Untold Stories: Days Gone
By: Zach Zimmerman, Contributing Writer
Days Gone is an action-based open world survival game created by Bend Studio (Syphon Filter, anyone?) that has managed to survive its vaporware status and lukewarm releases on the PlayStation 4 in 2019, and on the PC through Steam in the Summer of 2021. It took all modern game mechanics and expectations and slapped them together to produce a competent-feeling open world based on a zombie post-apocalypse in central Oregon, USA that’s akin to 28 Days Later.
Amongst the piled-up criticism was its rather amateurish and dated storytelling, which often felt like an understudy of a TV Show or a Netflix original, much to its chagrin.
Thankfully, to the game’s credit the player character Deacon (often referred to as Deek) is forced from the roads (and Bend Studio’s story) by piled up cars or fallen trees. These distractions, these bumps in the road allow the player to fill in the silence and, in many cases, really see the world shine for what it is: a fantastic canvas for a player to tell their story.
Days Gone’s major showcase mechanic is the hordes of Freakers (the game’s term for zombies) that often amass at night or during missions. Their sizes vary and they often catch those who are not purposefully searching for them off guard, causing the startled player to quickly scramble to their motorcycle to put as much asphalt and dirt as possible between them and the monsters.
While resource gathering (typically in the form of backseat stored ammunition or strategically placed scraps for Molotov cocktails), the player, or rather, Deek, can spend hours combing the wastes of Oregon to fuel his war against all those who turn his mini-map red.
During one of these stockpile runs, I found myself driving to the local gas station for a top off and discovered much more than rusted lineups and old hotdogs on the rollers. The gas station had also recently installed a Freaker nest as a new display for any passerby. I felt the need to remove it with another swing of incendiary diplomacy.
Several Freakers peppered the landscape around the gas station and were dispatched quickly through 9mm and boot knife discourse. In my drifter arrogance, I did all of this in the loudest fashion, which caused the locals to be drawn toward me.
I found the tones of the ambient music caught up in a whirlwind, the mini-map beet red as it pumped enemy blips in all directions. I panned the camera around to catch the largest horde I’ve encountered on my own to date.
The horde caught me at a really bad time. I was only in the area to collect what I didn’t have, not search and destroy these Freaker hordes. I was low on ammo, satchels, grenades, and, most especially, low on nerves.
This horde pouring out of the Oregon forests showcased how well the Steam port was running for me. I had initially played Days Gone on the PS4 but plodded along through the story and long load times until it no longer kept my attention.
The beauty of Days Gone is amplified by the in-game photo mode, which is quickly found in the pause menu, yet in motion it still managed to impress me too. The Days Gone PC port kept me engaged as the tidal wave of running and screaming Freakers barrelled around the station’s back end. The frame rate did not buckle, and my eyes were glued to the events unfolding.
As much I wanted to soak in what was happening, the need to act quickly was apparent. Deek’s pockets, although quite deep, were often helped with the bike’s additional ammunition reserves. I knew that the horde would just knock me off the now fuelless bike, but I needed to get back to it to have a fighting chance.
Deek manages to thin the herd quite well with the right tools. Big magazines of high caliber rounds chew into hordes quite well. I engaged in a loose policy of shoot-and-scoot, while weaving around to keep the distance between myself and the horde. A Molotov and a few pipe bombs filled my mini-map with treasures and I often turned around to engage slow-down to paint as many Freaker skulls with lead as best as I could.
Whenever a lead Freaker got close, I would action roll or dispatch with a melee swipe; each felt as risky as it was necessary. Occasionally, a hit would connect with Deek, lowering his health and bandage reserves. It often felt tight, but never did the snake’s head of the man-eating zombie python have me in its clutches completely.
I made my way back to the bike and promptly collected the ammo pouches to have another go at it. The horde had elongated and spaced out enough to make it more manageable. Dispatching the spaced out Freakers was satisfying, and I pressed towards the station again to get what I came here for in the first place.
And to revenge torch a few Freaker homes.
With the horde crumbled and scattered, I once again arrived at the gas station which had first grabbed my attention twenty minutes ago. Orange flames sparked up from the windows of the gas station and rose to meet the moon’s rays. The burning of the nests brought out a few remaining Freakers and I dispatched them.
Ha! I felt triumphant; I had cut through a horde that caught me off guard, beat them back to their nests, and burned them all out. This would have been a perfect opportunity for Deek to smoke a scrunched cigarette and sigh in resignation as credits rolled. I felt I saw everything the game had to offer.
Somebody on Team Freaker must’ve called for a rematch, for another horde poured out of the tunnel by the gas station.
I promptly began running and dumping my machine gun rounds into the horde. I was determined to win, no matter the cost. The shoot-and-scoot tactic, along with the open road, allowed the runner-up horde to buckle just as easily as the original, leaving a bloody trail of bodies leading back to the station. All this hassle just for a damn jerry can of gasoline and a pack of smokes.
I earned my bounties that night. I decided Deacon should take the long way back to camp to process the last packed thirty minutes of adrenaline showdown between flailing human waves of Freakers and the unwavering lead-dealing Deacon.
On my journey back to camp, the weather began to turn to rain and mist. The moody weather canvassed the horizon, bringing mystery and obscuring what possibilities laid out there.
At times, Days Gone can feel like a cheap television show with poor execution, but often, you find yourself alone with your thoughts, in a world more similar to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road than the store-brand version of zombie or biker television shows it so desperately tries to be.
I had not known what to expect next from Days Gone. But in this moment, I had seen what was offered when the player took detours and found themselves off the script. A whole world out there, desperate to tell its stories of carnage, desperation, and survival.
Have you managed to play Days Gone? Or do you have any stories from games that stick out in your mind? Tell us in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org!