It's time to roll out and ride through post-apocalyptic Oregon in Bend Studio's freaker-filled PS4-exclusive open-world adventure.
It's been over two years since the world fell apart, and now you're thrust into the shoes of Deacon St John, a war vet who joined a motorcycle club (MC) called the Mongrels, as he rides around what's left of Oregon killing zombie-like creatures commonly known as freakers and finding the parts he needs to fix up his bike.
The title comes from the days that have passed since the world as we know it ended, and after what feels like a long wait for us in the real world, Bend Studio's PS4-exclusive is finally here. This third-person open-world survival horror seems to have been in the pipeline for a while, and now the time has come for us to finally get our claws on it. The good news is that it's lots of fun, although it does come with some issues... so let's dive right in and find out what's what.
The player takes control of Deacon, a biker who found his calling as a drifter and bounty hunter in the wake of the apocalypse. Many of the missions you undertake involve tracking and finding people or taking out marauder camps for money and reputation. We start off riding with another member who also still wears the kutte of the MC, Boozer, but after our protagonist's bike gets stripped for parts, it's up to Deacon to ride around, find scrap, complete missions for various people at camps located all over the region, and upgrade the bike. The missions are varied and completing them allows you to earn credits, or trust, which opens up new bike upgrade options.
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Days Gone throws you into the story right from the off, but there are a lot of hints and tips to help you get to grips with the experience. Deek, as he's affectionately known, is an engaging character with an interesting backstory. In fact, we see a lot of flashbacks to the time before and during the beginning of the end, and these help us connect to the narrative. Many of these flashbacks focus on his wife, as the pair were parted when a government agent called O'Brian got involved in events that we won't spoil.
A lot of the story revolves around discovering what happened to the love of his life, and this really helps you build interest in what's happening. He's not just a one-dimensional biker thug, but rather he's a complex character with a personal code about who he will and will not kill, and who still mourns his wife. As you explore this story, you learn more about the freakers who inhabit the world. Rather than just being mindless killing machines, questions are raised. Do they still think? How are they evolving? Was their creation man-made? These questions make the freakers more than just cannon fodder. Although, it is fun to shoot them too.
The world in which Deek rides is varied and dangerous, filled as it is with various mutations of freakers, diseased animals like wolves and bears, and other human enemies. You never seem to be too far away from trouble, with random bandits and snipers trying to take you out, or freakers chasing after you and attempting to pull you off your bike. There are often survivors tied up and in need of rescue, or enemies pretending to be dead, which gives the world a bit of variety. That said, the lack of functioning cars made us miss the option to drive other vehicles.
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Deek earns experience points as you complete more assignments, which in turn means that you can add new skills to his bag of tricks. You can become better at regaining stamina, or highlight enemies using your survival vision, for example. In fact, there are plenty of great ideas in Days Gone. We liked the fact that you have to scavenge parts from old cars to repair your bike, and that you can run out of fuel so you constantly need to fill up the tank to avoid having to walk. There is nothing worse than breaking down when a horde is running after you, which adds an element of planning. Ammo is also a little on the scarce side, meaning you can craft your own throwable or melee weapons to conserve your bullets. There's also a nice stealth attack, with an automatic takedown that has you ram your boot knife into an enemy.
We love the fact that to save petrol, you can coast down the hills, and that there is a day and night cycle with weather that actually makes a difference. The freakers are more numerous at night, as they enter their destructible nests or dark caves during the daytime. This means that riding at night is bloody dangerous at times. You can, if you prefer, sleep until morning, but there will be more human enemies waiting for you when you wake up.
There's a good reason to clear out the freaker nests because if they're between you and your destination, it stops you from fast-travelling. To clear them, simply toss in a Molotov and watch everything burn. As the freakers pour out, you have the chance to take them on, but it just seemed better to burn and ride, which seems a bit like cheating, but works. Otherwise, the melee combat felt quite solid, and it's particularly satisfying when you're smacking enemies around with a nail-covered baseball bat. The gunplay is also decent, and it's exciting to run and gun as you tear away from a chasing horde.
You're not alone in the world, as there are various camps that you can visit in order to get new missions, upgrade your bike, and buy new weapons or supplies with the currency of the day: ears. That's right, you pay with the ears of the freakers you have killed. The camps you encounter on your travels are filled with survivors, but sadly you can only interact with a few of them; it would have been nice to have had access to new quests by talking to people.
Helping out in certain camps, or sending back the survivors you come across, improves your trust levels with the camp in question, which in turn opens up further purchasing options. These mainly come in the form of better weapons or upgrading your bike. You can buy new engines to go faster, suspension to reduce damage, and fuel tanks to go further. You can even get a paint job if you want to look snazzy for the end of the world.
Now onto the flaws. One thing that lets it down a little is the AI. The freakers seem fine for the most part, but a fair few times we saw them running the wrong way, or just stopping dead in their tracks. You could excuse them for being mindless, but then there are humans who sometimes seem to be facing away from you, allowing you to just sneak up and kill them, even when you're in the middle of a firefight with their friends.
When you ride out with another character, like Boozer, quite often the AI only seems to see you. It isn't all the time, but it's enough to be noticeable. On the other hand, we like the fact that when you're fighting humans, and guns are going off, freakers can be weaponised as you lure them and use them to your advantage. If they hear gunfire, they will run in and start attacking your enemies for you. At one point, we guided a horde into an enemy camp and watched as they did all the hard work for us. Sadly, we got trapped and they chowed down on us too, but it was all good fun.
In terms of enemies, the freakers are probably the highlight. When there are a few of them, you can take them down as they run at you in small numbers, but sometimes they group into these huge hordes. There is nothing as exhilarating as stumbling across a horde and then having to run for your life, shooting behind you as you try to make your escape by diving through windows and doors as you try to reach your bike. There are also different types of freakers other than the bog-standard variants, such as child-like Newts who live on roofs, or Screamers that can disorientate you, adding variety and keeping combat encounters feeling diverse.
The story is quite engaging, and it kept us interested throughout the 40+ hours we spent playing the game. There's a lot going on in the world, such as NERO, a government organisation that flies around in choppers, experimenting on freakers. There are human enemies known as Rippers who shave their heads and scar themselves before creating trouble for the camps. We're not going to tell you too much about the story, though, as no-one likes a spoiler.
The only other major issues we have is that sometimes the story seems to jump a little. For example, at one point we were having a nice chat on the radio with Boozer, then immediately after we got a call to say that he'd disappeared with a bottle of whiskey. When you call him again, he's hammered, and in a totally different location. Another annoyance was that sometimes there weren't any jobs at certain camps, so you'd have to ride out and immediately return to unlock them. While it didn't damage the experience too much, it did make us think: 'what's wrong with these people, could you not have told me that 30 seconds ago?!'
In terms of the visuals, Days Gone looks really good. The backdrops are, at times, amazing, with icy mountains in the distance and dense forests to ride through. The mud and snow on the ground look great too, and the world felt alive. The normal human enemies aren't anything special, but the so-called Rippers have a Mad Max vibe about them. The freakers, on the other hand, are great. These are ugly, horrible, dirty creatures that run at you, arms flailing. They're a joy to behold, especially when there's a few of them - right up until you realise it's time to run away. Then there is the audio, with the roar of the bike (which changes as you upgrade) and the howls of the freakers working together to create a brilliant and deadly atmosphere.
All in all, we have to say that we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Oregon. The story was interesting, the setting compelling, and the gameplay systems worked well together. There's no doubt that Bend Studio has crafted a very good game here, but a few issues with the AI and mission structure does let it down just a little. However, Days Gone is still a freakishly good zombie-survival adventure and fans of the genre will certainly find lots to enjoy as they roll out with Deacon in search of adventure.