Days Gone PC
The Good: Open world zombie menace.
The Bad: Some very questionable game mechanics.
The Ugly: Dodgy combat and enemy AI.
This is one of those games where I wish my keyboard came with a ‘meh’ key, which is truly disappointing to me for a number of reasons. For one, I could just hit the ‘meh’ key, turn in my review, and be done, and what could be simpler than that? Then I could go back to curating my extensive collection of Hello Kitty based pornography, you all could go on with whatever you were doing, and the earth could keep right on turning. Secondly, I’m an open world zombie guy. If that were an actual genre, that would be my genre. I dated a girl in college who was huge into vampires, but that turned out to be just because she liked giving hickies that drew blood, but zombies are my thing. Heck, I’m still playing Dying Light off and on. So to come across an open world zombie game as meh as Days Gone, that’s disappointing. Thirdly, I recall that Days Gone was one of those exclusive PS titles that, along with The Last of Us, very nearly drove me to buy a PS. And now here it is on the PC, and I feel kind of glad that I didn’t buy a PS just to play it. Hmm. Perhaps that’s not really a disappointment.
So the world has gone to crap and everything has been overrun by zombies – that’s the way these things always start, and I’m fine with that. The hows and the wherefores are not really important, to either me or the story. When the game begins in earnest, beyond all the opening cinematics of everything going to crap, several years have passed, and you and a friend are on motorcycles scrounging out a living in the Pacific Northwest. From the geography, it could be almost any mountainous, forested area – Pacific Northwest, Appalachia, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, or thereabouts. From a narrative perspective, the only thing important about the area is that it is sparsely settled with limited structures and lots of trails for motorcycling. The beauty of this region is where the game excels. There are trees and little brooks and some snow here and there – gorgeous. Structures you come across look believably dilapidated for the post-apocalyptic world. You and your friend are pretty well set up, with a clubhouse situated in an old fire tower surrounded by fencing. You’re safe inside, and there’s gasoline to refuel your bikes. The game doesn’t get into where this gasoline comes from, why it is still good after all of these years, and why you never seem to run out, but just go with it. Food also never comes into the gameplay, so you’ve got endless food and gasoline in your watchtower, and it’s unclear why you would ever go outside at all – but again, I guess, just go with it. I think the game design shows good restraint in that there are enough interesting things to do and look at, while at the same time feeling appropriately desolate for the mostly unpopulated area it is set in.
While out scrounging one day, your friend is injured and your bike is lost so, after helping him back to your base, you have to get him medicine and recover your bike. The bike turns out to have been picked up and stripped for parts by a guy who runs a much larger camp nearby. His mechanic feels kind of bad about that, and gives you bottom-of-the-line bike and is willing to sell you upgrades as you run missions for the camp, an activity that earns you both money and trust. Money can also be used for buying ammunition and guns – more on that later. Trust unlocks better upgrades for your bike – things you often have enough money to buy, but not enough trust. It would be been better if the designers had more carefully balanced cost and income, rather than adding in the kind of artificial trust currency, but that’s part of what makes a meh game meh. So you run missions which I found interesting enough – kill those raiders, eradicate those zombie nests, investigate something, or recover some object.
Combat consists of firearms, crossbows, hand weapons, and bare hands. Melee combat weapons, which consist of bats, crowbars, machetes, axes, 2x4s and the like is for the most part unsatisfying, nothing like the visceral ducking and dodging of Daylight. You can sneak up on enemies if they don’t see you coming – humans and zombies. You instant kill both of them using the same collection of animations, which means that sometime you kill a zombie by coming up behind them, grabbing their head, and slitting their throat or turning them and stabbing them in the throat (which, I know nitpicky, should not be fatal to a zombie), and sometime you kill a human by driving a knife into their ear (which would also be fatal, but is an attack best saved for zombies). Then enemies come along who are “armored” or some such nonsense such that you can’t kill them at all, either with instant kills or gunfire. This turns the game into a stealth game which involves a lot of hiding in bushes and throwing rocks as distractions, and is frankly just stupid. Firearms are a little more satisfying, with a good assortment of handguns, shotguns, automatic weapons, and rifles, and they all feel and handle in satisfyingly different ways. You can kill an enemy and pick up their weapon and keep it, but you can’t sell it, and you can’t store it in your gun locker for later use (you can only store guns you buy). I killed a slew of raiders and was left with literal a pile of guns. Can’t pick them all up and sell them at the camp. I can’t even carry the ammunition. Somehow in the zombie apocalypse we all lost our pockets, because I can’t carry more than a few dozen handgun rounds. And yet somehow I can carry a rifle, a crossbow, and some kind of hand weapon like a bat all strapped to my back, and pull whichever one I need the moment I need it. I get that this is all necessary as they’ve laid out their world to make it work because otherwise I’d always be going around armed to the teeth and rolling in cash, but, wow, they could have thought that out better. Why did I never feel this way in Dying Light?
There are other things that bug me about this game. For one, the enemy AI is suspect. If I kill a guard at a camp, inevitably another guard will come along, see the body, run over to check it out, and I can kill that one too. Another guard will come along that I can add to the pile, and no one seems to get the message that, hey, a huge pile of my buddies are lying their dead, so maybe I should not just wander over and see if whatever killed them kills me too. I saw three guards talking on a dock, and shot one of them from pretty far away, sniper range, and his two friends don’t flee, and don’t seek cover – they just kind of duck down. Then I shoot the second one, then I shoot the third one – no challenge at all. On the other side of the coin, if they hear your motorcycle approaching their camp, they do take cover and move with gunfire in a fairly rational way to try and cut you down, so the AI bag is decidedly mixed. Another thing that annoys me is motorcycle maintenance. If your bike takes damage, either in an accident or by gunfire, you can repair it in the field using spare parts. You can find these spare parts scattered around gas stations, and you can pull them somehow out of cars, and these generic spare parts can be used to repair other things too, like generators. But then if I come across another bike, I can’t take parts off it to upgrade my bike. Finally (and I only say finally because I’m sure everyone has quit reading by now and why go on though there are many more things that annoy me), your gas tank is really small, even after you upgrade it. I should be able to drive around for hours on a single tank of gas, and yet your tank of gas lasts, maybe 15 minutes, though they call it several hours in game time. Fortunate then that gas is all over the place, but it would have been a lot more interesting if your tank of gas lasted longer and running out of gas was a real problem instead of just a minor annoyance.
So that’s Days Gone: a game with a fundamentally really messed up economy in a lot of ways (money, trust, gas, ammunition, motorcycle repair – none of it works right) wrapped around a so-so open world zombie combat sandbox. I think more than anything else, it makes me want to play more Dying Light.
Reviewed By: Phil Soletsky
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
This review is based on a digital copy of Days Gone for the PC provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment.