The apocalypse is familiar but oh so cozy in Days Gone.
My motorcycle is my everything. Like Deacon St John, I roll through a lush post-apocalyptic Oregon forest and cross over grassy hills along roads that have long since begun to crack and be reclaimed by nature. Two years ago, the world went under – an unknown virus turned the majority of humanity into constantly hungry monsters, which in this future are called freakers, although the Z-word is of course rarely far away.
It’s a beautiful world. When I wake up in a conquered bandit bunker in the morning and the sun filters down between the tree branches, I forget for a moment that everything is to hell and just enjoying. Then I chop down a twisted freaker with my homemade ax (a baseball bat and a saw blade are all that is needed) and drag a found can of gasoline to my faithful steel horse, so I can continue to explore the world and help those who need it, including myself .
Deacon is an iconic, almost clichéd character. The voice is made by Sam Witwer who played Darth Maul everywhere except in the actual Star Wars movies, and since he is not really right in the skull after these years of madness, he often talks to himself. Like a typical biker in an inhospitable world, he squats on his bike with his friend Boozer by his side, until one day the disaster strikes and everything is turned upside down. Maybe it is no longer possible to think only of oneself? There is no doubt that Deacon can make a journey in more ways than one, and the slightly cheesy script is saved by well-written characters and excellent acting efforts.
The world is also a character in the game, one that Deacon (or “Deek” as his friends say) interacts with in such a natural way that I hardly think about it. It is extremely rare that you are deprived of control for a short intermediate sequence, and in between you walk, go or sneak forward and notice how other people actually react to your presence. You’ve been here a few years, so when you arrive at a camp, everyone knows who you are: a bounty hunter with a lone wolf complex; someone who is hard on the outside but with an at least lukewarm heart beating in the chest.
The game itself is almost exactly as you probably think it is. You perform a series of missions to different camps, upgrade your motorcycle and buy better weapons to cope with increasingly difficult tasks in the hunt for both your missing wife and your lost humanity. A simple crafting system allows you to turn a bottle, a cloth and a can of fuel into a molotov. An oil filter from an abandoned SUV turns into an impromptu muffler for your rifle. And if you collect a few twigs, you can always create arrows for your crossbow, which you can poison or light a fire on to get different effects. In terms of game mechanics, it is simple, but satisfying. Shooting or fighting feels satisfying physically and heavily and crossing on small roads or asphalt with your motorcycle is a nice feeling that I have not yet grown tired of.
Part of that, of course, is the world. This is a typical Mats game in the sense that there are lots of “plops” to find and flowers to pick on the map. An even bigger part, however, is actually the story. Despite the open world, there is a feeling of constant forward movement here, and the story offers one or two unexpected turns that keep you on your toes. Sure, this has been done before, but here it’s done with love and a sense of relationship that makes me really like (and hate, of course) people I meet in the game. They have their own goals and dreams and none of them are entirely one-dimensional. I know this would not be a brilliant tribute to an Oscar-winning film, but in games we are not directly spoiled by credible non-player characters. Or player diton, for that matter. And Days Gone offers both.
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What is it?
Story-based zombie action in an open world.
Price 500: –
Intel Core i5-660K, 16GB RAM, GTX1070 16MB
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The more we are together…
And then we have the zombies…. sorry, freaks. They are a constant presence during your travels. Often you see a few bites of a dead cow (?) Out in a field, or maybe they are fighting with a bear or other lone travelers. It’s actually one of the best moments in the game when you manage to pull a horde of zombies through a hostile camp and let them do the hard work so you can just roll in and pick up gasoline, ammo, and dishcloths when they’re done. These are fast 28 days later zombies, not the slow wobbly old school type, so make sure you have plenty of stamina if you are going to take on groups of them. And never go too far from your beloved motorcycle.
The hordes, yes. The game’s USP and perhaps the most impressive detail, even though they do not really play a major role in the story until towards the end. You can certainly tackle them from the beginning, even if the hordes you run into are small. However, 25-30 zombies feel like ten times as many when all you have is a damp little pistol, two molotovs and an old yeast plank. Even when you have upgraded your weapons, acquired grenades and distractions and tackled some of the smaller hordes, it is never calm when you see literally hundreds of screaming infected people come rushing, climbing over cars and fences and throwing themselves at you to tear you in pieces. If you feel that you have a little too little stress in your life, I definitely recommend that you go on as many hordes as possible. When you come across one with 500 members, you are guaranteed to think that it is a bug and that it is not the intention to be able to handle this. But it is possible, and it is an extremely satisfying feeling to trick a couple of hundred through a narrow passage, smash a can of petrol and blow up half of them, and then mow down the rest with a stolen machine gun.
Although nothing is the same as in the beginning. The first time I started Days Gone so I was almost pissed off at how useless Deacon was. No weapons to speak of, no health, endurance or fun grenades. The motorcycle crawled out like a mosquito on a tar stick and it felt impossible to kill more than one or two zombies without being overwhelmed. Not to mention that the petrol ran out after what felt like a couple of hundred meters.
We are all children…
The second time I play it, I actually appreciate this overwhelming start. It should not be so cheerful to trample around in disaster and try to survive. And now I know that after a few hours the game opens up and gets bigger, I get better equipment and add useful skills. I understand that you may not like this game if you only play a small part of it, but whoever hangs on, or maybe even appreciates a little self-torture, will be richly rewarded. Maybe I was just spoiled with too light games and too much hand holding? In any case, it is really refreshing to get a little whip in the beginning and then go forward like a glowing scythe through body-warm butter when you play for a while. Until you encounter a horde, run out of ammunition and are buried in screaming zombie analogues, of course.
Bend Studio’s high dystopia received a lot of criticism when it came to Playstation 4 a few years ago. I honestly do not understand that. Sure, this is nothing new, it may not be 100% super polished and the clichés hail closely and often. But the game mechanics are so satisfying and the world and its inhabitants so fascinating that I’m still sitting here playing through it for the second time, and have no plans to quit halfway. This is the very definition of a utility game, quite simply, a bit like a serving of meatballs and potatoes. You know what you’re getting, it’s no surprise, and when you’re done you feel like you could eat another plate tomorrow and enjoy it just as much. So even if this game has its small flaws, you will not regret following Deacon on his journey.
My tree stick
No zombie game would be complete without weapons, and even here there are a lot of such to find, manufacture or buy in the various camps you work for along the way. You can have a pistol, a main weapon and a special weapon, so it is important to choose the right combination for the right situation. Here are three of my favorites.
A disguised variant of the classic Thompson pistol from World War II. It takes a while before you can buy it, but if you do and equip it with a 50-shot drum magazine, it goes through zombie hordes like your index finger in rice porridge.
A small, agile machine gun that counts as a gun in the game. Perfect as a complement to a heavier main weapon, so you always have a way to spit a wall of bullets at approaching hordes or bandits lying in ambush and knocking you off the motorcycle.
The crossbow is a special weapon that is initially most useful for shooting enemies without being noticed. Soon you will also have access to fire arrows, explosive arrows and my favorite: the zombie arrows that drive them crazy and attack their companions. As cozy as it is comical.
Gas stop is your best and worst friend.
Among the worst things that can happen in the game is that you run out of gas. After a while, you will certainly learn where to find a can or two, but you can never take it with you and the fuel tank on your motorcycle is pathetically small before you manage to get upgrades. Therefore, keep an eye on the fuel gauge and stop at each gas station or tow truck (they always have a can on the platform) to refill a few drops.
Or do not! It can also be absolutely fantastic to run out of petrol in the middle of nowhere. You have to find your way between hungry zombies, wild bears and vicious bandits to get to the nearest civilized place where you will hopefully find some fuel. In fact, some of the best moments I’ve had in a while Days Gone has been when I messed up and had to improvise to survive.
Clichéd, at times a bit monotonous, but packed to the brim with apocalypse mood and good characters. An underrated game that you should play.