863 days gone. That’s how long I feel like I’ve been playing this game. Bend Studio’s newest release has had me running for my life from freakers, searching the wilderness for various crafting resources, and taking to the open road, or what’s left of them, on my sweet custom hog. It’s a humongous game. Unfortunately, with any game of this magnitude, the experience isn’t always a pleasant one.
If you ever wanted to play a Walking Dead game, short of the episodic Telltale games, this might be as close as you can get. You take the role of Deacon St. John, who could easily be Daryl Dixon from the show, albeit much more vocal. It’s been two years since the outbreak and you’ve taken on the role of a drifter, doing odd jobs for different camps as you scrape by trying to survive. Joined by your motorcycle club buddy Boozer, you’ve been wandering the open road since loading your wife onto a rescue chopper after the outbreak started. It borrows heavily from the aforementioned series in the way it focuses on the relationships between characters using the freakers (zombies) as more of an added background threat. And for the most part it does an admirable job.
The story mostly works. It keeps you filled with a purpose, while adding several interesting characters along the way. Some of those characters you form strong bonds with, others are there just to assign you the next mission and thus it can become a bit repetitive.
I’ve come to realize that when you have these expansive open world games, pacing becomes more important than quality of the story at times. They should go hand in hand with one another. Not many games have pulled it off successfully and Days Gone is no exception. There are times however, where everything is clicking and that’s where the game shines. But many times, just when you think it’s starting to get its legs, the game hits the brakes and slowly meanders forward until that next series of moments. Sadly, that sequence occurs too often.
Graphically, the game is a stunner. While there’s been some controversy surrounding the E3 demo in comparison to the full release, I never had an issue with how it was presented. Weather effects are beautiful if sometimes over-exaggerated and the photo mode can create memorable captures. The game does struggle at times with the frame rate however. The game has had several patches since its release and for some reason, it’s gotten worse with each subsequent patch. I’ve been playing on the PS4 Pro, but there are times where the game stutters so much, it breaks the rhythm. There are a few graphical bugs that I’ve run into as well including clipping issues and enemies popping up out of nowhere. Generally, they are few and far between, but they are there.
As far as the gameplay mechanics are concerned, again, it mostly works. The inventory wheel, used for selecting various weapons and crafting items, is finicky at best. It’s extremely sensitive. On several occasions I thought I had selected a molotov but instead threw a pipe bomb. I select the wrong arrow for my crossbow, or attempt to heal and…well you get the point. Gunplay isn’t finely tuned either and neither is riding the motorcycle. In short, the lack of polish is present in many areas of gameplay though you do become more accustomed to it the more you play.
I have to mention the bugs. I’ve already touched on a few graphical items, but while most are more annoying than game breaking, you’ll run into others. I experienced several audio issues such as no sound from my bike, bad syncing of voices to their on screen portrayals, and a few others. Most of these were solved by restarting the game. It’s unfortunate, but not game killing.
Rereading this, most of what I wrote sounds exactly the same, regardless of what I’m talking about. “This is good, but…” or “It’s really pretty, but…”. It’s remarkably average, but still enjoyable. That’s really the best way I can describe Days Gone. I’ve really had a good time with the game, despite it’s flaws. Unfortunately, the standard that Sony’s first party studios have set recently, has made it look worse than it actually is. People have come to expect these genre defining experiences, maybe with good reason. And Days Gone tries, it really does. Every game can’t be that game though. It stands on its own and does a great job in an overly saturated genre of zombie games. It’s fun to play, but ultimately lacks the polish that fans are used to.
By the way, keep playing after the credits roll. Trust me.