Days Gone PC review – good port, bad game

Sony’s second PC conversion from the PlayStation 4 brings back the zombie hordes of the surprisingly controversial Days Gone.

When Days Gone was originally released in 2019 it had the worst critical reception, and the worst first week sales, of any modern, big budget Sony exclusive. Nobody hated it though, and it certainly wasn’t a financial bomb, but being inoffensive and unremarkable is something few video games are allowed to be. Fans insist that they must be either the best thing ever or the worst, and Days Gone is neither. And that fact is not changed one iota by this new PC version.

Developer Sony Bend did want to make a sequel but according to rumours Sony decided against it, apparently happy to let the original be quietly forgotten, despite the story hooks in the ending. From that perspective using it as a testbed for their PC development made perfect sense: it wasn’t a game anyone seemed to care about and so if there were more technical problems, as there was with Horizon Zero Dawn, no one was going to be too upset. But that’s not really how things have worked out.

Once news of the cancelled sequel got out opinion on the game became further polarised and a petition managed to get over 100,000 signatures to demand another game. If Sony had known this PC version would have helped stir up such a hornet’s nest they may not have gone through with it. However, no matter what you think of the game itself the important takeaway here is that this is a much better PC port than Horizon Zero Dawn.

One of the main criticisms levelled against Days Gone is that it was a very obvious example of the Sony formula at work. Sony’s first party line-up during the PlayStation 4 era was rightly praised, and the point at which the company’s own exclusives became just as much a selling point for their consoles as Nintendo’s do for theirs. Nevertheless, it is hard not to notice that the majority of the games are third person open world titles, often with an angry and/or depressed middle-aged man as the protagonist.

In Days Gone you play as the peculiarly named Deacon St. John, a relatively principled biker who, following the death of his wife, is attempting to survive a zombie apocalypse with his best friend Boozer. For the first several hours the two have no particular goal, and once Boozer is injured early on, well… you can probably imagine the story and side missions already.

The plot remains frustratingly aimless for the majority of its running time but while it does pick up in the final act, where it begins to flirt with the traditional zombie theme about humans being the real monsters, it never properly engages with it or the half-hearted attempts at gender politics.

The script is very and dry and overly serious and yet it has nothing interesting to say that justifies such a dour approach. Although the central problem with the storytelling is that as the protagonist Deacon doesn’t really have a story arc and is fundamentally the same person he was at the end of the story as he was at the beginning.

The game portrays bikers as the cockroaches of the zombie apocalypse, being seemingly the only ones to have survived the collapse of society, which is now obsessed with motorcycles and putting on a gravely voice. But while your bike can be heavily customised, and is your main transport, it’s never used in any very interesting manner, despite the constant threat of running out of fuel.

Not making the most of concepts is the key problem with Days Gone, which peculiarly wastes the few original ideas it has. The third person gunplay is simplistic but competent and so too is the stealth. You can’t help but wonder whether this was at one point intended as an official The Last Of Us spin-off, as not only is the back story very similar but so too is the crafting system, where you make traps and distractions to fight the enemy.

Oddly, for the majority of the game your main enemies are humans, and you can go hours without doing anything more than just driving past zombies on your way to somewhere else. The game’s big technical feat is that it features hordes of hundreds of the creatures, but you barely even see one until the final act of the game, at which point you’re given a napalm like weapon to fight them.

What seems to have been intended as a way of encouraging emergent gameplay is reduced to farce by the limited options you have to deploy the stuff, which invariably ends up with a Benny Hill style chase across the countryside, as you’re pursued by hundreds of zombies that forget you’re there seconds after you hide in the grass. They get a pass because they’re the undead but unfortunately humans are just forgetful and short-sighted.

The main positive with this new PC version of the game is that, in terms of technology, it’s appreciably better than on the PlayStation 4. There’s no DLSS or ray-tracing but the draw distance is notably longer than the PlayStation 4 version and you can change the field of view to widen out the camera view. The frame rate is very stable and a 1440p resolution is possible even with relatively modest hardware, so it’s not like you need something 10 times more expensive than a console to run it.

Perhaps most importantly, this is not nearly as buggy as Horizon Zero Dawn (or the original Days Gone at launch), which suggests that if this is primarily a technical experiment it is a successful one. That at least is a positive but what does it really matter that the graphics are better when the game itself is so workmanlike? Better visuals don’t make the story or gameplay any more exciting, or the drab, empty open world any more interesting to explore. No one ever complained about the graphics in the console version and yet that’s all that’s improved here.

Like a middle-of-the-road Assassin’s Creed, Days Gone is bland but competent. It does nothing especially well but at the same time it has no major failings and passes the time perfectly well. And if that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement it’s not meant to be. If you want to play the best version of Days Gone available this is it, but we dare you to remember any of it a week after finishing it.

Days Gone PC review summary

In Short: The game itself is as generic and unmemorable as ever, and does little to deserve talk of a sequel, but this is a notably better PC port than Sony’s first attempt.

Pros: Competent, if simplistic gunplay and stealth, and while underutilised the zombie hordes and customisable bike are potentially interesting. Solid PC port with plenty of options and few bugs.

Cons: You’ve seen everything the game does 100 times before and the only thing that’s new – the zombie hordes – is peculiarly underused. Very dry script with poor characterisation.

Score: 6/10

Formats: PC (reviewed) and PlayStation 4
Price: £39.99
Publisher: PlayStation Mobile
Developer: Bend Studio
Release Date: 28th May 2021
Age Rating: 18

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