Push Start Reviews: Days Gone

Since 1993 Bend Studio, then known as Blank, Berlyn, and Co., has been creating games in the Playstation ecosystem. From their humble beginnings with Bubsy 3D to the much-acclaimed Syphon Filter series, the studio became a household name. It wasn’t until after the release of Syphon Filter 2, that the studio was outright purchased by Sony and then rebranded as Bend Studio. 

In 2015, Bend Studio started work on a project that they hoped would push the limits of what the PS4 could do. Days Gone was first revealed by Bend during the Playstation presentation at E3 2016. As time went on, Days Gone seemed to be stuck in development at times and suffered a number of delays, leading some to wonder if the game would ever come out. Then, on April 26, 2019, Days Gone finally hit store shelves.

I have to admit, I didn’t take to Days Gone at first. Which was odd considering that I love games like this. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mindset to take on this title when it came out. More likely, I got distracted by a different title. That in itself is odd because I’m not the kind of person to jump from title to title or even pick up more than a few new releases each year. (I just went and checked, it was likely The Division 2 that pulled me away. Sadly, I still haven’t finished that one though.)

If you looked at my PSN Profile, however, you would think differently though. That’s mostly because of my kids. 

I even tried to pick up Days Gone a second time. It still didn’t grab me. It also didn’t help that I was given Fallen Order as a gift in December. 

Fast forward to January and the subreddit r/12in12. 12in12 encourages gamers to try and get a handle on their backlog by completing one game per month. I had tried it in the past, but couldn’t stick to it. I set myself a goal of finishing one major title every month and at least one smaller title. January was Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and February was Days Gone. With the goal in mind of eliminating some of my backlog, I knew I had to power through whatever had stopped me in my previous attempts and finish this game.  

As the game opens we’re introduced to our antagonist, Deacon St. John – a rough around the edges member of The Mongrels MC. It doesn’t take long for us to learn (and don’t worry this isn’t a spoiler) that his wife is presumed dead after the two were separated during an evacuation, which we learn via flashback. 

Coming back the present day, we find St. John and MC brother Carlos Boozer doing a run for one of the surviving settlements. This becomes a recurring theme throughout the game, though Boozer takes a back seat for much of it. As St. John, we discover multiple survivor camps, each with their own way of dealing with other survivors. These camps also open up the world to the bikers and also introduces players to other, shall we say, less than friendly factions of survivors. We also learn that there is still a shady government-run outfit, NERO, that is searching for, and researching the Freakers. 

Despite there being a plethora of cars, and mechanics available, just sitting around in the post-apocalyptic Oregon wilderness, we only ever see characters traveling by motorcycle. Given that the Freakers aren’t deaf, you would think the amount of noise generated by the bikes would be an issue, but they only attract nearby dangers. 

St. John’s motorcycle is almost a character in itself and is instrumental in the progression of the game. Players can opt to scavenge for scrap metal and do repairs on it themselves or take it to one of the survivor camps and pay for repairs to be done. Throughout the story, the player is unable to unlock upgrades and visual skins for it, allowing it to gain durability and a sense of individuality. It’s worth noting that the game also isn’t lacking for gas cans or pumps, which have unlimited fuel reserves. So, even if you ever run out there’s usually one nearby that players can push the bike to. 

Each of the camps that the player encounters, opens up jobs that can be completed to gain camp loyalty and credits of one form or another. The loyalty levels are important as they open up new weapons and upgrades for the motorcycle. Some of the higher-level weapons can be especially effective against hordes later in the story and post-game. 

The jobs ‘offered’ can vary from rescuing an NPC to clearing out camps of unfriendly factions. While it can be fun to just run in and mow everyone down, I found more satisfaction in trying to do it as stealthily as possible. With the use of ambush melee attacks from cover, crossbows, and makeshift silencers it is entirely possible to clear every camp without ever attracting unwanted attention. The biggest issue I had with the jobs offered was how the player is made aware of them. Radio calls while you are traversing the Oregon hillsides is often jarring and pulls you out of the experience.

By clearing certain objectives, St. John learns different crafting recipes. From different types of bolts for the crossbow to improvised explosives, St. John’s armory becomes quite extensive by the end of the game. While there were dozens of recipes, the crafting system could have been more engaging. With rare exceptions, such as polystyrene or kerosene, it never felt as though materials were particularly scarce. Even with those, the materials respawn after a period of time with certain areas being exceptionally good for farming them. 

It isn’t until later in the game that hordes become a focal point. We can observe them early on, but trying to take one down feels near impossible. They definitely feel worth the effort to clear them out once you can. Not only do you gain experience from the kills themselves, but they clear objectives on the map rewarding more experience and camp loyalty. With preparation, the hordes become more manageable but still be prepared to run. 

Unlike other RPGs where characters gain experience and actually level up to improve stats, leveling up in Days Gone unlocks ability points. These can be used in one of three skill trees: survival, ranged, and melee. Each tree enhances the functions of those combat methods or improves St. John’s already formidable skill set. By the end of the game, I had unlocked 41 of 45 possible skill points and after clearing some hordes after the main story ends, I was able to collect the rest. 

Although Bend Studio crafted a stellar backdrop for this game, it doesn’t come without a handful of drawbacks. There were early reviews of the game that said it suffered from a number of issues. After patching the game though, those issues were resolved. For me, I felt like the physics were weird at times, such as the motorcycle going a hundred yards away. The other issue I had was with the story progression. I enjoyed the story itself, but it was at times tied into optional objectives on the other side of the map. I get that the game won’t be like World of Warcraft and have quest hubs that allow you to pick up multiple ones that take you in the same direction, but the flow of the storylines pulled me out of the immersion. 

One area that Days Gone vastly outshines the previous game we reviewed, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is the post-story content. There are still storylines to be finished, hordes to be hunted, challenges and New Game+. For the trophy hunters out there, there are trophies to be earned for completing New Game+ and playing on survival. 

Now that I’ve completed Days Gone, platinum included, I really wish I had finished it after first purchasing the game. After looking back and early reviews and more recent ones, there’s no doubt in my mind that the initial patches would have made a huge difference in those early scores. Bend Studio has a hit on their hands and it deserves all the praise that it receives.

Of the games that I played that were released in 2019, Days Gone would get my Game of the Year nod.

Rating: 8.7/10

Replayability: Moderately High