Days Gone has ridden onto Steam as the latest Playstation exclusive to make it onto PC, opening up Bend Studio’s work to a whole new audience. I reviewed Days Gone when it first launched on the PS4 back in 2018 and found it to be entertaining to play with a strong lead character. A couple of years on my initial thoughts haven’t changed too much, so you can check out the original review for those. Now, though, we the recent news of a potential sequel being turned down by Sony it’s interesting to revisit Days Gone and see why I think it does deserve one to fulfil all the potential it has. And if you just want an idea of how good the PC port is, jump down toward the end of the review.
If you need a little context for what Days Gone is, it takes place in Oregon following an outbreak of a strange virus that mutated humans and animals alike, turning them into Freakers. We follow Deacon St. John, former military man and member of the biker gang known as the Mongrels. Having been forced apart from his wife during the initial outbreak, Deacon and fellow Mongrel Boozer are simply trying to survive, taking on jobs for the various settlements that have sprung up across Oregon.
A lot of my love for Days Gone boils down to Deacon St. John and the man behind him, Sam Witwer. Having spent several years in the middle of the apocalypse, it’s fair to say that Deacon is a little bit cracked. The constant stress he is under every day has driven him to the very edge where he now teeters, likely to fall with the slightest poke. And who can blame him? His wife is seemingly dead, the world has gone to hell and in just the first hour his best friend and ally Boozer is horribly burned. He’s argumentative, short-tempered, irritable and most of the people he meets don’t want much to do with him outside of running jobs. Sam Witwer delivers Deacon’s lines in breathy blasts as though Deacon is having to force the words out and barely keeping himself in check. He’ll start a sentence and then stop, pull back and start again, looking for the right words. But the truth is Deacon does have a big heart, it’s just that all of his focus is purely on those close to him and not to others, and he clearly isn’t the best at finding the words he needs to convey his emotions. That doesn’t mean he will stand by and let people die, but he would much rather keep out of the internal politics of the settlements and far away from their charismatic leaders. It’s clear that the loss of his wife has made Deacon withdraw from what is left of the world.
What makes Deacon so special? He talks to himself. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: loads of game characters talk to themselves, like Geralt from the Witcher series. Except they don’t talk to themselves – not really. They talk to the player, a barely disguised method of imparting information for the plot or a reminder of game mechanics. But the way Deek is written by Bend Studios and played by Sam Witwer makes him sound like he’s actually muttering to himself.. He’ll spew curses and insults at Freakers and the humans he fights, get angry at himself, mutter about something he’s tracking, mock Copeland’s radio show and remind himself of things he needs to get done.
For some people this near-constant narration by Deek will be an annoyance, but to me, it’s what brings the character to life and makes him feel human in a world being taken over by horrors. Deacon is a broken person being that’s walking on a tightrope of sanity. By comparison, I’m a somewhat sane human and I talk to myself all the time, so it makes sense to me that Deek consistently mutters and mumbles. It’s his outlet in a life filled with life and death situations, stress and the constant fear of being ripped to pieces. And Sam Witwer nails the performance, sounding exactly like an angry person ranting against the world, like someone who has had nearly everything taken from them and is likely only continuing to go on because of Boozer.
I can’t express enough how good Witwer’s performance. He manages to deliver at every moment, from the softer, gentler scenes where we are reminded that Deacon is a decent guy at heart, to the angry moments where we are also reminded that Deacon has survived for a damn good reason. But don’t think the rest of the performances aren’t great, too: Courtnee Draper plays Sarah, the wife of Deacon, and she and Sam have great chemistry. In my original review, I described Days Gone as having a great love story and I stand by that. Sure, it could have been done better and the writing doesn’t always land, but the performances and chemistry is so good that I instantly bought into their relationship. Meanwhile, Jim Pirri is killing it as Boozer. I just wish we got to see him and Deacon together more often because they’re a badass bromance fuelled by dumb decisions.
If there is one issue I have with Deek is that he has little in the way of actual character progression. The Deacon you start with is pretty much the Deacon you end with. He has no story arc, his abrasive attitude and somewhat selfish outlook never being challenged or changed. But I guess that’s fine: I’ve said before that not every character needs to have an arc – sometimes it’s okay for a story to just be the same person from start to finish provided they’re interesting, and Deacon is. This might be an unpopular opinion, but I think Deacon St. John is one of the best video game characters in years.
It’s hard to be sure without being able to play the original version of Days Gone but the bike handling seems to have been improved quite a bit. When I first fired up in Days Gone the bike wallowed more and could be hard to be precise with, but now it seems smoother and more easily guided. Blasting through the Oregon landscape is great fun, and while I still argue that a chopper is far from the best choice for a ride in the apocalypse there’s no denying how attached I get to my bike. Upgrading the machine, boosting its performance, fixing it when things go wrong, hunting down fuel – it all feels great. It reminds me of horses in Red Dead Redemption 2 where you become attached to them and want to look after them.
I do wish finding fuel for the bike was a little harder, though, especially when playing the survival modes. The idea of running out of gas and being stranded in the middle of nowhere sounds pretty cool to me, but it never actually happens unless you really manage to mess up. Even then, fuel usually isn’t that far away. Even if you ramp it up to Survival 2 it isn’t that hard to find canisters of gas strewn around Oregon.
Without a shadow of a doubt Days Gone’s headlining feature is its massive hordes of Freakers. The game builds slowly towards these challenges, saving them until much later in your journey and only occasionally teasing them. When you eventually face down a horde it’s an awesome moment quickly followed by a bout of terror because actually tackling one means needing to be geared up and ready to rock. There are hundreds of Freakers in these meandering herds, so Molotov Cocktails and explosives are a must, and it’s a good idea to scout the terrain and see what traps and natural chokepoints are available.
I think it’s a somewhat fair argument that Days Gone holds onto its Freaker hordes a little too long before finally setting them loose. The slow-burn attitude that Bend Studios cultivate within the story and the gameplay can be satisfying at times, certainly, but it’s a little sad to think that some people might never get to fight a horde and feel the tension as you begin to run out of ammo and resources. Or the surge of pride when you slaughter the final Freaker and take a moment to survey the battlefield like a proud General that only got 99% of his soldiers killed.
Sliding back into Days Gone let me appreciate some stuff I didn’t really pay attention to previously. While I still do think that the Freakers are essentially zombies, no matter what the developers attempt to argue, I also think that the idea to have them change based on the time of day and even the weather was genius. During the day they are slower and far more short-sighted, but at night the Freakers are stronger, rove around more and are more numerous. And during storms, the cold weather actually makes them even harder to kill, which is pretty cool. That affects how you tackle the Freaker nests too, because if you take them out during the day there will be a lot more inside of them, but if you go at night they’ll be stronger and more of them will be roaming about outside.
Combat gets an improvement thanks to the inherent accuracy of the mouse and keyboard. Using a controller the shooting can feel floaty and imprecise until you grab a few of the key upgrades, but the mouse overrides this and lets you deliver headshots with pinpoint accuracy from the very start. The downside is that crashing over hills and into trees on your bike isn’t half as much fun when you’re trying to navigate using a keyboard. Luckily, Days Gone supports seamlessly shifting between a controller and a keyboard and mouse, so if you really want you can shoot folk in the head and then pick up a pad for riding around.
Outside of the story, characters, setting and bike riding Days Gone is mostly just good. It’s fairly basic open-world fare with a mix of gunplay and stealth, with an emphasis on the sneaking due to ammo being somewhat rare. I say somewhat – if you aren’t trigger happy and a worse shot than a Stormtrooper that’s just staggered away from a pub crawl then you’ll probably have a decent supply of bullets. If you’re seeking some sort of open-world littered with icons and stuff to do, though, then Days Gone isn’t going to be for you. Oregon is an awesome choice of setting and Bend Studio has brought it to life via excellent graphics but they didn’t pack it with stuff. If a Ubisoft game is an all you can eat buffet of stuff then Days Gone is a…where the hell am I going with this analogy? The point is, there’s isn’t heaps of activities trying to lure you off the road with promises of riches, glory and XP. And I’m okay with that because getting around the place feels so good. If the bike riding had been more of a chore, then I might have found all the open space a tedious design choice but because it isn’t, I don’t.
Since Days Gone has been out a while now, the PC version is a more fleshed out package than when it first launched on the PS4. Aside from the obvious polish that was applied through various updates over the last few years, there’s also some cool bonus stuff, the best of which is easily Survival and Survival 2. These new difficulty options do things like removing fast travel, turn off the HUD, take away the mini-map and make enemies harder to kill and more lethal. If you just want to ride around and experience the story these aren’t a big deal, but if you really want to help immerse yourself into the apocalypse then Survival is the way to go. Without the HUD getting in the way and with fast travel disabled it’s so easy to sink into the beauty of Oregon and the remarkably chilled experience of riding your bike, only occasionally interrupted by some lunatic trying to decapitate you with a steel wire stretched across the road.
And just wait until you try to take on a horde on Survival mode! Ooft. If there’s one downside it’s that you can’t change to Survival mid-game, so if you’re finding things too easy you have to completely restart the game.
To me, Survival is how Days Gone should be played, and I wish it had been in the game when it first launched on the PS4. Even on the regular Hard setting the Freakers just aren’t much of a threat unless you run in and get completely surrounded. Survival makes them more dangerous, makes the world feel more lethal. It’s a cool contrast to how zen-like riding the bike around can be.
There’s also a Challenge mode that presents a handful of scenarios involving time trials on your bike, surviving hordes and killing your way through enemy camps. These are fun to do and reward you with unique bike skins or patches for Deacon’s jacket that boost his stats, which then carry over into the main game as well. It’s also one of the best ways to experience the game’s hordes, giving you a space to mess about with them and witness the spectacle of hundreds of Freakers all vying for your tasty flesh.
So what about the PC port specifically? Well, the PC version does get a boost in terms of lighting. There’s no ray-tracing support, but there is a fairly recent Unreal Engine 4 feature in the form of software-based screen-space ray-traced global illumination. This allows for more natural lighting and shadows, with the console standard SSAO found under the High setting, and while the upgrade isn’t absolutely massive it’s still noticeable and very nice. The sunshine streaming through the trees and bouncing off puddles looks better than ever.
Of course, you have obvious improvements, too, such as being able to run higher resolutions and stream more detailed textures, all while pumping out a high framerate. Even the PS5 version of Days Gone doesn’t produce a native 4k image whereas a good PC can deliver all those pixels without the need for checkerboarding.
A little surprisingly the load times are better on PC provided you’ve got a speedy drive. Even the PS5 load times are around the 30-second mark, whereas my WD Black NVME was firing up the game in about 10-12 seconds.
It’s difficult to compare it directly to the PS5 version with giving myself whiplash looking from one screen to the other, but I don’t think it’s shocking to say that the PC edition has the edge in graphics and performance simply because it can support insane hardware. If you have the rig to run it, Days Gone looks fucking fantastic on PC, a solid upgrade to a game that already looked pretty awesome on the ageing PS4 and even better on the PS5. And the higher FPS over the PS4’s standard 30FPS makes Days Gone a joy to play, too. There’s no doubt that PC owners are getting the absolute best version of Days Gone possible, provided they have the hardware to pull it off.
Personally, I’m running an ageing GTX 1080ti, a card that continues to do well despite the 3000 series cards being out, combined with a Ryzen 3600 and 16GB of RAM. I was playing the game at 1440p at the High preset and was pretty consistently holding 60FPS, though some drops when the action became heavy occurred. In particular, the massive hordes do take their toll and I did have to play around with a couple of settings to find a sweet spot. Overall, though, I’m quite happy with how the PC version performs even on older hardware. This is a damn good PC port.
I also want to commend Bend Studios on not only the quite extensive suite of graphical options but also the fact that you can see changes you make in real-time. The options menu displays the game in the background and every graphical tweak you make is instantly displayed along with an FPS estimate so that you can see the impact of every setting.
Honestly, I think I like Days Gone more now than I did back in 2018, which is saying something because I already liked it a fair bit. While it doesn’t throw a Molotov Cocktail at the open-world genre or anything the gameplay is rock-solid and fun, and is supported by fantastic acting and a cast of intriguing, exciting characters. I’m sure Sony had their reasons for turning down a sequel, especially since Days Gone did reasonably well financially. Perhaps Bend’s pitch simply didn’t interest them or Sony was worried a sequel would take too long to make considering the original Days Gone took over 5-years. But whatever their reasons, playing Days Gone again makes me long for a sequel, for a chance for Bend to really show what they could do and what Days Gone could be. I guess for now we just have to be content with the idea of Deacon riding off into the sunset. And then running over a Freaker.