Like many game designers, the good people at SIE Bend Studio who made the new third-person open world shooter Days Gone (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Collector’s Edition) have clearly played a lot of other people’s video games. But while theirs may be the culmination of a lifetime of playing games, Days Gone does have some new ideas, as well as interesting combinations of old ones, and the results are compelling and a bit unnerving.
In Days Gone,
society has collapsed in the wake of a viral outbreak that turned people into feral cannibals called freakers. Making his way as a bounty hunter and freaker killer, a biker named Deacon does what he can to survive. Which, since this is a video game, mostly entails killing lots of people…and people who aren’t really people anymore.
At its core, Days Gone is a third-person, open world shooter in the vein of The Division 2, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and the Far Cry series. Using a vehicle or your feet to get around, you have to complete missions, run errands, and get into random shootouts, while also exploring the world and looking for the ammo, supplies, and resources needed to complete your missions, finish your errands, and so on. There’s also, of course, a leveling up system, simple crafting mechanics, and the ability to loot the bodies of your fallen enemies.
Days Gone also, like Far Cry New Dawn, Fallout 76, and Horizon: Zero Dawn, takes place in a hilly forest world that’s more spread out and less developed than, say, the Washington D.C. in The Division 2 or Fallout 3.
Where Days Gone starts to distinguish itself from the aforementioned open world shooters is by also pulling mechanics from games that are open word adjacent. Though armed with a variety of guns and explosives, you can also kill people with melee weapons, during which this feels like the most recent God Of War. There’s even times when you’ll grapple with an enemy, and have to do one of those God Of War-esque “mash the correct button” quicktime events.
Days Gone employs elements from such stealth action games as Sniper Elite 4. Not only can you toss rocks to distract people, but you can then sneak up behind them and kill them all quiet-like.
Days Gone even pulls from games that don’t have open worlds. Most notably such survival horror games as The Last Of Us and the recent remake of Resident Evil 2. Like the clickers in former, freakers respond to loud noises, and will come running when they hear a car alarm or explosion. As for the latter, Days Gone is not only scary in a B-movie kind of way, but you also only have a limited amount of ammo, as well as a backpack that doesn’t carry a lot.
While Days Gone cribs from many other games, it does have some of its own mechanics. For starters, the freakers don’t act like the shambling zombies you get in Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4 or even the quicker ones in Dead Island and Dying Light. Instead, they’re more skittish and unpredictable, like if Gollum from The Lord Of The Rings fried his brains on crystal meth. While they have limited situational awareness, and can thus be stealth killed, they will sometimes turn around unexpectantly, and often with a scream that will alert any nearby freakers to your presence.
There’s also a lot of them roaming the forest, especially at night. And while their lack of situational awareness means they don’t seek you out like the wolverines and honey badgers did in Far Cry 5, their sheer numbers make them even more of a threat.
The human enemies…
in Days Gone are also different than their counterparts in Far Cry 5, The Division 2, and so on. While they congregate in compounds you have to clear out with a mix of stealth and guile, getting in can require you to avoid or deactivate traps, some of which will alert the occupants to your arrival. Though until that happens, most are blissfully unaware that you’re sneaking up behind them with your knife drawn.
Days Gone also changes how you get around. Unlike a lot of open world games, where you can take any motor vehicle you want, Deacon never learned how to hot wire, and thus only uses his own motorcycle. It’s like how you had a faithful horse Roach in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt…except your bike doesn’t magically appear when you call it. You also didn’t have to keep your horse gassed up or maintained, and couldn’t really upgrade its feet or stomach.
Even the way friendly outposts work in Days Gone is different from those in other open world games. Like Far Cry New Dawn, doing nice things for the people makes them like you more, which prompts local merchants to offer you better weapons and other items. Except that doing something nice for one compound sometimes means you didn’t do it for another. For instance, if you help some guy on the road who was being attacked by freakers, you have a choice of which compound to recommend he join.
Combined, all of these mechanics — and the seamless way they work together — not only makes Days Gone effortlessly fun, but it also gives it a tension you don’t normally find in open world games. Especially ones set in such picturesque settings. Even when you’re on your bike, cruising the open road, the threat of attack is ever present. Not only might you get knocked off your bike by running into a wire some jerks strung up across a road, but some freakers will tackle you when you drive past them. Good thing you can shoot them while driving.
Of course, as with all games,
not everything in Days Gone works as well as it should. The irony being that most of them are problems we’ve seen in, well, other games.
For starters, some melee weapons wear down way too quickly, though you can learn to fix some with all the scrap metal you find lying around. Similarly, Deacon’s motorcycle is such a gas guzzler that you have to constantly stop for gas.
Deacon also has the ability to survey his surrounds like Batman did in Batman: Arkham Knight and Lara Croft does in Shadow Of The Tomb Raider. But like their vision modes, the one in Days Gone doesn’t stay on very long, even when you upgrade it, doesn’t permanently mark found items, or distinguish from a distance between items you need and ones you don’t.
Visibility is also an issue in Days Gone. And, again, they’re issues we’ve seen before. For one thing, the targeting reticule for your guns is made of such thin lines that it’s hard to see. The same can also be said of the text in the menus and button prompts, which are so small that they can be hard to read if you sit at a reasonable distance from your TV. Though it also doesn’t help that some of the menu text is is light grey on grey or white backgrounds and dark green on green.
As for unique issues, Days Gone gives you money for killing freakers, provided you collect their ears. But while you thankfully don’t have to do your impression of Michael Madsen from Reservoir Dogs to collect them, you just have to walk over their bodies, there’s always a split-second delay before you can grab them. Which may not seem like a big deal, but when you’re trying not to be spotted by other freakers, it can mean the difference between life and lunch.
While these irritations are, well, irritating,
they don’t ruin Days Gone. Especially since most of their irritability is because we’ve suffered these indignities before (and probably will again). Instead, by combining previously uncombined mechanics from both similar and disparate games, the good people at SIE Bend Studio have come up with something addictive, exciting, scary, and, well, potentially inspiring for some other game developers.