Days Gone….. but all the Fun is still there.

Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. 30th Nov, 2018. A video game placard for Days Gone is seen during the fair.The Salon, Barcelona Games World fair, dedicated to the video game industry presents its main exhibition in Barcelona between November 29 and December
(Stock Photo : Alamy)

They get it wrong sometimes don’t they, these game critics? I fear that there may come a time when they become too far out of synch with the rest of us, similar to some of those luvvie mainstream journalists who appear to be out of touch with society. Some critics assume that just because they don’t like a particular game, that we won’t like it either. Do they actually go out into the real world and ask gamers what they like? I’m not sure, its seems that instead, these oracles have started to influence what we should like and what we shouldn’t….and before you know it, the whole of the gaming community are rushing out to buy highly acclaimed games after reading a 10/10 raving review of one of those produced by one of the powerhouse developers. Critics don’t seem to realise that good or enjoyable games are not just about state of the art cut scenes and aesthetically immaculate graphics. We don’t buy games to watch them…….we buy games to play. Fortnite would be a case in point. I’ve never played Fortnite (and I probably never will) but millions do, over and over again. The graphics look average but its millions of players don’t care about that. In contrast, take a look at some of the Metal Gear releases towards the latter end of its series. Number 4 was mired with too many cut scenes and the playability had totally gone. It had high expectations too, since its became synonymous to have such high hopes from Playstation Exclusives.

This month I had initially intended to write about God of War. I purchased it with some vouchers 18 months ago for £25. I deliberately set it aside for when there was a quiet spell in terms of new game releases. Something to look forward to I thought. Obviously I’m a little late to the party but after playing it I think a more appropriate title would be God of Bore. It is without a doubt one of the most boring games I’ve ever played. Yes, graphically the game is perfect but the controls and movement of Kratos wasn’t fluid enough for me. Every boss fight seemed to be a carbon copy of the previous one with the exception that each boss had a different illegible name that meant nothing. I couldn’t get my head around the levelling up and weapons upgrading system either. Talking of heads, the horned head of the God with a Scottish accent ( stuck to the arse of Kratos throughout most of the game) become really annoying too, rabbiting on about fables and myths of Gods just to kill time. As for Attreus, I just wanted to give the arrogant little deity a slap. The only enjoyable aspect of God of Bore was the recall effect of the Leviathon Axe and the mocking cantankerous cackles spurted out by the Reavers. I’m not for one second going to dispute with the rave reviews God of War received though. I sure it has a huge fanbase and folks loved it but for me, lets just say that Kratos and Attreus’ big day out up river didn’t float my boat.

So I felt a little hacked off and as a result of my disappointment I found myself doing the complete opposite to God of War.  I did something that I don’t usually do and went out and paid full price for Days Gone, a game that’s received not so great reviews. I must be honest, after the first hour of playing Days Gone I did have regrets. It was clear that the production of this game had been rushed. The editing isn’t great and the gameplay would suddenly cut out at inappropriate moments to a lengthy loading screen in order to kickstart a new cut scene. When we’re introduced to the Freakers for the first time we have no back story about how they got there and its not too long before we discover the reasons for the games low scoring reviews; lots of bugs and glitches. Furthermore there is a mixed experience with the games AI when taking on human adversaries in bandit camps too.

Something happened after the first few hours though that resulted in me having a complete 180 degree U-Turn with regards to how I felt about Days Gone. The issues regarding any bugs or glitches became somewhat tolerable, since there was a feeling that there was always something more to discover about the world and the story. As the Days progress, you realise that the answers to your questions are being answered in the form of flashbacks, to a time when the world was normal, before it was engulfed by a viral plague. I began to realise that the main story of the protagonist,  Deacon St. John, is almost presented in a Tarantino style; where we’re given answers first then questions later. A bit similar to Reservoir Dogs movie where you are thrown in to the middle of the story right at the beginning of the film and you’re left to work out what’s happening. The game uses this technique to reel you in and then before you know it you find yourself having this innate desire to conquer N.E.R.O checkpoints to discover audio footage and occasionally  tempting yourself to burn a few Freaker nests and leg it like a mad bastard.

We also learn that the main story is all about a girl….. awwww.

Who would have thought, a post apocalyptic video game about a heartbroken biker set in Oregon? I don’t know much about Oregon but it looks lovely. It kind of reminded me of Twin Peaks…… minus the flesh eaters and de arranged cultists of course. It must be noted that this isn’t just a game about fighting real demons in the real world though. Paradoxically, Deacon is also fighting his own inner demons. He is fighting his own sanity by refusing to believe his wife is dead and the game takes us on his journey of how he survives both battles day by day, with his biker buddy Boozer, as he runs chores for camps , battles a twisted cult known as the Rippers and liaises with a Government scientist to try and find out if his Mrs has croaked.

In truth, I think the reason for my U-Turn after a few hours is because the game doesn’t really begin until we’re introduced to Iron Mike and the Lost Lake camp. Its only then that we start to feel any bonds towards any of the characters as well as learning more about Deacon. Iron Mike is certainly more likeable and relatable than the other camp leaders such as Tucker and Copeland and this draws the player in to assisting his camp more than theirs. Tuckers camp is more like a slave camp whereas Copeland appears to be a former ‘Preper’ who uses the current status quo as a way of saying “I told you so” as he tries to convince others that the bio hazard that’s engulfed the world is a result of Government subterfuge. As Deacon and Boozer make the transference from being Drifters to Campers, the story then becomes more linear with side quests that have a stronger sense of purpose and meaning. Whether this is finding lost children or turning on the electricity so that folks can have their first hot showers in two years, we see the drifter Deacon reach a sense of belonging and unity with a group of people for also for the first time in years.

A lot of the NPC characters in the game appear to have a lack of apathy to the new world they’re part of and I’m not sure if this was done deliberately or whether the studio didn’t have time to work on that aspect of the game. The NPCs only speak to you when they choose and there’re hardly any opportunities for the player to select what you wish for Deacon to respond with. I have a feeling that the studio didn’t really care as this isn’t the main draw of the game and I think this is something that the critics just didn’t quite understand. This game isn’t about perfect narratives and pristine cinematic cut scenes. Instead the focus was on two main selling points, which override any other negative points you may have read about Days Gone.

The first is cruising across Oregon on your bike which is great fun and secondly, its the intimidating challenge beset on the player to take on the mass Hordes of Freakers. Its almost like a concoction of 28 Days Later, The Last of Us and Sons of Anarchy. In other words a biker who scavenges around for anything he can find to make weapons out of, the only exception that unlike the Last of Us there are thousands of infected subjects to subdue.

The use and importance of the bike in this game creates an interesting and somewhat original twist. The player isn’t only tasked with keeping Deacon alive but also forced to keep a close eye on the health of Deacons bike. Without the bike a player can’t save their game (unless near a bed) If you run out of fuel or smash your bike up you could find yourself stranded in the middle of what the all the characters refer to as “The Shit.” This too is a constant source of challenge as you find yourself on the constant lookout for gas tanks to top your bike up with. There is no recall ability either. Unlike Witcher 3 or RDR2 where you have a horse which will appear out of nowhere by responding to your beckoning call, in Days Gone your bike will remain where you left it, encouraging you not to stray too far. Another risk the player needs to take into account is the use of fast travel. This will still result in fuel consumption so further care is needed in order to plot how far the nearest gas station is from your target destination. I must admit though, it was rare that I found myself using the fast travel function. Like I’ve said, scrambling around on your bike is part of the fun of this game especially when you upgrade to a faster engine. In fact when I was jumping across broken bridges and ramming into Freakers,  I realised that its not since Motorstorm that I’ve had so much fun on a bike. So, unlike most other open world games, I found myself pushing the Fast Travel function to one side and screeching down the desolated Oregon highways in real time instead. The only risk here is that you have to navigate the eerie barricaded highway tunnels and avoid ambushes from gangs near gas stations. There’s also mutated wolves who catch up with you on your bike. They really pissed me off.

Yes, the game and especially the human interactions within it, needs a polish, there’s  no doubt about it. Some of the dialogue, such as rescuing stranded victims, is  very wooden but the dialogue in general eventually gets better as the game goes on. The same can be said about the armed combat too, the more skills you acquire the more enjoyable the gunplay becomes. (That said, the gunplay in RDR2 wasn’t that great either). Its my guess that the middle and ending of the game was produced and tested first and maybe the developers ran out of time trying to finish the beginning section.  There are some noticeable bugs when the Freakers climb up buildings and sometimes their heads would reappear after being decapitated – but on the whole their scurrying motions and vocal screams were excellent. I also loved the way how they continued to chase after you even if you were some distance away on your bike. Like I said, one of the selling points of the game is taking on the Hordes and they sure take some doing. Some Hordes are gigantic, so some thought and preparation are required before even attempting to take one on. As they start to run at you for the first time, it doesn’t take long for the panic to set in as they get closer and closer, as you realise that your magazine clip is already half empty. The penny drops that a new strategy is required just before hundreds of them pile on top of you. For me the strategy was to wait until greater firepower and weapons were available. Once you acquire machine guns they then become a little easier. What you will really enjoy about this game is the ability to switch your style of play when you choose. You can tackle missions all guns blazing or use stealth. You can also distract Freakers and cunningly lure them towards other human hostiles who will attack them on sight, making your bounty missions easier.

We all have different tastes and expectations when it comes to games. Despite the bad reviews, I’m not afraid to say that I enjoyed Days Gone 50 times more than God of War and I’m not just saying that because I forked out 50 quid for it. Its a very simple game that will certainly have greater appeal to people who like to pick up and play a few missions for a few hours each night after  long day at work. There are lots of updates and bug fixes on the way too so I guess things will improve on that front. (Version 1.3 has just dropped) If you want to play safe, wait to pick it up in the sales later on in the year.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in life is that sometimes, less is more. The same can apply to video games I guess.  Its the simple games that are sometimes more effective and fill that void you currently may have in home entertainment. This whole idea of bigger games always being better  has been ingrained into us so much over the last 15 years that we’ve kind of become spoilt and forgotten what matters the most; The Fun.

Had this had been released a few years ago then the critics ratings may have been higher. I think they’ve been a little unfair and out of touch with Days Gone. Yes, its below par in terms of other PlayStation Exclusives but it didn’t deserve to be annihilated. I’m also told that since release, its player reviews have since increased on Metacritic etc.

This the Centrist…..and remember, “Don’t believe the Lies”

July 2019