'Days Gone' review: Not bad for a zombie game
There's a certain standard that I've subconsciously set when I play a PS4 exclusive. Days Gone made me realize this.
Whenever I finish a PS4 exclusive that's been given special time on the E3 stage or one where fellow producers of exclusives constantly share on their social medias, I am always left with a feeling of excitement and satisfaction. There's always a burning need for me to share the game and talk about it amongst friends and co-workers and other avenues.
Days Gone was a little special to me, as I witnessed one of its first demos in person at E3 2016, along with God of War and some other high profile exclusives.
Unfortunately, Days Gone didn't seem to live up to the excitement, try as I might to fully enjoy it.
That doesn't mean it's a bad game. While it lacks the polish and gripping moments that I felt with PS4 exclusives like Horizon: Zero Dawn, God of War, Spider-Man and others, I still think Days Gone has the potential to be enjoyed and experienced by a lot of fans of the survival or horror genre.
Days Gone has its moments - small and thoughtful elements that impact the experience. And yes, there are occasional jaw dropping moments here and there too. But all in all, it leads me to think that if only these elements and moments weren't hampered by the game's overall mediocre feel, I would sing more praises in this review.
The big picture
Days Gone is an open-world survivor horror game. You star as Deacon and you deal with humans with ulterior motives and a host of zombies while mulling over your options to move on and survive.
What makes this game different from zombies is not just because of its open world, but its premise that there's never going to be a dull moment because of the fast and crazy horde of zombies that can murder you in an instant within the world. Seeing this in E3 2016, it took my breath away. But the final release did not seem to meet my expectations.
The story actually has "Wow!" moments, though it felt predictable at the beginning. You have to push yourself to go past the first act. It gets better as what's revealed is a wild journey for Deacon as he goes through some twists, turns, and challenges along the way.
Even with a decent story though, there are moments in the game where I felt like I had to endure it instead of enjoy it to get to the ending.
It's not the bugs that totally bothered me. Those can easily get fixed and they don't even hit the "meme-able" levels of horrendous bugs. (Looking at you, Fallout 76!) It's not even the inconsistent level of graphics that frustrate me.
At the end of the day, while you do experience the constant fear of going through areas swarming with zombies and other enemies, the repetitive missions, not-so-new concepts, and slightly better-than-average story can tire you out. I hate to call it generic. It isn't totally so. But it does feel too familiar with a lot of games. It's like a mish-mash of a lot of elements that I'm used to.
Familiarity isn't a problem. It's great as it gets you up to speed quickly. It becomes a problem when it feels like there's not a lot of new things on the table here – which is the case for Days Gone. From the top of my head, the new big concepts I can think of is that the massive zombie horde that can get to you if you aren't stealthy about it, and the fact that your bike runs out of gas and you need to panic about your transportation now too.
It's the little things (and how they're brought down)
As I said earlier, it's the little things I can appreciate. The first thing that struck me as I was being introduced to the world of Days Gone is the voice acting. Not a lot has been said about the voice of Deacon, but honestly his acting and dialogue felt natural and human. I've been too used to hearing voices of gods and heroes used to incredible feats. They're either cocky or theatrical.
Not everyone will be a fan of the idea of a chatty protagonist but for me, there's just the right amount of candidness introduced to the game because of Deacon. Listening to a simple man naturally panicking at the thought of having to face zombies (Freakers, as they are called in this game. Why don't they ever call them zombies?), almost feels fresh to me.
When you're about to head into a Freaker nest, he reacts to it the way you would react to it, grossed out and terrified. Except he feels obligated to clear it up to give himself an easier time navigating through the space. When you're listening to radio propaganda, he would mutter to himself and you could almost feel him rolling his eyes about what's being said, even if you don't see it.
That being said, sometimes it can transition awkwardly. A disconnect that can be felt as one plays the game.
You'll be watching a cut-scene with a different vibe to it and then after that the mood is different. It doesn't happen all the time, mind you. But it's enough to pull you out of immersion.
On top of that, there's no smooth transition from gameplay to cut-scene which sometimes produces awkward results.
Then there's melee combat – it just feels so good and natural as you bash the head of an enemy in. It doesn't have a straight forward aim and you have to rely on the camera movement. The way it follows the swing of your weapon as it hits your target gives you such a satisfying feeling. There's weight and crunch to it.
Put it right next to the shooting mechanic, however, and you just get frustrated. Shooting is a struggle in this game and you get punished for it severely. In some ways, it makes sense.
This is a survival game and you don't get perfect guns and you can't waste ammo. But when you're already facing a massive zombie horde, or even a smaller one where you still need to be hyper aware, or you're dealing with humans, a little ease of use could help.
Finally, this isn't quite small, but a vital element in the game that I appreciate. This game never fails to keep me on my toes. It's tiring but you have to appreciate the constant danger set in this beautiful backdrop of Oregon.
You can't go running through the forest all gung-ho like because there are Freakers in there waiting for their next meal. You need to be careful going through roads because sometimes cars might be blocking your way and you need to push them away. And going through tunnels or narrow passages will give you anxiety.
Average for a Triple-A Exclusive
All in all, it's not a bad game when you look at it singularly. You can appreciate this game. It's fun, it's nerve-wracking at times, and it's got good moments. But when you're following the footsteps of massive AAA exclusives, expectations are naturally higher.
Big concepts that are properly polished, fully immersive, where every detail ties well together with very little to no disconnect at all. Perhaps Days Gone might not find critical success, but if it turns out to make enough money for a sequel, I'm sure Bend Studios can do this right and proper next time. – Rappler.com
Disclosure: Review code provided by publisher.