Days Gone Has Some Rough Edges, But Its World Left Me Wanting More
While some aspects of the gameplay seem a little rough, Days Gone still might scratch an itch that I am looking for in its open world.
Since its debut back at E3 2016, Days Gone is a game that I have been optimistically looking forward to, despite some of the trepidations that others (and myself) have had about some of its qualities. A post-apocalyptic world where players have to fight for survival against waves of the undead is far from a new concept—especially when it comes to video games—but from what I played of Days Gone so far, it might still find some new ways to bring some fresh life to a well-worn genre.
During PAX East 2019 in Boston, I got some hands-on time with Days Gone prior to the game’s release next month, with the demo offering two missions to try out, one being more story-driven and the other giving me the chance to test out Deacon St. John’s abilities against one of the game’s massive hordes of Freakers.
As we’ve seen quite a bit of the game’s story over the past few months leading up to its release, I spent the majority of my time with the demo trying to take on the Freaker horde to get a better feel for how Days Gone plays, given that the hordes have been such a prominent aspect of the game since its reveal. As much as the premise of fighting off waves of zombies has been familiar to most games, taking on an army of the undead to the scale seen in something like World War Z seemed novel, especially when in the early reveals for the game there was just such a massive number of enemies on-screen at once.
For the most part, I came away with some mixed feelings on the gameplay side of things for Days Gone after playing it for myself. By and large, if you’ve played third-person games in the style of Uncharted or the more recent Grand Theft Auto games, Days Gone should feel pretty familiar in how you move and take on enemies, with a scrolling weapon wheel dedicated to Deacon St. John’s array of weapons, throwable items, traps, and other equipment. While the controls and gameplay felt easy enough to hop into with Days Gone in the demo, there was still a bit of clunkiness to the movement that I had to get adjusted to, making the task of taking on the Freaker horde sometimes a bit inelegant in the middle of the tension. This especially came up at points where I tried to either hop over obstacles or climb up to higher places, where I felt like I was sometimes fighting the controls as much as I was the Freakers.
The shooting and combat mechanics in Days Gone at times also felt a bit on the stiff side. In my first couple attempts at taking on the horde and switching between the weapons that I had on-hand in the demo, such as a semi-automatic shotgun, full-auto machine gun, and a pistol, the shooting felt serviceable but not necessarily satisfying from a feedback perspective. And when that is combined with the fact that players will have to move pretty quickly to react to the hordes of Freakers, the slower movement speed of Deacon sometimes felt at odds with what the game was demanding.
Despite some of my issues with the controls and movement of Deacon St. John, the core experience of trying to outthink the Freaker horde was still thrilling enough to make me want to see more of what Days Gone is attempting to do with its open world. In the environment that I was in for the demo, a number of different traps, explosives, and other obstacles gave me plenty of opportunities to try and strategize where and how I should position the horde to take out as many Freakers as I could. For example, right at the beginning there was an explosive barrel next to a pile of massive logs, giving me an opening to try and steer the horde to be pummeled by the logs after setting off the explosion. As much as I was trying to balance thinking in the moment, the Freaker horde constantly being on my tail also had me thinking strategically and trying to figure out the best route to avoid getting trapped by the horde while whittling down their numbers.
Alongside the weapons and traps I had at my disposal, in the demo I also tried to make use of Deacon St. John’s bike to try and stay one step ahead of the horde, gradually using the bike to quickly position myself to a better vantage point. While in the demo I only had a limited opportunity to give the bike a test ride for myself, it still felt great to hop on the bike and gain such mobility against the Freakers. From the limited time that I had with Deacon’s bike, I’m still eager to see how it is utilized in the full game, especially how players will be able to upgrade the bike’s capabilities over time. This in particular makes me interested to see how the bike will feel like a core part of the experience of playing as Deacon St. John, rather than just a disposal vehicle in something like in a GTA game.
As much as some aspects of Days Gone feel like they could use a little more finesse, mainly when it comes to combat and gameplay, what I played at PAX East still has me wanting to see what the rest of the game will offer when it arrives in a few weeks. Though I only had a small taste of the game compared to what will surely be a much larger experience, Days Gone still had me encouraged that its world seems to have potential worth exploring, especially when you have a horde of the undead on your tail.
Days Gone will release exclusively for PS4 on April 26, 2019.