Days Gone Review

March 7, 2020

Days Gone is a gorgeous-looking zombie survival game that is exclusive to PlayStation 4. It’s clearly meant to capitalize on the zombie mania kicked off The Walking Dead. Then again, The Walking Dead has been a shuffling zombie of its own for a few seasons now. And the gorgeous graphics of this open-world adventure from SIE Bend Studio can’t change the fact that Days Gone is a repetitive and plodding mess.

The Premise

By this point, it probably feels like you have experienced every possible zombie story anyone could ever tell. So, what’s the premise of this particular zombie game?

In Days Gone, your character must navigate the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Oregon in search of fellow survivors and the non-stop quests given to you by different communities. What led to this apocalypse? It’s technically not zombies: instead, the “Freakers” are humans who are infected by a virus.

In some ways, this is the first “whiff” when it comes to the game’s attempts to be unique. “They’re not zombies, they’re infected humans” is a false distinction when they look and act exactly like zombies. And this twist on the premise seems like it was done much better in games like Resident Evil 4.

The Hero

Zombie video games always present an interesting narrative dichotomy. In a zombie movie, the monsters are the real stars: the humans are just the hapless victims we watch get munched as the movie goes on.

But you can’t have a video game without a protagonist. Days Gone gives us Deacon St. John, a biker and gang member with a military past. After the seeming death of his wife, he uses all of his experience (and every weapon he can find) to take on the hordes of enemies.

To put it mildly, Deacon is not a very compelling character. It seems like he was designed by a committee. He’s a bike gang member, giving us some Sons of Anarchy vibes. And his traveling to increasingly remote communities on a motorcycle gives off a strong “Daryl from The Walking Dead” energy. Finally, his whole “scruffy veteran” bit channels every protagonist from SyFy’s monster movies, all in one character.

The committee behind Days Gone probably wanted to create a strong blend of these archetypes in Deacon. Sadly, this is a character I can only describe as a “strong bland” instead.

The Bad Guys

A hero is nothing without bad guys. Who, then, is Deacon St. John struggling against in Days Gone?

Generally speaking, your main enemies are the zombie-like Freakers. In true video game fashion, there are a wide variety of these guys with different powers and abilities. And in true zombie apocalypse fashion, you have to take on dangerous human enemies from time to time.

The final enemy is nature itself. Most of your gameplay involves traveling through the middle of nowhere. Along the way, you’ll need to fight things like bears, wolves, and cougars.

On the positive side, Days Gone is a beautiful game. We may be in the last days of the PlayStation 4, but developers like SIE Bend Studio have learned how to squeeze the most from this engine. And the graphics enhance the setting: it’s really cool to see the Pacific Northwest realized in this kind of open-world setting.

The Fetch Quests

For better or for worse, Deacon and his fellow survivor friend Boozer are not the only survivors of this apocalypse. Oregeon has many tiny communities of humans just trying to survive from day to day.

Your character quickly develops a symbiotic relationship with these communities. They have the resources (mostly guns, gas, and ammo) you need to survive and to travel. And you have the expertise to protect them from the Freakers that threaten their survival.

How does that relationship play out? In the only way it could: fetch quests.

Since Days Gone is all about the quests, it would be ideal if there was a lot of quest variety. Sadly, that is not the case. Instead, the repetitive quests will be very familiar to veterans of MMORPGs. You’re mostly either killing something or fetching info and items (and then killing something).

You might argue “kill things and find stuff” is at the heart of any zombie survival game. But since the quests add nothing new to that formula, they just serve as a reminder of how unoriginal all of this is. And this is a pretty long video game. In fact, you’re likely to spend a minimum of 30 hours to beat it.

But despite how repetitive they are, the quest rewards are very fulfilling. Unlocking different kinds of weapons gives you new ways to play and helps keep later encounters fresh. That is particularly important as you approach the 30-hour mark.

The Final Verdict

So, is Days Gone worth your time, or should we let it get torn apart by mindless monsters?

The honest answer is “probably not.” It’s not a terrible game: the graphics are beautiful and gameplay is engaging. But the protagonist and premise seem dated and unoriginal, and the game drags on far past the point where it will keep your attention.

Maybe by the time Hollywood develops an original zombie idea, the video game industry will manage to craft a unique zombie game.

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