What is it? An open world, post-apocalyptic survival horror game.
Expect to pay £40/$50
Developer Bend Studio
Reviewed on RTX 2080 Super, Intel i7-9700K, 16GB RAM
Link Official site (opens in new tab)
An outlaw biker drifting through a Pacific Northwestern post-apocalypse is a killer premise, and Days Gone occasionally lives up to it. When you're alone on the broken road, riding your scrappy motorcycle between missions, it's easy to get swept up in the apocalyptic romanticism of it all. It's just you, your bike, and an unforgiving land. No job, no bills—just two wheels, a thirsty gas tank, and all the time in the (end of the) world.
You play as Deacon St. John, a young Oregon biker who wears a backwards baseball cap at all times—even at his wedding. Two years after a mysterious outbreak has turned half the population of America into zombie-like cannibals called freakers, Deacon embarks on a quest to find his missing wife, Sarah. There are other stories too, including discovering the truth about the pandemic—because there's always a truth behind these things. But it's reuniting with his beloved spouse that really drives our anti-hero.
Days Gone is an open world game, set across a large swathe of the American Pacific Northwest. It's a sweeping, rugged landscape, with old-growth forests, cascading waterfalls, dusty stretches of desert, one-horse towns, and kitschy motels. It's a completely boilerplate zombie apocalypse, decorated with the End of Days Starter Kit: abandoned government checkpoints, mass graves, gutted houses, car tunnels stuffed with wrecks, and so on. But it's all well presented and often extremely atmospheric—especially when the sky turns a gloomy slate-grey and the rain and thunder roll in.
Your bike is your life in Days Gone, and keeping it running is a full-time job. As you ride from place to place you burn gas, which means scavenging for fuel when the tank inevitably runs dry. If you crash hard or you're ambushed by opportunistic bandits, you have to gather scrap, another valuable resource, to repair it. It's a very basic simulation of motorcycle maintenance, but it means there's more to every long distance trip than just slamming the throttle and tuning out until you reach the objective marker.
Popping open the hoods of abandoned cars to yank out scrap or dodging zombies to duck into roadside garages and hunt for gasoline is a satisfying loop—although it can be frustrating if you just want to quickly get to the next mission. You can fast travel, provided you have enough gas and the road ahead is clear of freaker nests (which you can clear out with a Molotov.) But I always resist the urge, realising that riding between jobs, enjoying the scenery, and tinkering with my bike is where Days Gone is at its best—and everything else is just disappointing.
On a grand scale, when it's speeding past you in a blur, the world is great. But whenever I stopped to take a closer look, there was never anything interesting to find—just empty rooms, swarms of freakers, and a stingy scattering of generic crafting loot. This is a world with no stories to tell, and it's always deflating when you see a building on the side of the road, pull up, nose around inside, and leave with no deeper understanding of the outbreak and no insight into the people who lived there. Beyond the eternal hunt for fuel and scrap, exploration is pointless, which makes the world feel dead.
As for the actual missions, they're an underwhelming mix of stealth and cover-based shooting. Stealth involves crouching in conveniently placed waist-high bushes, waiting for enemies to pass, then stabbing them violently in the head. You also have to watch out for bear traps and tripwires that'll give away your position, and can throw rocks as a distraction. It's incredibly basic stuff, with no unique systems to experiment with, and some very skittish, unconvincing AI—whether you're sneaking past freakers or humans.
If you get spotted (or, as is more likely, bored of creeping around), Days Gone turns into a cover shooter that is, unfortunately, every bit as pedestrian as the stealth is. The character movement is lethargic, the guns are unexciting, and once again, the dim AI means there's no real sense of danger or urgency to the firefights. I do like the melee combat, though. When you whack a bandit or a freaker with a large, heavy piece of wood, or a makeshift machete created out of an old lawnmower blade, you can really feel it.
There are more than 150 missions to complete in the game, a mix of story and side missions. But even if you just doggedly pursue the story and ignore everything else on offer, you're still looking at 35-40 hours of game here, which is way too much. I have no problem with long open world games. I mean, I've played through the immense Red Dead Redemption 2 twice. But the missions in Days Gone just aren't varied enough—nor is the story interesting enough—to justify its length.
There are some standout moments, though. In one especially tense mission, Deacon is kidnapped by a fanatical self-mutilating death cult called the Rippers and has to sneak and shoot his way out of their creepy compound. I just wish there were more memorable moments like this.
Days Gone is also deeply joyless, with a grim, self-serious tone a story about apocalyptic bikers with names like 'Boozeman' really shouldn't have. Everyone you meet is either miserable, dying, or trying to kill you. The flashbacks to Deacon and Sarah's pre-pandemic relationship are overly sentimental. And Deacon himself, who is mostly angry and monosyllabic, is hard to love. Days Gone thinks being 'mature' means snuffing out all traces of warmth and humour from its story—even though people in a world like this would depend on these things even more to cling to their dwindling humanity.
But hey, the PC version is pretty good. With an RTX 2080 Super and an i7-9700K, I was able to play in 1440p at max settings with a completely stable frame rate—even with hundreds of freakers filling the screen. I had to knock a few settings down for a smooth experience in 4K, but nothing that majorly affected the quality of the image. It is, however, missing a few things we've come to expect from modern PC games—namely DLSS and raytracing. It's a pretty game, but it won't make a high-end graphics card sweat.
Days Gone is a fun post-apocalyptic road trip simulator, but the things it does well are ultimately overwhelmed by the dreary story, repetitive missions, sluggish controls, and lifeless world. It's great seeing more PlayStation exclusives coming to PC, and long may that continue. But if Days Gone hadn't made the transition, I don't think it would have been a great loss for the platform. Look, just play Avalanche's Mad Max (opens in new tab) game from 2015 instead. It does everything Days Gone does, but with a sense of humour, a wasteland that's actually worth exploring, and you get to be the road warrior Max Rockatansky instead of a sad, mumbling biker in a backwards baseball cap.