Time makes fools of us all, especially game reviewers. Now that we’re nearly a year into a new console generation, the specters of the Spider-Men and Gods of War from the PlayStation 4 era cast smaller shadows. That means it’s time to embrace what a devoted legion of fans already know: Days Gone is actually pretty good.
Days Gone from Bend Studios released for PS4 in 2019. More importantly, it debuted at E3 in 2016 alongside some other PS4 exclusives you may have heard of, God of War and Spider-Man. Its first official release date (there were delays) was February 2019, but at one time it was slated for a 2018 release. That’s the same year as God of War and Spider-Man, which came out in April and September, respectively.
We can only speculate about the reception Days Gone would’ve received had it come out before those titles. Instead, we know the reality. A 7/10 game with ho-hum reviews saddled with a “not as good as the other exclusives” label.
Days Gone offers a respite from the rather tired zombie apocalypse formula. Yes, the familiar pieces are there. Zombies-that-aren’t-called-zombies, aka Freakers, roam the forests of the Pacific Northwest. You play as Deacon St. John, a rough-and-tumble biker who has spent the last few years of the post-apocalypse thriving as a nomadic scavenger tethered to a longshot hope that the love of his life may still be alive somewhere. It’s a story with some heartwarming flashbacks and a bit of romance, a nice departure from other titles in the genre that are all bleak, all the time.
There’s looting and crafting, as you’d expect. But the system is nicely balanced. Days Gone doesn’t overload you with tons of stuff, and manages scarcity well enough that you never seem to have too much of anything.
The star here is the motorcycle Deacon uses to traverse the amply-sized map. It’s not disposable; you only get one. It’s not invulnerable either. It needs gas and repairs to keep going, and if it dies on you in the middle of nowhere you’ve got to schlep your ass around to find what you need to get it running again. And you will, because riding it is an absolute blast. There are some great upgrades, and alongside a bunch of cool weapons, the crafting component of Days Gone is among the best you’ll get from the genre.
There is, of course, plenty of action and plenty of stealth combat. Here Days Gone is mostly what you’d expect. Lots of crouching and headshots (of course there’s a crossbow). The mechanics are fine, but the real standout in combat is found in the game’s Freaker hordes. At various points in the story (and randomly across the map) you’ll have to take out a massive horde of hundreds of Freakers. It is beyond anything you typically experience in games where you need to cut saplings to make crossbow ammo.
There’s no way to brute force a horde head-on, instead you need to carefully scout the location and set traps along the way. There’s the occasional exploding barrel to help, but the key to fighting hordes is to have them chase you into different bottlenecks where you can obliterate them with a carefully placed proximity mine or hastily thrown molotov.
It’s harder than it sounds and the tension, execution, and triumph of tackling a horde is the standout feature of Days Gone. There’s really nothing else like it, and there’s never been a better time to play — it’s currently on a steep discount in the PlayStation Store. (It’s also available on Steam.)