Days Gone is a 2019 action-adventure video game developed by Bend Studio and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. The game is set in post-apocalyptic Oregon two years after the start of a pandemic. Former outlaw-turned-drifter Deacon St. John discovers his wife Sarah may still be alive and goes on a quest to find her. Days Gone is played from a third-person perspective in which the player can explore an open world environment. Players can use firearms, melee weapons and improvised weapons, and can use stealth to defend themselves against hostile humans and cannibalistic creatures known as freakers. A major game mechanic is Deacon's motorcycle, which is used as the player character's main mode of transportation and mobile inventory.

Days Gone
Days Gone cover art.jpg
Developer(s)Bend Studio
Publisher(s)Sony Interactive Entertainment
Director(s)
  • John Garvin
  • Jeff Ross
Producer(s)Darren Yager
Designer(s)Ron Allen
Programmer(s)John Hoffman
Artist(s)Donald Yatomi
Writer(s)John Garvin
Composer(s)Nathan Whitehead
EngineUnreal Engine 4
Platform(s)
ReleasePlayStation 4
April 26, 2019
Microsoft Windows
May 18, 2021
Genre(s)Action-adventure
Mode(s)Single-player

Days Gone was Bend Studio's first open-world project, its first original property since Syphon Filter (1999), and its first development project for home consoles after spending decades working on spinoff games for handheld consoles. The game's development took approximately six years; Bend Studio expanded nearly three-fold to support it. Major sources of inspiration for Days Gone were World War Z, The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy. The game was officially unveiled at E3 2016; its release was originally planned for 2018 but was delayed several times.

The game was released in April 2019 for PlayStation 4 and in May 2021 for Windows. Upon release, it received mixed reviews from critics, who praised the graphics, the artificial intelligence of the enemies and Sam Witwer's performance as Deacon but criticized the story, mission design, and several technical issues. It was often regarded as one of the weaker Sony first-party games that were released during the PlayStation 4 generation. Days Gone was a commercial success; it sold more copies than all of Bend Studio's previous games combined and became the 19th-best-selling game of 2019 in the US. In 2021, it was reported that the development team had unsuccessfully pitched a sequel to Sony.

GameplayEdit

 
In this gameplay screenshot, protagonist Deacon is being chased by a horde of Freakers.

Days Gone is a third-person action-adventure game set in a post-apocalyptic open world. The player controls Deacon St. John, an outlaw-turned-drifter-cum-bounty-hunter who prefers life on the road to wilderness encampments.[1] The game takes place two years after a pandemic killed almost all of humanity and transformed millions of others into "Freakers"; mindless, zombie-like creatures that evolve quickly. One type of the Freakers is the Nocturnal Swarmers, who hide in their nests during daytime but often congregate, wander around, and search for food and water at night. Players can use the Swarmer's behavior to their advantage by luring a horde of Freakers towards other enemies, killing them.[2] Players can be overwhelmed by the horde and must keep their distance.[3] Areas near a horde of Freakers have chokepoints such as narrow gaps between buildings and rooftop ledges where players can corral Freakers. Deacon can use traps and explosives to kill individual Freakers.[4] Other enemies include Newts, who are infected adolescents and opportunistic hunters who only attack Deacon when he enters their territories or has poor health.[5] The game also includes infected wildlife and hostile human enemies.[2]

The game is set in an open world in the Pacific Northwest. Players can freely explore the world on foot or using a motorcycle. Traveling long distances will exhaust fuel and the bike is disabled if it becomes excessively damaged. Players must regularly refuel the bike at gas stations and camps, and repair it using collected scraps.[6][7] Deacon must establish trust with settlement camps and earn "camp credits" by completing missions, and selling bounties and wild-collected food.[8] As the level of trust increases, players can purchase new weapons, supplies and motorcycle parts that can be used to enhance its speed, durability and maneuverability. The bike's appearance can also be customized.[9]

As players explore the world, they must collect valuable resources and components for crafting weapons and supplies.[10] In addition to the main quests, the game has a number of side objectives, which include clearing freaker nests, rescuing hostages, clearing enemy camps, capturing bounty targets, and restoring power to NERO checkpoints.[11][12] Inside NERO checkpoints, players can use a NERO injector to boost Deacon's health, stamina—which is used when Deacon is sprinting or rolling—and focus, which allows Deacon to temporarily slow down time while aiming his ranged weapons.[11] Fast travel consumes fuel and time will pass. Before players can fast travel, they must clear all nests between the two fast travel points.[13] As players complete missions and objectives, they gain experience points (XP).[14] With sufficient XP, players can level up and unlock new abilities, allowing them to increase the efficiency of Deacon's melee weapons and ranged weapons, and to enhance his survival skills.[15]

Players can complete objectives in multiple ways; they can use stealth tactics such as distracting enemies or silently killing them from behind using a combat knife.[16] Noise suppressors can be attached to various firearms to prevent attracting nearby enemies.[17] Deacon can use "survival vision", which, once activated, highlights items of interest and the locations of enemies.[18] Players can use Deacon's binoculars to locate enemies.[11] Alternatively, players have access to a wide variety of firearms such as pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles, submachine guns and crossbows. Different weapons have different statistics and higher-tier weapons are generally more powerful. Purchased weapons can be stored in a gun locker, though weapons that are picked up in the field cannot be put into storage.[19] Players can also use explosives such as proximity mines and grenades, and may craft molotov cocktails to defeat enemies. Melee weapons can be used but they are not durable and may break if they are not repaired.[20]

PlotEdit

 
Sam Witwer provided the voice and motion capture for Deacon St. John in Days Gone.

A virus has decimated the globe, turning a large portion of humanity into violent zombie-like creatures called freakers. In near-future Oregon, outlaw bikers Deacon St. John (Sam Witwer) and William "Boozer" Gray (Jim Pirri), alongside Deacon's wife Sarah Whitaker (Courtnee Draper), attempt to flee to safety; they find a helicopter run by the National Emergency Restoration Organization (NERO) that has room for two more occupants. While Sarah boards the helicopter, Deacon is critically injured from a stab wound and stays behind with Boozer, promising to reunite with his wife.

Two years later, Deacon and Boozer are working in the Pacific Northwest as mercenaries. Sarah is assumed dead because the NERO refugee camp she was believed to have been staying in was overrun by freakers. The two men plan to head north, fleeing from their enemies and searching for a better life but they are attacked by a gang of cultists, the Rippers. Boozer receives serious burns on his arm; to recover, he and Deacon hide in a safehouse where they learn the Rippers have placed a bounty on their heads. Deacon sees a NERO research team being transported by helicopter and tracks down one of the scientists, James O'Brian (Bernardo de Paula). O'Brian reveals Sarah's helicopter was diverted to a different camp mid-flight, leaving the possibility she is still alive.

Boozer's health continues to decline and Deacon takes him to the Lost Lake camp, which is led by "Iron" Mike Wilcox (Eric Allan Kramer) and Raymond "Skizzo" Sarkozi (Jason Spisak). As a doctor amputates Boozer's gangrenous arm, O'Brian contacts Deacon and offers to help him find Sarah if Deacon aids in NERO's ongoing research investigation. Meanwhile, Skizzo is distrustful of the Rippers' uneasy alliance with Lost Lake; he makes his own deal and turns over Deacon to the cult. Deacon learns the Rippers' leader "Carlos" is actually Jessie Williamson (Scott Whyte), an enemy from his motorcycle-club days. Deacon escapes from the Rippers' camp and breaks the dam above it, drowning Jessie and the other Rippers.

Deacon remembers Sarah, a government researcher with federal security clearance, would have been prioritized during a camp evacuation, and O'Brian confirms she was moved to a military outpost at Crater Lake, which is now under control of the Deschutes County Militia. He warns Deacon the freakers are evolving, becoming more dangerous. Deacon wins over the militia's tyrannical leader Colonel Matthew Garret (Daniel Riordan) and reunites with Sarah, who is working to create a bioweapon to destroy the freakers. Deacon and Sarah decide to obtain a DNA sequencer at her old lab, where they discover her research was used to develop the freaker virus.

At the lab, Sarah reveals she is working to cure the freakers rather than destroy them. Deacon suggests they finish the cure at her new lab, but an increasingly paranoid Garret puts Sarah into protective custody. Deacon attempts to save her but is foiled and arrested by Skizzo. A sympathetic officer Derrick Kouri (Phil Morris) frees Deacon, who returns to Lost Lake, which has been decimated by the militia, who have killed Wilcox. Deacon rallies the remaining members of the Lost Lake camp, together with other camp groups, to retaliate against the militia by attacking their headquarters with a truck bomb. Deacon kills Skizzo and Sarah poisons Garret, ending the militia.

Deacon, Sarah, Boozer and their friends settle at Lost Lake. O'Brian contacts Deacon and reveals NERO always knew about the virus's mutagenic effects, and that he himself is a mutated freaker. He warns Deacon NERO is coming and that nothing will stop them.

DevelopmentEdit

Days Gone was developed by Bend Studio, one of Sony's first-party developers. The game's core development team included studio director Christopher Reese, game director Jeff Ross, and creative director John Garvin; all of whom had worked at Bend Studio since the 1990s, when it was creating Syphon Filter. Days Gone is the company's first open world game,[21] its first original intellectual property since Syphon Filter (1999),[22] and its first game to be released for home consoles since Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow (2007).[23]

Full production of Day Gone commenced in early 2015 and the game's development cycle lasted for six years.[24][25] The developers were inspired by World War Z, The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy, which were popular at the beginning of the game's development,[26] during which Bend Studio significantly expanded and the team increased from around 50 to 130.[21][27] The game's development was completed on March 10, 2019, and Respawn confirmed it had been declared gold, indicating the game was being prepared for duplication and release.[28]

DesignEdit

During the game's pre-production, the team decided it would be an open world project. The game is set in Central Oregon, where Bend Studio is located. According to Garvin, Central Oregon has diverse terrain and landscapes ranging from snowy mountains to deserts, making it an ideal setting for a sandbox title.[29] According to lead designer Eric Jensen, the open world mechanics of Days Gone were designed by a small team of five or six developers who "had to think smart and efficient with all of our design choices knowing the manpower limitations".[30] The studio initially underestimated the manpower needed to develop the project, thinking a team of 50 people would suffice.[21] While the game is open world, the team omitted a good deal of filler content. Most of the game's missions are scripted and connected to its main story. The team's goal was to replicate the successes of linear games such as the Uncharted series in an open world setting.[31]

While the enemies featured in the game are similar to zombies, Bend Studio named them "freakers", who are victims of a viral pandemic that changed their biology and turned them into aggressive monsters. The swarmers in the game were inspired by "a guy who was doing a YouTube video where he was moving weird", while the newts were inspired by contortionist arts.[27] Swarmers may congregate to form a horde of 50 to 500 freakers. To better optimize the horde, freakers are divided into small clusters. If they are close to the player, some of these horde clusters will disassociate to become individual freakers, which are easier for players to manage. In a large horde, there are eight freaker character models; the team modified the height of each freaker to make the appearance and behaviors of each one unique. The team spent a lot of time working on the group artificial intelligence (AI) to ensure the horde will not only charge at Deacon in a straight line but will spread further and make use of the terrain to overwhelm the player character.[32]

Days Gone has multiple, intertwined stories, which allows players to switch between narratives. The team wanted to keep the narrative interesting and fresh. The game constantly keeps track of players' progress. The team were inspired by Netflix's menu.[33] The game initially allowed Deacon to make decisions that can change the narrative; this feature was removed from the final game because the team had difficulties showing players the impacts of these decisions. According to Garvin, by removing these narrative choices, Deacon's personality would be better reflected because some of these choices may allow him to commit egregious or cruel actions that do not fit his personality.[34]

According to Garvin, the game's main theme is "redemption"; the journey would see Deacon, who is often seen as an outsider, grow and evolve into a capable leader.[26][27] Garvin added despite the game's post-apocalyptic setting, the team aimed to deliver a more hopeful theme because the story of Deacon concerns the way he can make the world a better place, and explores the idea surviving is not the same as living.[35] The game's story and themes were inspired by The Road, The Passage and I Am Legend.[36] Because Deacon is a member of a motorcycle club, the team researched the US-based biker gang Hells Angels.[37]

MusicEdit

Garvin, who was impressed by his work on The Purge: Anarchy, invited Nathan Whitehead to compose the music for Days Gone,[38] which was performed by the Nashville Scoring Orchestra and soloists.[39] Whitehead spent two years working on the game's soundtrack.[38] The instrumentation is centered around guitar, which Whitehead said was an "obvious choice" for both the character of Deacon—a bounty hunter and biker—and for the Pacific Northwest setting.[40] Whitehead added the game's music, which is a combination of "folk Americana and a touch of rock elements", is a good fit for the setting. To accommodate the video game medium's interactivity, the score for Days Gone was built up in layers that the game engine could add or remove. As a result, the score dynamically changes in accordance with the actions of gameplay.[41]

ReleaseEdit

Publisher Sony Interactive Entertainment unveiled Days Gone at E3 2016.[42] While the game was originally planned for a 2018 release, it was delayed to the following year.[43] The release was postponed from February 22, 2019, to April 26 in the same year to avoid competing with other triple-A titles such as Metro: Exodus and Anthem.[44] As part of Sony's efforts to bring more of its first-party content to personal computers following Horizon Zero Dawn, Days Gone released for Windows via Steam and Epic Games Store on May 18, 2021.[45]

Upon release, Bend Studio supported the game with free downloadable content. In June 2019, Survival difficulty mode, which modifies the head-up display and disables options to fast travel, was introduced.[46] This was followed by 12 weekly challenges, in each of which players' performances are classified into Gold, Silver and Bronze rankings. Players receive credits that can be used to purchase new characters and other accessories.[47] In September 2019, Bend added New Game Plus and the MB-150, a sniper rifle from the Syphon Filter universe, into the game.[48] Bike tanks, decorations, and frame paint inspired by Death Stranding were released in November 2018.[49]

ReceptionEdit

Critical receptionEdit

At Metacritic, Days Gone was met with "mixed or average reviews" for the PS4 version and "generally favorable reviews" for the PC version.[50] It is widely regarded as one of the weaker first-party video games released by Sony during the PS4 generation.[20][62][63]

The game's world and design received mixed reviews. Matthew Kato from Game Informer was disappointed by the lack of content in the world; he said most side objectives were filler content that was neither engaging nor interesting.[53] This sentiment was shared by Eurogamer's Malindy Hetfeld, who said in Days Gone, players are "doing the exact same thing, in the exact same way, for hours on end".[64] Leon Hurley from GamesRadar said the open world design is fairly unoriginal despite being entertaining.[55] Shacknews's Bill Lavoy liked the way the game remembers the player's actions through its systems. For instance, once players clear out a horde, it does not respawn, and the area becomes safer. Lavoy, however, noted the small scale of the map and criticized the way Days Gone uses environmental obstacles to force players to navigate longer distances.[57] Several reviewers felt the world is empty and sparse because the game's locations were not given a strong visual identity or backstory, making exploration meaningless.[56][58]

Defeating a horde was often singled out as one of the game's highlights.[53][60] Kato described the experience as "terrifying" and "tense", and applauded the artificial intelligence for being unpredictable, meaning that different trials may lead to vastly different outcomes.[53] Kallie Plagge from GameSpot also liked fighting the horde, calling it "exhilarating" and "satisfying", though she criticised several campaign missions that tasked the players to clear these hordes in a nearly back-to-back manner, making the experience exhausting.[54] Stealth mechanics were commonly criticised by reviewers for being too basic and boring.[58][56][53] Takahashi disliked the clunkiness of the shooting mechanics, since the game lacked an option to shoot backward while being chased by freakers[60] Both Takahashi and Hurley liked the progression system, and remarked Deacon gradually became more powerful in the game. The motorcycle, which was the only way to navigate the world, received a mixed opinion, with Hurley adding that he slowly grew attached to Deacon's bike because the game required the player to care for it during the campaign.[55][60] However, the need to refuel the bike had discouraged some reviewers from exploring the game's world,[56][60] and it was regarded as a major source of tedium for some reviewers.[64][61][52] Many reviewers were not impressed by the "freakers" because of their similarity to zombies.[61][65]

The story received mixed reviews. Writing for VentureBeat, Dean Takahashi said the story is engaging but that he was disappointed some storylines are not completely resolved by the end of the game.[60] Lavoy said the story and some of its elements are too long.[57] Some critics said the story gradually became more interesting as more-interesting characters and more emotional moments are introduced.[57][61] Andrew Webster from The Verge called the story bland and compared the game unfavorably to The Last of Us, which was also published by Sony.[65] Hetfield also criticized the interwoven storylines, which he said they distract players from completing the central mission to deal with uninteresting narrative threads.[64] Narrative missions were also criticised for lacking impact, consequences and any form of meaningful conclusion.[54] O'Brien was unimpressed by the game's over-serious tone. While she liked the supporting characters, she said the antagonists are one-dimensional.[56] Deacon as a protagonist also received a mixed reaction; Takahashi described him as an "interesting and flawed character", and enjoyed seeing Deacon grow and evolve. Plagge was critical of Deacon as a character, calling him "selfish" and adding the story is more interested in "validating his actions and feelings above all else".[54] Webster disliked Deacon's personality and said he found connecting with the character very difficult.[65] Witwer's performance was generally praised by critics.[59][53][56]

The game was criticized for its technical issues. Kato said the game lacks the polish found in Sony's other first-party games.[53] Takahashi criticized the game's bugs and unstable frame rate.[60] The game's frequent loading screens, which appear between gameplay and cutscenes, were also criticized.[61]

SalesEdit

Despite mixed reviews, Days Gone was the best-selling physical game in the United Kingdom in the week of release.[66] It went on to be the best-selling software release in all the format sales charts for three consecutive weeks.[67][68] In Japan, Days Gone outsold two other PlayStation 4-exclusive games at launch, God of War and Horizon Zero Dawn.[69] Days Gone exceeded the lifetime sales of God of War and The Last Guardian, another exclusive PlayStation 4 game.[70] In the first three days after its launch, Days Gone sold approximately 114,319 physical units.[71]

In North America, Days Gone was the second-best-selling video-game software for April 2019, behind Mortal Kombat 11, making it the 7th-highest debut in sales for a Sony-published title, and the best-selling game developed by Bend Studio.[72] By June 2019, Days Gone was the eighth-best-selling video game of the year.[73] It was the 19th-best-selling game of 2019 in the US.[74] According to game director Jeff Ross, Days Gone sold more copies than all of Bend Studio's previous games combined.[75]

AwardsEdit

Year Award Category Result Ref
2016 Golden Joystick Awards Most Wanted Game Nominated [76]
2017 Game Critics Awards Best Action/Adventure Game Nominated [77]
2018 Best Original Game Nominated [78]
Gamers' Choice Awards Most Anticipated Game Nominated [79]
2019 The Independent Game Developers' Association Awards Best Audio Design Nominated [80][81]
Best Visual Design Won
Golden Joystick Awards Best Storytelling Won [82][83]
Best Audio Nominated
PlayStation Game of the Year Won
Hollywood Music in Media Awards Original Score - Video Game Nominated [84]
Original Song - Video Game ("Hell or High Water") Nominated
Titanium Awards Best Spanish Performance (Claudio Serrano) Won [85][86]
2020 23rd Annual D.I.C.E. Awards Outstanding Achievement in Animation Nominated [87]
NAVGTR Awards Animation, Technical Nominated [88]
Graphics, Technical Nominated
Original Dramatic Score, New IP Nominated
Song, Original or Adapted ("Days Gone Quiet") Nominated
Sound Editing in a Game Cinema Nominated
Sound Effects Nominated
Use of Sound, New IP Nominated
18th Annual G.A.N.G. Awards Best Original Song ("Days Gone Quiet") Nominated [89]
2020 Webby Awards Best Music/Sound Design Won [90]
ASCAP Composers' Choice Awards Video Game Score of the Year Nominated [91]

Canceled sequelEdit

On April 9, 2021, Jason Schreier of Bloomberg News revealed Bend had pitched a sequel to Days Gone but that the first game's mixed critical reception and lengthy development process caused Sony to reject the proposal.[63] Shortly afterward, Ross confirmed Days Gone 2 had been pitched to Sony but that many of the details could not be confirmed due to a non-disclosure agreement. He also revealed part of the plan for the sequel was a "shared universe with co-op play", which was not included in the original Days Gone due to the constraints of working in a small studio.[92]

While appearing on a podcast with David Jaffe, the creator of the God of War franchise, Garvin said; "If you love a game, buy it at fucking full price", and implied Days Gone did not receive a sequel partly because it did not turn enough profit.[93] Garvin came under fire for his remarks; commenters said Days Gone had already benefitted from fan support during its release, and that it was unreasonable to ask someone to spend US$70 on an unknown game.[94] Others noted Sony ultimately controls sales of PlayStation games and offers free demos, and the onus could not be placed entirely on the purchasers.[95] Following Garvin's comments, Jensen thanked players for their support, no matter when they had purchased or played it.[96]

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