Days Gone - A Flawed Gem

I recently bought, finished and got the Platinum Trophy for Days Gone. Getting the Platinum is not something I usually bother with, usually I only put in the effort for games that I love the most. They’re all Post-Apocalyptic, open world games too - Mad Max, Horizon Zero Dawn and now Days Gone. There’s probably something too that, but I’ll look into it later. This post is specifically about Days Gone, and how I put in the extra time after the main story was complete because I thought the game was worth it.

Spoilers. Duh.

Look, I’ll deal with the negatives right off the bat. This game isn’t complete, and despite first being announced way back in 2016, only to be delayed until 2019, it could have used a lot more time in the oven. There are many technical issues that just seem like small things that a more experienced studio or director would have been able to handle. Dialogue popping up at weird times, often in the wrong sort of tone. Cut scenes and conversations that looked like they were meant to be cut from the game, somehow made their way into the game alongside their replacements. A few weird character animations. It’s all really minor stuff that just looks silly and would’ve been easy enough to fix. I don’t know why these issues are still there, especially when they could just be patched, but they are. Despite all this, the biggest issue I ran into was the load times, which were consistently atrocious. This is the biggest issue I had and it’s far from a deal breaker, just a niggling annoyance, so make of that what you will.

In terms of story, you’re cut off from whole sections of the map until they game wants you to go there. But instead of blocking you off organically, with something as simple as a fallen tree across the road or blocked tunnel, you get this big warning on your screen and then you’re teleported back to the play area. Along with this, cut scenes were filmed to play with certain time/weather settings, so the clock would always advance until the developers had things playing out exactly how they wanted. It worked overall, but it never really felt as organic as it could have. It’s like the developers wanted an open world game, but one with a very linear and controlled story.

That’s the negative out of the way, and so now onto the positive - I freaking love Days Gone (pun intended). The world is pretty well thought out, and the Freakers are an ever present threat that’s constantly evolving as the story progresses. Two years prior, an infection spread across the globe, and still-living zombies (picture the infected from 28 Days Later) are rampaging across the globe. Deacon St. John, a member of the Mongrel Motorcycle Club, throws his injured wife on a helicopter to get her to safety while he helps his fellow gang member, Boozer, get to safety. He looses track of his wife, spends the next two years acting as a Bounty Hunter and Freaker Killer until the events of the game. He’s a fairly typical Post-Apocalyptic protagonist, out for himself and those closest to him, but eventually he starts opening up and helping out others. It’s actually a pretty well played out character arc, and this is in no small part to the acting of Sam Witwer, the actor who lent his voice and appearance to Deacon St. John.

It’s a pretty stellar performance.

It’s a pretty stellar performance.

One of the interesting things about Days Gone is that you’re pretty consistently killing women and children. Now, that sounds like a weird point to make, so let me clarify. In zombie games, you often kill female zombies as well as male zombies. They’re already dead, so it’s never been that big of a deal to kill them. Living female enemies, however, has often been something of an issue. People just don’t like gunning down women, even when they’re trying to kill you first. I remember there were female enemies in Horizon Zero Dawn, but they were few and far between - far, far rarer than the male enemies, which you would kill en mass. Mad Max only had male enemies to kill, except for a single woman that you fight in Thunderdome. Even the shining beacon of Feminist gaming, The Last of Us, had you murdering female Infected, but no uninfected females during game-play. So much for equality?

But then in Days Gone, there are plenty of women who are Marauders, Vagrants or Rippers - and you’re killing them pretty consistently. Along with this, there are children enemies in the game too. Granted, they’re Freakers called ‘Newts’, so they’re basically still under the umbrella of “zombies are already dead, so who cares?” but they’re there none the less. It’s nothing compared to the gunning down of orphans in Fallout 1 or Fallout 2, but still there’s this strange feeling of uncomfortable awkwardness when you smash a Newt into the ground with a baseball bat. I’m not one who takes pleasure in mowing down women and/or children, merely someone who likes to see that aspect of the world realized realistically. At one point, the characters themselves even discuss how uncomfortable killing a Newt makes them feel.

Small time predators roam in packs…

Small time predators roam in packs…

It sounds weird, but if you want a realistic game then this is what you want. Why aren’t there female Hunters, or Infected children in The Last of Us? Where are the females fighting for the Roadkill or Buzzards in Mad Max? If women are equally as badass as men, which Horzion Zero Dawn purports to proudly put forward, then where are the rest of the female enemies? This is something that Days Gone gets right, because there are women fighting right beside the men. They’re not just NPC’s selling wares or defending camps either, they’re rushing in to kill you with baseball bats and rifles. It just makes sense, from a Post-Apocalyptic standpoint and from an equality standpoint. Good representation isn’t just about having more female protagonists, it’s about having more females everywhere - including in the role of cannon fodder for the games protagonist.

So, yeah… that rant explains why I’m so awkwardly happy to be killing women and kids in a video game.

The world of Days Gone is amazing. Set in the ruins of Oregon, Days Gone has you riding a motor bike through back hill forests, sandy deserts and blasted tundra. Your bike starts out noticeably shit (because where do you go if you start off with the best gear possible?) but as the game progresses you steadily upgrade it, and it quickly becomes a joy to ride. You get better and better weapons to fight the Freakers, and this is probably my only other issue with the game. You’re getting this ever expanding arsenal of firearms when I would have preferred to see something like in The Last of Us. Bigger and better guns are cool, but it doesn’t exactly help push the Post-Apocalyptic narrative, so for me I would have preferred to have a few guns that get modified. You’d still get the ever improving firepower, it’s just that it’d be the same guns being tinkered with, which is basically what the Post-Apocalypse is all about. Nothing speaks to the hardship of the world’s end than not having access to the firepower you once did, instead having to modify and make do with your initial weapon.

It’d be quite a nice time without all the psychos and infected cannibals…

It’d be quite a nice time without all the psychos and infected cannibals…

Anyway, you ride around helping out various camps, each with their own flawed views and methods of survival, and you quickly find yourself wrapped up in the greater events of the world. The main things you do in Days Gone is collecting scrap and hunting Freakers - both of these activities remain consistent throughout the game. Far from the eclectic junk bonanza of Fallout 4, collecting scrap in Days Gone is streamlined and simple. Scrap, fuel, kerosene, cloth - you only really need to collect the basics. In terms of hunting Freakers, you can take them on one by one but the real draw is against the Hordes. Literally hundreds of Freakers all swarming their way across the world map in a constant migration between their nests and feeding grounds. These Horde battles can be dramatically intense, but it usually just ended with me running and gunning, cheesing them with Molotov’s and Heavy Machine Gun Fire. They’re fun, but due to game-play mechanics they rarely play out as intended.

Though they don’t vary that much individually, when you’re facing a horde you never lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Though they don’t vary that much individually, when you’re facing a horde you never lose sight of the forest for the trees.

In terms of characters that fill the world, there’s a pretty decent swathe of personalities to encounter. There’re a lot of assholes, but there’s usually some sort of justifying reason behind why they are the way they are. Whoever they are, and whatever their defect is, it’s always interesting to watch Deacon interact with them. Say what you will about an ex-Army outlaw biker being married to a researcher with a Ph.D. in Botany, it allowed the developers to craft a story that was both world shaking and personal at the same time.

There’s a cult of psychos known as the ‘Rippers’ and while yes, they do go around ripping the shit out of people - they’re actually named that for the way their leader ritualistically carved “R.I.P'“ into his own forehead. Let the past die, wash away the mental suffering with physical suffering and you’ll be free to “Rest In Peace.” It’s a nice little bit of word play that I’m kicking myself for not thinking of. Anyway, the point here is that people are talking about the Rippers hunting down two bikers from the Mongrel Motorcycle Club, which is obviously Deacon and Boozer. Deacon thinks they just have it in for them because they’ve killed a few of them, but eventually you find out that the leader of the Rippers, Jessie, is actually a former member of the Mongrel Motorcycle Club as well. The thing is that Jessie had his gang tattoo burnt from his back with a blowtorch before the apocalypse, by both Deacon and Boozer. He started the Rippers cult because he was obsessed with the way that a persons whole identity could be burnt away in a flood of pain. He inflicted suffering on hundreds of survivors in a twisted attempt to free them, because he admired the way the Freakers were free from suffering.

Safe to say that he never really got over the experience…

Safe to say that he never really got over the experience…

Eventually Deacon and Boozer team up to go kill Jessie, and the story spirals upward to more world spanning heights. You eventually find your wife, and she’s working with a paramilitary organisation who are trying their best to preserve humanity. They’re well armed and supplied, and it looks like they may be able to save mankind, but there’s the little issue of their leader being a religious zealot who executes anyone who doesn’t adhere to his strict moral code. Eventually you work with your wife, the botanist, to learn that her research was used in the creation of the Freaker Virus. So while Deacon helped create a monsters of man that plagued the survivors, his wife helped turn men into monsters that plagued the survivors. It’ll admit that it strains credulity, but it was a neat way to personally tie your characters into the story beyond being just some guy and girl who’re saving the world.

You deal with this paramilitary force, going in and taking them out in your usual explosive style, and then you and your wife are finally united and free. After the game, the government agent who helped you find your wife lets you know of a far greater conspiracy that he’s involved in. He’s infected with the Freaker virus, though he’s somehow managed to avoid turning into a mindless Freaker. All the good stuff with none of the drawbacks, except being ugly as sin. I’m sure we’ll find out more about this in the sequel, which I hope takes less than 3 years to be released.

Despite the issues, it’s still got a great character in a great setting.

Despite the issues, it’s still got a great character in a great setting.

Days Gone is a pretty fantastic game if you’re into open world survival simulator or just Post-Apocalyptic games in general. I didn’t realize how sick I was of the Fallout series’ 50’s schtick, until I was cruising through the ruins of a realistic and modern looking Oregon. People lamented not having photos of loved ones, because everyone had used smart phones to store their photos, and high tech medical facilities sprung to life once you started the generators. It was a breath of fresh air to see a more serious Post-Apocalyptic tone, as opposed to the more lighthearted and gimmicky alternatives. Days Gone is a flawed game, but despite that I still think it’s a fantastic Post-Apocalyptic title that is well worth playing.