident early in the game leads to Deacon & Boozer needing help, the player is forced to work with three local settlements in the area. Each settlement as its’ own leader, each having their own relationship with Deacon, some worse than others.
Players can choose to take missions from any of the camps as they become accessible or concentrate more on one than the others. Each camp as designated leaders, each representing a different extreme and world view post apocalypse. There’s Tucker, a former women’s prison warden who rules with an iron fist. Morally grey Iron Mike, who’s camp plays an important part in the story. Last is Copeland, who also runs the conspiracy theory pirate radio show in the area, Each leader represents a different politically ideology ranging from democracy, libertarianism and autocracy. Beyond the political themes, each camps offers supply and weapon purchases as well as purchases, upgrades & modifications for Deacons’ bike. You can also obtain missions from certain NPC’s in the camps beyond their leaders, especially those in Iron Mikes camp.
However despite the three different camps, some missions are generally repeated in theme. Ranging from clearing out Freakers (the games infected) nest, handling Rippers(humans who’ve joined a cult in which self mutilation & murder is a requirement, or dealing with marauders, humans who refuse to join the camps & roam & terrorize freely.
Most of the side missions involve Deacon either recovering something or someone from one of the groups. The game pushes stealth with human enemies, which works, considering that most of them don’t react unless they see someone get killed right in front of them. Often times I dropped plenty of people right near someone without any alert or bit of scripted panic. Despite this problem, clearing out an encampment of human enemies with stealth did leave me feeling rewarded. It also gives Deacon more experience to level him up.
Deacon can be upgraded through basic skill trees relating to health, stealth, and weapons. Amongst those standard upgrades, each one allows for branching tiers to build him up even more such as a slow down mode useful for sniping, extending his stamina, and having item crafting cost less resources. Those are but a few of the ways players can choose to upgrade Deacon based on individual style.
Beyond Deacon, the players motorcycle can be upgraded also. Ranging from simple paint and decal jobs to more advanced things such as tires, frames, gas tank, storage, fenders, nitros, and the frame amongst a few others. Upgrading the bike can be slightly more difficult, due to players having to build trust in camps, which allows access to parts that a mechanic can install.
The bike sounds realistic, even after the upgrades, which are realistic. In a game with super agile undead running around they could’ve gone the Dead Rising way & had players construct over the top death cycles. Days Gone succeeds in keeping the bikes realistic, even with all the major upgrades. Combat ranges from melee to gunplay is surprisingly simple yet effective. Players can gain upgrades to make nail bats, pipe bombs, molotovs or take air filters from cars to make suppressors. Suppressors are great for keeping noise down but have limited use. You can always buy one from a camp if you can’t find one in a car.
Trust me, you’re going to want to upgrade the bike. In my play through it guzzles so much gas in the beginning that the first thing I did was upgrade the tank. Eventually followed up by the frame & exhaust. Upgrading the frame allowed the bike to take more damage & the exhaust lowers to noise output. Between attracting freakers, human snipers and infected wolves, having a stronger, faster, less noisy bike helps.
As Deacon goes about playing errand boy for everyone, he’s also attempting to find out what happened to his wife, Sarah.
The flashbacks serve as a way to help build Deacon outside of the gruff mercenary you mostly play as. While you can go in guns blazing or even ignore the random save a civilian side quest, Deacon never comes off as truly a bad guy. This is despite his & other characters dialogues discussing the things he & others have had to do in the two years since the start of the apocalypse.
Where characters like Joel in The Last of Us, carries a definite weight, Deacon almost feels a bit flat. Sam Witwers’ performance is good, it’s just the writing continuous to hammer in that he’s done bad things in order to survive without necessarily feeling weighted. He’s not the driest character by a long shot, just a bit derivative. Imagine a cleaner, less antisocial Darryl Dixon & you’ve got Deacon.
Beyond that let’s get into the main appeal of the game, the freakers. The freakers look & behave similar to the zombies from 2007, I Am Legend. Fast & hyper aggressive, they will beat, bite and claw at you & any other human in the area. They can be dealt with by gunfire or a few hits from melee weapons. If you find a few scattered, a stealth kill is another easy way of dealing with them. It’s when they’re in massive hoards roaming across certain areas of the game in which they’re a threat. If you see a hoard, it’s best to stay hidden & quiet until they pass. If they notice you, hopefully you’re on your bike cause getting from them on foot can be a challenge. They’re also more active & aggressive at night. You can wait to do most missions in the day time, choosing to sleep in safe locations.
Having your bikes tank & frame upgraded as soon as possible helps when sometimes random freakers will jump you while riding.
Like most games dealing with zombies, halfway into the game you’ll encounter special infected. These infected will definitely remind players of the special infected from Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil 6 & World War Z. Ranging from a bullet sponge like brute, to a screamer whose shrieks draw in other freakers. The special infected in Days Gone can be dispatched easily with high powered weapons & a few well placed explosives.
It also wouldn’t be a zombie game without a shady government group running around either. Enter NERO, this worlds version of RE’s Umbrella and Left 4 Dead’s, CEDA. Some missions will have you following squads of NERO scientists & soldiers as they go about researching the infected. These missions, while boring, help flesh out some background as well as foreshadow things you encounter later.
While the first half of the game feels like early to midseason The Walking Dead meets I Am Legend, the last half of the game definitely feels more late TWD. Specifically from the Governor arc on up.
The soundtrack is absolutely beautiful, in fact sound design as a whole works well in the game, from bikes to the sounds of the hordes. The hordes, which are the main appeal of the game are only a threat when actually encountered. Even then, outside of a few scripted moments, they can be easy to avoid. This is in comparison to Left 4 Dead or World War Z, in which their hordes are actual moments in which the player is forced to encounter & survive. Being forced to deal with a horde randomly in order to progress or during scripted moments is where World War Z beats Days Gone.
There are also moments when random characters & textures would load up next to me on my bike while out in the world. Having a random enemy appear next to you while riding only to get pulled off happened. This seems to have stopped after an update but was annoying during my first play through. Also, sometimes picking up items such as gas cans would glitch. Either following me in the air after use or freezing up sometimes when I attempted to fuel up my bike. Not game breaking but annoying when you’re trying to fuel up quickly with enemies right behind you.
While generic, Days Gone, is a serviceable infected open world game. For those of us waiting on the Last of Us 2 or wanting more story content for World War Z, it’s not a bad game to kill time. In a genre that’s becoming more & more derivative, Days Gone could’ve released a totally subpar game. There is heart put into the game, it’s just more like a group of friends watched a bunch of zombie films & decided to make their own without being too original.
3 out of 5 stars.