I don’t like zombie movies, but I seem to end up watching them anyhow, so when a friend at work suggested that I would like the post-apocalyptical zombie-related 2019 PlayStation game Days Gone, I thought I’d give a go. I’ve built up a certain tolerance over the past few years. He’s the chap who recommended Horizon Dawn Zero and that turned out to be one of my all-time favourite games, so I trust his judgement.
The last time I played anything remotely zombie-related for any stretch of time beyond a hour (in which I invariably remembered that I don’t like zombie games) was Half-Life 2, so I guess I was long overdue some undead action adventure. Plus riding around an open world on a motorbike was a big draw. Also it was, and I think still is at the time of writing this post, free to play for PlayStation Plus subscribers. So open world, motorbike, free stuff – enough ticks to outweigh the zombie cross. Right?
Well, yes, right indeedy; I thought it was a great game with a celebratory chef’s kiss. For some reason it felt less like a zombie game and more like a “can’t we all just get along” survival and stealth exploration game. The zombies were an inconvenience to me as I enjoyed the story of this jaded biker Deacon St. John, ‘Deek’ to his friends, of which he has only a few including his MC buddy Boozer, and his desire to be reunited with his scientist wife Sarah, who he was separated from at the start of the virus outbreak and the rise of the zombies.
Deek visits various camps of generally friendly survivors in his travels and does errands for them, takes out pockets of anarchists intent on ambushing him (stringing piano wire across the road is a nasty trick they like to play), fights some crazy dipshits called the Rippers who believe that everyone should be like the freakers (it’s what they call the zombies), and pieces together the truth around the zombie apocalypse.
The map, which represents a fictitious area of Oregon, is pretty expansive with lots of scenery and deserted locations to visit, realistic weather and day/night cycles, collectibles to hunt down, plants to pick and scrap to collect. Scrap is used to fix your bike the condition of which degrades over time along with your melee weapon as you use it to smash in the bonces of those pesky zombies and enemy humans.
There’s a variety of crafting blueprints or recipes to learn which allow you to craft new melee weapons, throwable weapons such a Molotov cocktails, attribute buffs such as stamina boosting pills, different arrows for your crossbow, and traps to fuck with the freakers. The polystyrene cups, wire, rags, kerosene etcetera that you need for all this are in short supply, as is petrol, unless you visit the few petrol stations dotted around the map. Problem is the anarchists tend to hang out there, as do bears and wolves, and if they don’t get you then the zombies will.
As the game progresses you’re able to do some nifty upgrades to your bike and also Deek, so he doesn’t run out of stamina so quickly, is able to focus better on shooting the shit out of people, or is able to take more damage to his health if you end up in fisticuffs with a zombie. Actually it never comes to that because you always have your trusty knife to rely on if your melee weapon falls to bits after one to many skull smashes. It’s not the best weapon in your arsenal but it might just get you out of tricky spot now and again, and of course you run faster when your carrying it. Old joke sorry.
Going out on foot is a really stupid idea, so it’s a good idea to get to grips with your bike and keep good care of it from the off. There are a variety of long-range weapons available – assault rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns, SMGs etc. and the crossbow. I have to admit that I’m usually an archer in these types of games but I found myself relying more on the sniper rifle in most really long range situations and the big-ass machine guns with extra ammunition clips for dealing with hordes.
Ah yes, hordes. the zombies like to bunch up together and as the game progresses you come across a number of quick-to-get-bitey hordes which you can dispatch with the various traps and fuel barrels that are conveniently placed nearby some of the story-critical hordes. I think there’s at least three points in the story where you have to take out a horde. A bit of planning is crucial, but you can mostly choose a Benny Hill tactic and get them chasing after you. Then you can run backwards while killing them off (with a kind of slow-mo ‘focus’ ability akin to Max Payne) with your various guns and throwable whatsits. It’s also handy to hop on your well-positioned motorbike and get out of trouble, or visit it to restock your ammo from the saddlebags.
As well as hordes, there are some individual zombie types that are a royal pain in the ass. One I’ll leave as a surprise, and I’ll just mention that there are big uns (‘tanks’ if you will), female ones that have this banshee scream that knocks you off your bike and stops you being able to focus, and some little kiddy zombies which it feels a bit sad to be shooting, but if you don’t they’ll jump on you and nick stuff off you (and also make you bleed). Oh and there’s zombie bears. And crows.
The story is like a mash up of The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy, and that’s no bad thing. It’s well written and acted by the likes of Sam Witwer (Maul in Star Wars: Clone Wars although he sounds a big like Joe Swanson in Family Guy at times), Jim Pirri (from almost every game you’ve ever played in the last decade), Courtnee Draper (Elizabeth in Bioshock) and Jason Spisak (Silco in Arcane). Cutscenes are great and there’s only a few minor dialogue bugs – for instance Deek wont stop going on about coming back to a town and getting rid of the zombie nests even though you did that a few hours into the game. Yes the zombies have nests as well as the crows and there’s a trophy for destroying them all.
Also once you’ve finished the story, there’s plenty left to do in the game – in fact a whole long list of freaker hordes to take out, and there’s four delayed cutscenes to tie up loose ends with minor characters and also tease a possible sequel, although I’m not sure that’s likely. There’s a few small Easter eggs in the game referring to developer Bend Studio’s previous virus-related title Syphon Filter, so perhaps we’ll see a third game set in the same universe. Who knows.
I honestly can’t think of any negative comments to temper my enthusiasm for this game. I didn’t encounter any unexpected crashes, major visual or gameplay bugs – no getting stuck between rocks like on Skyrim, no complete crashes like so many times on the latest Lego Star Wars, and only a few hovering objects every now and again. I did experience a disappearing zombie at one point, but I was happy to let it go. The physics is generally very good and the AI for the human enemies much better during combat than a lot of games. The AI for the zombies makes them just stupid enough to fuck with, but not so it becomes too easy. And don’t try and fuck with the more advanced zombies later in the game or they’ll smash you, mash you or tear you to bits.
The game is up there with Ghost of Tsushima in terms of story and just behind Horizon Dawn Zero for overall adventure gameplay.