A virus that turned people into zombies. A loved one lost. A world where the walking dead are hunting down the living. Sounds too much like The Last of Us, or Dead Rising, or The Walking Dead, or Resident Evil, and many others?
With the overdone zombie theme in games, movies and TV series, it is difficult to stand out. What Days Gone offers is an open-world game set in the wilderness of Oregon where zombies run amok.
Plus, you can choose where you want to go and select which missions to play over multiple story arcs – think Red Dead Redemption with Zombies.
You play Deacon St John, a rough and tough biker fighting for survival, who is accompanied by his pal Boozer. The opening cinematic shows Deacon and Boozer being separated from Deacon’s wife, Sarah, who was badly injured during the start of the outbreak when people started turning into zombies.
Two years later, Sarah is presumed dead while Deacon and Boozer are scrounging a living as Drifters, meaning people who are not residing in or affiliated with any camp.
Deacon works as a mercenary of sorts by performing missions required by leaders of the camps, and tries to piece together what happened to Sarah after they were separated.
If you enjoy exploring a post-apocalyptic world on a motorcycle, witnessing the horrors of zombie infestation, completing story and side missions as and when you wish, scrounging for scraps to survive, beating back zombie hordes, or pretty much just do your own thing, Days Gone will appeal to you.
Missions include shooting up and liberating camps occupied by hostile humans, blowing up infestation nests occupied by zombies, running errands for the various camp leaders, and even harvesting plants and hunting wild animals.
More than just a crazy whack-a-zombie bash fest (unlike Dead Rising), Days Gone requires some tactics and planning to take down the many enemy factions.
Much of the story is told through flashbacks, piecing together bits of information from audio recordings in abandoned National Emergency Response Organization (Nero) bunkers or eavesdropping on Nero scientists.
Another good source of the back story are audio recordings that are found in NERO bunkers. The first time I played an audio recording, I almost jumped out of my skin as the audio track plays through the speaker on the controller.
It’s a nice touch which makes it feel more realistic and much nearer to you since Deacon is also holding the audio recording it in his hands in the game.
Admittedly, I have a weakness for open-world games, so I quite enjoy riding around and exploring new areas. But come nightfall, I will be sure that Deacon can be back in the safety of a camp or bunker.
The Night is Dark and Full of Terrors
In Days Gone, the night is a dangerous time as the zombies, known as Freakers in the game, come out to feed, so you see more of them wandering around.
Freakers tend to hide from the light in the day, hunkering down either in their nests or dark areas. This makes exploration and burning down Freaker nests in infestation zones much safer and easier in daylight. However, it is harder to sneak around in the day, so some stealth missions can only be done at night.
The safest thing for Deacon to do at night is to sleep, although his health does not regenerate with rest, he can be kept safe from the terrors of the night.
Deacon can sleep in his own safehouse, in encampments run by their respective leaders, as well as in Nero bunkers in order to save the game and pass the time.
Although I enjoy the freedom of Deacon wandering around on his own, having the option to go back to his safe house to check on Boozer or to encampments to hang out with other people helps assuage the fear and offers some relief from what might be a monotonously lonely and scary experience.
The zombie apocalypse offers a great setting for a game heavy on scrounging around for items for survival. Deacon’s meagre inventory means that he can only carry a few items at a time, which makes constant scavenging and crafting a must.
Melee weapons break down quite quickly, but can be patched up with scrap to extend their longevity for just a bit. When Freaker attacks are fast and furious with no time to repair, Deacon still has an unbreakable but short boot knife as a last resort.
Limited health supplies and slow efficacy of health recovery items make Deacon very vulnerable. While Deacon is not a super strong nor fast guy, there are some opportunities for upgrading his health, stamina and focus in the form of Nero injectors. These can be found in Nero bunkers and also in obscure locations that require a souped up bike to access.
The game uses some effective techniques of darkness and concentrated beams of light to deliver the scares, reminiscent of established survival horror games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil.
I cannot forget the shock I got when I shone my torch into the faces of dozens of Freakers in a dark cave. At that time, I didn’t realise then that it was a Swarmer horde that I had stumbled into, which is fatal when encountered unprepared.
Probably the most fun and challenging part of the game, Swarmer hordes can actually be taken out by Deacon single-handedly, albeit with some strategic planning and a lot of explosives, especially later in the game when better weapons are available.
The Enemy of my Enemy
Days Gone features a wide variety of enemies. First up are the various types of Freakers, including Swarmers who form dangerous hordes, child-like and less aggressive Newts, as well as Runners which are infected wolves.
Freakers behave as expected – snarling, shuffling around, and acting all primal and savage. However, they are anything but slow – they are capable of giving chase when they spot Deacon and can even pull Deacon off the motorcycle if he isn’t riding fast enough.
Not making things any easier are the Freakers’ unpredictability. Unlike human enemies, Freakers move erratically and do sudden U-turns, or stand twitching at a spot for a long time, then suddenly sprint off somewhere.
Apart from Freakers, there are also uninfected and hostile humans to contend with. These include members from the Rest in Peace Cult known as Rippers who worship the Freakers and ritualistically sacrifice themselves.
How there can still be any of these guys around is a mystery since it takes so much effort for a regular guy like Deacon just to stay alive. There are also Marauders who are human survivors of the outbreak but are hostile to Deacon, as well as other Drifters who are eager to kill Deacon for his belongings.
Having many enemy factions can be helpful if you can try to orchestrate their encounters to save yourself some work.
In one of the missions, there were Freakers whom I liberated after burning their nest, who went ahead to attack the Rest in Peace cultists occupying the town, who then also helped to fight a common enemy – a wild bear.
For this reason, it pays not to kill off an entire faction all at one go as the game throws you some unpredictable challenges. This makes the enemies of your enemies not your enemy sometimes.
The best part of the game is unpredictability, and this makes it all the more scary. In one mission, I was taking down a bounty holed up in a guard tower. As I was sniping the human guards, a wandering horde of Swarmers was attracted by the noise of gunfire and decided to investigate.
I quickly took cover and hid behind a rock but unfortunately one of the Freakers saw me, and alerted all his friends. Needless to say, Deacon didn’t make it in that mission.
With so much unpredictability, I make sure that Deacon is armed to the teeth before starting out, keeping my eyes on the radar for any nearby enemies and crouching stealthily all the way, no matter how straightforward it might seem.
Sometimes, you get a break when the mission turns out to be just Deacon reminiscing with a lot of flashbacks, which show his relationship with Sarah, and also provide clues to how the outbreak happened.
Stealth, despite it being a key strategy for survival in the game, is quite simplistic and unsophisticated – Deacon really just needs to crouch in the tall bushes to avoid the zombies.
I just wish that the game will show you how well hidden Deacon is, perhaps with an outline or something. Some of the bushes are rather small or the cover is rather sparse, and I can’t tell if Deacon was properly concealed or not.
To create a distraction, Deacon can also toss rocks to lead an enemy to investigate. Then when the moment is right, Deacon can perform a stealth kill by plunging his boot knife into the eye, neck or other squishy bits of the enemy.
Unfortunately, Days Gone does suffer from some technical glitches, which I thought was a rarity for games on the PlayStation 4. At times, the game freezes for a few seconds when riding through a new area, and also during Freaker attacks.
Opening and closing doors while sneaking occasionally pushes Deacon back outside into the open arms of the Freakers, which can be really frustrating. I also encountered a glitch (which I didn’t mind at that time) where the Freakers vanished into thin air when I ran towards them. Sure, it’s surprising at first, but where’s the challenge in that?
Home on the Range
In Days Gone, there are camps manned by uninfected humans that provide a safe haven from the dark terrors of the night. I wouldn’t go so far to say that they are friendly, since they seem to have their own self serving agenda.
At each camp, Deacon can find a bed to sleep in, people to talk to, as well as missions, bounty hunting assignments and other jobs to earn credits and trust. He can also turn in bounties in the form of Freaker ears for camp credits.
With the credits, he can upgrade his motorcycle, buy fuel, ammo, weapons and upgrade his weapons. To get really cool gear and upgrades, Deacon will need to earn a certain level of trust before the items will be unlocked for sale.
However, a major annoyance of the camp system is that the credits you earn from one camp cannot be used in another. So even though I have thousands of credits in one camp, I still cannot afford to upgrade my bike if I happen to be in another camp that I have not done very much for.
This is not obvious to the player until you are at another camp and desperately need something but realise that your credits are much fewer than you remembered.
On a Steel Horse I Ride
Like a horse in Red Dead Redemption, Deacon’s motorcycle is almost a character by itself, and it’s the best (and only) companion for those long, dark, zombie infested roads.
You can opt for fast travelling if you want to save some time in real life, but you need to clear out all infested zones between you and your destination before it can work. Time will still pass in-game, and fuel will be used, so you need to ensure that the bike has ample fuel before you can fast travel.
At encampments, you can also “zhng” (upgrade) your bike using the credits you have earned with the camp. I did find the upgrades and customisations rather limited, but then again, we are in a world ravaged by zombies, so no flashy
You can make practical improvements to the bike’s performance by upgrading the frame, engine and tires, adding nitrous for a speed boost, increasing storage for ammo and fuel, and even some rudimentary cosmetic enhancements like colour, decals, as well as the styles of headlights, fenders and exhaust tips.
To upkeep your bike, you will need to scavenge for scraps to repair the bike as it suffers from wear and tear. Fortunately, scrap is readily available from broken down cars littered all over the roads.
As you travel on the bike, fuel will be used up and will need to be replenished via fuel cans found in tow trucks, buildings or near abandoned cars. Alternatively, Deacon can return to the safe house where there is a fuel tank, or pay for fuel at camps if you have sufficient camp credits.
The bike is Deacon’s best friend and, occasionally, a lifesaver when Deacon needs to make a quick getaway from the riled up Freakers, and even a weapon for running over Freakers at high speed.
In terms of gameplay, you need to be near the bike to save your game if you are not near a bed, so take good care of the bike .
Gotta Kill ‘Em All With Free DLCs
It was a nice surprise for the developers to recently release new DLCs for free. So far, there are two challenges – Surrounded and Survive – and the menu shows 10 other empty slots which means more may be unlocked later.
In Surrounded Mode, you need to survive the Horde as long as possible while having all weapons available to you and try to hit accomplishments such as collecting a certain number of Freaker ears, and getting kills using explosive barrels.
In the Survive Mode, you have you survive as long as possible against the human Marauders and achieve certain types of kills like stealth, but in this mode, you start off with only the boot knife and will need to scavenge for weapons as you kill Marauders.
The Surrounded Mode is really quite fun as you can use all the great weapons available in the game and just go ballistic with the horde. You pretty much run around, desperately picking up health items, ammo and explosives while shooting and throwing explosives at the relentless hordes.
When all fails, you beat them to crap with melee weapons. You can still use the Focus ability to slow down time and try to get away from the horde but once you are surrounded, it is usually the end.
It is also a good way to hone your skills and tactics in preparation for you to take on the various Freaker hordes in the story campaign.
Although Days Gone doesn’t have a very original premise and is plagued with bugs and serious slowdowns on occasions, I quite fancy exploring the detailed zombie infested Oregon wilderness and the many surprises it holds, especially with the Hordes.
However, the slow pace of the initial half of the game with repetitive quests and constant backtracking to clear camps of Cultists, Drifters and Marauders without advancing the story can be rather tiresome. Initial reviews of the game were quite poor, probably because the best parts of the game was yet to be seen.
If you don’t mind the glitches, the mild annoyances with the sneaking mechanics and the occasionally repetitive quests, and have the patience to spend more time in the campaign, Days Gone does offer up some good scares and zombie killing fun.
It just feels like the game can potentially do much more if the pace was managed better.