It’s been a little over two years since the last time I took Deacon St. John for a joyride in the freaker filled mountains of a post Zombie-apocalyptic Oregon. Originally released on the PlayStation 4 in 2019, Days Gone returns for a second ride by becoming the second first party PlayStation exclusive released for PC. When Days Gone was originally released, it struggled to get much attention or momentum because 2019 was a pretty competitive year and there were a lot of games taking up a lot of players' time - but in 2021 it’s really only up against Resident Evil VIII: Village and the remastered Mass Effect Trilogy. Should you consider taking Days Gone out for a joyride?
The answer is fairly complicated. At first glance, and obviously as noted by the byline of this review, this game is basically The Walking Dead meets Sons of Anarchy, and that’s a pretty fair summation. Deacon St. John isn’t your typical anti-hero, as he’s often resistant to most requests, stubborn, and extremely persistent - often to his detriment. After an exciting but quick opening mission chasing down a guy who’s pissed off The Mongrels, Deacon’s buddy Boozer is attacked by a strange group of cultists who horrifically burn his arm. As you move Boozeman to a safe house, exploring opens up a bunch of other missions, camps to align yourself with, and you’ll do it all while fending off zombies, cultists, wild animals, and the overarching backstory of how Deacon met his wife Sarah, what happened to her, and what’s next for Deacon St. John as he relives his past.
Days Gone plays a lot like a mix between Far Cry and The Last of Us, with a Motorcycle Babysitting simulator, thrown in for good measure. You won’t have to go scouring towers to uncover the map (instead you search bunkers and find area maps), but you’ll find yourself doing a lot of the same style of crafting, gathering, and supply management, all while moving around to do as you please. Where this game differs from Far Cry is where it feels like anything can be done at your own leisure, Days Gone adds a little of that survival aspect and kicks up the difficulty and the scarcity of supplies keeps you on your toes (on the harder difficulties.)
Personally, I consider Days Gone to be a great mashup of several other games, but it never really excels at any one particular thing. The story is really good, but it’s not amazing. The gunplay and driving are both good, but not incredible. The graphics are nice, but they aren’t mindblowing. Days Gone is a jack of all trades, but a master of none. When you’re in combat, melee fighting always feels fairly clunky due to Deacon’s inability to perform a decent combo (until you buy the perk to add another hit) and dodging only consists of a roll away - which would have been fairly easier if a slight press made him take a quick step back instead of a full-on bail.
You’d think that a game that spends so much time focusing on a character’s motorcycle, to the point of it almost being a main character, that the driving would actually be fun as well. Deacon’s bike is often too heavy, turns slowly, and it’s extremely easy to get caught on passing terrain such as trees or rocks. Add to that the fragility of the bike, and you’ll wonder why anyone ever thought vehicle health was ever a good idea - especially since scrap is one of the most plentiful resources in the game.
For those worried about the PC port itself, it’s a decent port overall. Lighting is improved thanks to the addition of screen space ray-traced global illumination, and overall things like textures, draw distance are improved. Oregon’s lush nature is brought even more to life thanks to the increase in foliage quality on the PC port.
While the port itself is a nice upgrade over the PS4 version, I wish the PC version went a step further and included some quality of life improvements, most notably with Deacon’s motorcycle maintenance.While the fueling option adds realism to the gameplay, it’s quite a chore to have to pick up a gas can, lug it to the bike and then manually refuel. Why not simply top the fuel off just by bringing the can to the bike, or simply pulling up next to a gas pump? Fast Travel requiring the bike to be near you is also a pain, but requiring a certain amount of fuel as well is tedious and depending on where you are out in the wilderness, could actually take longer to find fuel to refill and fast travel than it would to just drive there in the first place. I know, I know, and my nitpicks are personal so not everyone will agree - but with the amount of accessibility options in this game, what’s a few more assists to reduce the amount of motorcycle maintenance? It would speed up the experience just a little bit and that would certainly help considering how many mundane things there are to do on the map.
Keyboard and mouse controls are adequate but they should be a lot better. On the PS4, the radial menu is on the bumper, but on the keyboard, you’ll access it by holding down the Q key. I would have been happier if tapping Q let you swap between bandages, first aid, or stamina cocktails. Grenades would have been nice on G, with tapping allowing you to choose between grenades, pipe bombs, or molotov cocktails and holding C to craft whatever you’ve got selected. With Days Gone being a PlayStation game, the game is best experienced with a DualShock 4 or 5 for the touchpad and swipe function of moving through the menus.I should note my Astro C40 wasn’t fully recognized as a DS4 controller, (though this could be due to Steam and not Days Gone itself), so actions utilizing the touchscreen, like skipping dialogue, were relegated to the options button.
The gunplay in Days Gone is pretty solid as the machine guns feel about right, and the shotgun’s shots can bring a satisfying end to a rampaging zombie, the limited amount of ammo will urge you to be more precise with your shots, and it’s unfortunately hampered by slow reload animations. While I really like the crossbow, shots don’t feel like they have any weight to them even though they can kill weaker enemies with a single bolt.
Overall, Days Gone is an enjoyable experience if you keep your expectations in check. It’s a solid port of a mostly ignored PlayStation 4 title due to a cluttered release window, and while it certainly won’t set the world on fire, it’s exactly what you’re looking for if you enjoyed single player experiences like the most recent Tomb Raider trilogy or The Last of Us. It wasn’t the best game of 2019, but it deserves a shot at getting your attention now that it’s available for PC, considering it’s likely the best biker game we’re going to get for the foreseeable future. Come for the sweet motorcycle and gory zombie murder, stay for the emotional tale of betrayal and revenge.
Riding along the Oregon mountain side is pretty fun if you aren’t on chase missions, and there’s nothing more satisfying than the instant stealth kills, watching Deacon dig his knife into the spine of a freaker and pull it straight down. If nothing else, Days Gone is a good game that’ll hold you over while waiting for that next game.