Note: Review code provided by Sony and Terminals.io. Also, this review will not be a comparison to the console versions of the game.
Few things have been more prolific in the games industry than zombies. The same thing could be said for checkbox open-world games. So, what about a combination of the two? That is where Days Gone comes into play, combining the two and sprinkling in motorcycles and Oregon. While this game isn’t as memorable compared to other Playstation 4 exclusives, it is still a solid title that fits right in on PC.
Set in Oregon two years after a global pandemic, you play as Deacon St. John, a former biker club member who is now a bounty hunter, traveling from camp-to-camp with his friend Boozer to make ends meet. One day, Deacon spots a NERO (National Emergency Restoration Organization) helicopter overhead, and he gets to wondering if his wife, who he left in the care of NERO when the pandemic happened, is still alive. From there, he goes off on a hunt for his wife, running into many others both friend and foe.
Much like Ghost of Tsushima (another Sony published title), Days Gone is another one-of-those but with a large budget. Anyone who has played an open-world game in the past ten years will be familiar with a lot of what’s going on this game, but I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing considering it’s a formula that I and many others have come to enjoy. Unlike its samurai brethren, however, this is a game that falls just short in just enough categories to where it doesn’t quite pack that punch compared to other Sony-published titles (which is probably why the game released on PC).
Over the course of the game’s roughly 30 hour campaign, Days Gone follows Deacon on his quest to find his wife who separated from him when the pandemic hit. While this story isn’t anything unique, I did find the story’s pace and structure quite enjoyable. The game basically opens up a bunch of storylines both big and small and mixes them together in a way I think plays well to a bounty hunter doing business with multiple camps. There are parts where the game pads out the run time by only offering smaller side stuff to complete before getting back to the main or larger questlines, but overall I like the mix compared to just following one singular path to the end.
A lot of the plot of this game (especially the ending) is predictable, but it’s still enjoyable nonetheless.
While the story’s structure is enjoyable, Deacon St. John is not. At best, he’s an okay and somewhat sarcastic guy to be around when he’s with his trusted few, but for the most part, he’s an ass. For example, throughout the campaign, he deals with a guy named O’brian who was on the helicopter with your wife. Despite him saving your wife’s life and offering to help Deacon find his wife, he returns the favor by threatening to kill him if O’brian doesn’t help. This attitude can be seen throughout, with Deacon begrudgingly doing tasks for others and overall just being mean to almost everyone even if they help him. He also doesn’t really evolve much as a character, and I would’ve liked to have seen the hard shell built up around him crack as the game progressed. His lack of evolution is also a bit weird when the game tries to act like he’s evolved more than he actually has, like in one part of the story where he yells at O’brian to get on the radio and is annoyed at him for not helping out enough but then the two act like good friends when they meet in-person. Also, one more thing to note about Deacon, he likes to monologue a lot, which I think is an interesting way of fleshing out a character, but the second he gets into combat, he sounds like a maniac, which was pretty weird for me. Not every character has to be filled with sunshine and rainbows, but Deacon feels almost comically dickish in ways I didn’t quite enjoy.
While Deacon isn’t the greatest character to be around, I actually found him and his pal Boozer to be quite the duo despite their limited runtime together. Where the story side of this game really shines, though, is with the other characters and factions. For starters, all of the characters (including Deacon) are well acted, and there are plenty of unique characters to go around. If anything, I think some of the characters like Boozer have better character arcs than Deacon. Just as unique as the characters are the factions and camps, ranging from a “work” (slave) camp ran by a former warden to a pacifist camp trying to keep a truce with a crazed, zombie-worshipping cult to even a militia camp ran by an unhinged colonel. The one character and camp I didn’t quite like was Copeland’s camp and its leader Mark Copeland, who is a doomsday prepper and conspiracy theorist. He ultimately comes off as the developer’s way of shoehorning in politics by having him talk about his political beliefs on the radio, usually followed by Deacon deconstructing his radio speeches in a monologue. Not only does it come off as lazy, but it also makes practically no sense considering just about all of Copeland’s rambles are about how he hates the federal government, even though he’s living in an apocalypse where there is no more federal government and survival is more important. Still, the factions and others are overall solid, and they are certainly more enjoyable than Deacon.
For a studio call Bend Studio based in Bend, Oregon, you would think their game would be based in that region, right? Well, you would be correct, as this game’s world is heavily inspired by and even includes a few landmarks from the Oregon area. I actually quite like the game’s setting because of its beauty, size, and how grounded it feels, and this feeling goes beyond just its real-life setting. Historical landmarks make up one of the many types of collectibles found throughout the game, adding a historical weight to everything, and the pause menu includes a day ticker showing how many days have passed since the pandemic began, which gives a nice cohesiveness to my actions and the events in the game.
Oh how I yearn to see a true night sky.
Where you can best see this game’s more grounded feel, however, is in its light survival mechanics. The motorcycle has a fuel and durability meter, and gas stops are frequent with an un-upgraded tank, something I would normally find annoying but actually quite enjoyed because it gave more context to travelling distances. Another mechanic that plays into distance is fast travelling, as doing so will cost time and gas. Vehicles on the road can be looted for scrap and other materials, but they stay looted throughout the game, which I found interesting as it started to strain my supply of crafting materials and ammo a bit towards the end of the game. Finally, the bike stays wherever you leave it on the map (though you can pay camps to retrieve it), which is something I would normally find annoying in other games, but I actually didn’t mind as it plays well into the characterization and importance of Deacon’s bike. I’m not a fan of survival elements in games, but I think Days Gone handles them in a way I found enjoyable.
In a checkbox open-world such as this one, what is offered in it is important. Fortunately, I think this game has a solid lineup of activities to complete. What is easily the highlight of both the open-world and the game in general are the hordes, which are hundreds of zombies who wander around like cattle. Even fighting a few zombies can be tense because of their speed and frantic nature, so fighting hundreds at a time is quite stressful if not done carefully. Other world activities include NERO checkpoints, which involves trying to take out speakers that attract zombies before refueling a generator that opens up the camp, NERO spots, which are usually tied to a small world puzzle like entering a cave during the right time of day or ramping to an inaccessible spot with the motorcycle, ambush and marauder camps, which involves fighting human enemies either stealthily or action-like, infestation zones, which are filled with zombie nests to burn, and collectibles. There are also random encounters which are generated mini-events like tracking down footprints or being ambushed by other drifters, though I’ll admit I didn’t interact with them all that much. The activities are overall pretty fun, but what I really like about them are the ways it affects the open-world. Infestation zones block fast travel if the route goes through it, so clearing it will allow for more fast travelling. Ambush camps reveal parts of the map and decreases road ambushes in that area. Every activity plays to improving the world and Deacon, which is something not every checkbox open-world has.
Doing these activities as well as missions for the camps (which usually involves hunting down a human target) and selling zombie ears (which are picked up automatically from zombies) will net money and trust at each camp, which unlocks new bike upgrades and better weapons to buy. Each camp has their own trust level and money, and most of them either sell bike upgrades or weapons but not both. Not only does each camp using their own form of currency makes a lot of sense in this post-apocalyptic world, but each camp only having either bike parts or guns (with exception to one camp) means I couldn’t just stick to helping one camp out. Also, two nice little touches to the camps are that Deacon can drive through them instead of being forced off the bike at the entrance and he usually has a conversation with merchants while browsing their wares, fleshing out the merchants a bit.
One thing that stood out to me with this open-world are a lot of the small quality-of-life mechanics seen throughout. Button mashing can be changed to button hold in the settings. There is an option to skip unnecessary dialogue. Each questline and activity has a percentage complete indicator, and each one also shows at what percentage new rewards will unlock. If multiple pieces of loot are next to each other, all of it is picked up at once. Survivors rescued in the world can be sent to different camps for different rewards. Conversations over the radio will pause when Deacon initiates a fight and resumes when it’s over. There are a lot of these smaller mechanics that I quite enjoyed with the game, but there are also a few I didn’t. The biggest issue I came across were the constant tips popping up and even at-times pausing the game telling me stuff I already knew, and from what I could tell they couldn’t be turned off. Mission dialogue over the radio will repeat if you leave and re-enter the mission area, and I would do that quite often whenever dealing with a horde for a main mission. Finally, while I wouldn’t say it’s a flaw, I wish I was able to lead a zombie horde to enemy camps, but whenever I tried they would just all peel away until only a few would follow. It’s all small stuff, but they are nice quality-of-life improvements or little details I would like to see in more games.
For a game about a former M.C. member in a world where roads are clogged up and only motorcycles could really get around the dirt paths of Oregon, you would think Deacon’s mode of transportation would be a motorcycle, right? Well, you would be correct, and I would say the care and work put into driving in this game is more than I could say for many other similar games. I talked about earlier how the motorcycle is almost its own character thanks to the fuel and maintenance that needs to be put into it and how it needs to be by Deacon’s side or else it will be left behind, but beyond its importance the bike is great to drive around. The steering felt a bit too sensitive to me at first, but once I got a handle of it, I was driving and drifting around with ease. Also, if the bike ran out of gas, I could either walk the bike or coast it down hills instead of being forced to leave it. Upgrades to the bike improve various stats like durability, speed, fuel capacity, and more, but the upgrade I found most interesting is an ammo bag, which I found useful in a pinch. The one thing that is weird about the driving, however, is how slow it feels. Even with nitro and an upgraded engine, I never felt like I was going above 40 MPH. It's strange to see Deacon drive at a snail’s pace compared to other games, but the driving in this game is great, even on mouse and keyboard.
I can’t talk about driving without talking about the game’s weather and time-of-day mechanics, which I found surprisingly impressive. For a lot of games I play, weather and time-of-day usually don’t mean much outside of aesthetic, but Days Gone is quite different in that both of these things affect the world. Rain and snow make the roads slicker, and bad weather like heavy rain affects enemy vision and hearing. Zombies tend to sleep in caves and are weaker during the day but are stronger and roam more during the night, and knowing this helped with world activities like trying to hit NERO spots located in caves or take down hordes. Normally I don’t really care about weather or time-of-day unless if it’s aesthetically fantastic or noticeably bad, but Days Gone adds a lot of importance to it in ways I found neat.
Alert the hibernating cave horde at your own risk.
Day or night, human or otherwise, combat is of course important in a game like this, and Days Gone has some decent combat. Deacon has a primary weapon, a special weapon (either a sniper rifle, LMG, or crossbow), and a sidearm for guns. He also carries a melee weapon and various throwables. Firearms seem to have the most attention here, and the variety of weapons found in the game is surprisingly decent. Where shooting really shines, though, is with the combination of some of the combat abilities and keyboard and mouse. One of the skills that can be unlocked is the ability to shoot in slow-motion, allowing more time to aim and chain kills. Combining this with rolling and mouse aim meant pulling off a lot of cool headshots. Speaking of which, keyboard and mouse translates well to this experience, which was an initial concern for me considering this game originally launched on console only. There is also melee combat, which is simply just swing and roll, but it’s effective and I enjoyed taking out stragglers with a trusty souped-up baseball bat. Going along side the two are consumables, which this game has a surprising amount of. Fire bombs, thrown explosives, distraction tools, flashbang, traps, and more can be used here, and a lot of these tools can be crafted. Combat isn’t perfect though, as auto-cover feels finnicky to engage with, the camera tends to lock up a lot, health items don’t say how much health they will heal, and items like nearly-broken suppressors can’t be dropped, but at the very least it is functional and I had a lot of fun killing enemies both human and otherwise.
With all checkbox open-world games and zombie games, there has to be enemy variety, and this game has that, though nothing too special. Most of the zombie enemies encountered are basic ones, though there are special zombies seen here-and-there. Outside of skitters, which are smaller zombies that only attack when near their territory, and zombie animals, the zombies here aren’t all that special. As for human enemies, I can’t even think of one unique enemy type. Then there are the occasional boss fights found throughout the game, but they are either just stronger versions of common enemies or, for the case of Carlos, really easy to kill. None of the bosses go beyond rolling away from attacks and shooting (or knife fighting) them until death. It’s nice to have variety, but I wish there was more uniqueness in that variety beyond what is already seen in many other games.
Zombie wolves can run faster than Deacon’s bike, so he has to either shoot or dodge them while driving.
Coinciding with combat and a staple in many checkbox open-world titles is stealth, and the stealth here is right in-line with many others. Hunter vision, hide in bushes, tag enemies, hide in dumpsters, bear traps and noise traps, and so on can be found here. There are, however, some differences of note. For starters, dead bodies can’t be moved, which sucks, but didn’t matter as much for me considering how fast I could just roll around and dome enemies with a silenced weapon. Speaking of which, suppressors are actually a consumable with a durability meter, and these suppressors can either be bought or found in cars. Distraction rocks will actually highlight who it will distract, which is nice, but what’s weird about these rocks is that it will only distract one enemy at-a-time even if multiple enemies are standing next to each other. There is a sound and vision meter in the corner of the screen, which is helpful for knowing what your status is to enemies. Finally, all of these stealth mechanics work on zombies too. Stealth is about what you expect from a title like this, but it does still have its small differences.
One of the big concerns for this port was how well it would perform technically. I haven’t played the PS4 version of the game, but I do remember many citing various technical and performance issues with the game when it originally launched in 2019. While I did run into a few issues here-and-there, I don’t believe they were nearly as bad as they were for the console. The game ran mostly smooth though there were occasional frame dips, and everything looked gorgeous with exception to texture popping on character faces in cutscenes. One thing I do want to shout out in terms of visuals is shooting in tunnels, as seeing bullets bounce back and forth like light beams looked cool as hell. In terms of bugs and glitches, I did have a few tiny ones like clipping through the floor during a kill animation once or enemies rubber-banding across terrain occasionally, and I did have one mission where the entrance to a cave had no textures, but I never crashed and I wouldn’t say this game is broken. It’s a solid port that I think could’ve been a lot worse if put in the wrong hands, and the issues I did have can (hopefully) be easily patched.
While I think there are a lot of individual parts to this game that I found enjoyable, where this game ultimately falters for me is in its repetitiveness. Quite a few of the missions, both big and small, involve doing the same thing over and over, and the game doesn’t even disguise it. Follow NERO choppers and eavesdrop on a scientist taking down audio notes, visit a gravesite and “talk” to your wife, listen to the Colonel give a motivational speech, go collect a bounty who is almost always riding away on a motorcycle while you are investigating. These missions and more happen time and time again with practically no variation to them, and I got more and more annoyed by them as the game went on. This repetition also follows through in the world design, with such examples like all ambush camps having a “secret” entrance where zombies are dangling from their feet, and the last zombie in the bunch always comes alive. Hell, even Deacon commentates on its repetition as he instantly knows why a camp is calling for his help for the tenth time. I expect some repetition in a checkbox open-world game like this in, say, some of the world activities and the rewards reaped for completing them, but this game recycles missions tediously.
The location of Sarah’s grave. Get used to it, because the game brings you back here multiple times.
Outside of the main campaign, Days Gone also offers a challenge mode. There are ten missions to complete, and there is a surprising amount of variety to these missions. Take down a large camp, deal with endless waves of human enemies, try to survive against the horde while stuck in a building, race against the clock, and even a Crazy Taxi level can all be found here. Each level has a bronze, silver, and gold medal to achieve based on how well you do, and each level has four sub-challenges to earn bronze, silver, and gold in too. This mode also has its own trust level and currency similar to the camps, and money can be spent on unlocking character skins, bike skins, and rings which offer stat boosts. Where this mode has the most impact, however, is with patches, as completing levels unlock patches that give boosts to both this mode and the main game. While there are a few tiny flaws I found with the mode like not being able to re-enter stealth in one level or a few of the sub-challenges being poorly explained, I think the mode is overall solid and I enjoyed its more light-hearted nature and variety. Side modes like this don’t really have a lot of impact on my experience, but I think it’s a decent few hours for those who enjoyed the main game.
In conclusion, Days Gone is a high-budget one-of-those that is fun but doesn’t quite hit. It’s a solid PC port and a solid game for those looking either for a zombie experience or a checkbox open-world experience, but its repetition, story, and reliance on genre tropes makes this game hard to stand out from the rest. I think those who are aware of what this game is will find enjoyment out of it, and I overall enjoyed my time with it, but it’s hard for me to recommend this game at its starting price of $50.
P.S. You can find a screenshot gallery of the game here.