Days Gone

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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, survival horror
Mode(s)Single-player

Days Gone is a 2019 action-adventure survival horror video game developed by Bend Studio and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. Set in a post-apocalyptic Oregon two years after the start of a global pandemic, former outlaw-turned-drifter Deacon St. John discovers the possibility of his wife Sarah still being alive, which leads Deacon 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 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 primary mode of transportation as well as mobile inventory.

Days Gone was Bend Studio first original property since Syphon Filter (1999), and its first open world project, and its first project developed for home consoles after working on handheld spin-offs of other Sony's franchises for decades. Development of the game lasted for approximately six years, and Bend Studio expanded nearly three-fold to support the game's development. World War Z, The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy were major sources of inspiration for the game. The game was officially unveiled at E3 2016. Originally slated for a 2018 launch, Days Gone was delayed several times.

The game eventually released in April 2019 for PlayStation 4, and for Windows in May 2021. 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, although the story, mission design, and several technical issues were criticized. It was often regarded as one of the weaker Sony first-party games released during the PlayStation 4 generation. Days Gone was a commercial success, as 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. It was reported in 2021 that the development team had unsuccessfully pitched a sequel to Sony.

Gameplay[edit]

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

Days Gone is an action-adventure survival horror game set in a post-apocalyptic open world, played from a third-person perspective. The player controls Deacon St. John (Sam Witwer), a outlaw-turned-drifter and bounty hunter who prefers life on the road to wilderness encampments.[1] The game takes place two years after a global pandemic occurred which killed almost all of humanity, and transformed millions of others into "Freakers", mindless zombie-like creatures that are quickly evolving. These Freakers include the noctural Swarmers, which hiberate inside their nests during day time. Swarmers will often congregate and wander around at night, looking for food and water. Players can use this to their advantage by luring a massive horde of Freakers towards other enemies, annihilating them.[2] Players need to be prepared and must keep his distance when combating the horde as they can be easily overwhelmed.[3] In the areas near a horde of Freakers, there are chokepoints such as the narrow gaps between buildings and rooftop ledges that the players can use to corral the Freakers. Deacon can then make use of various traps and explosives to kill individual Freakers in a horde.[4] Other enemies players may encounter included the Newts, which are infected adolescents. Newts are opportunistic hunters that would only attack Deacon when he enters their territories or has low health.[5] The game also features infected wildlife and hostile human enemies.[2]

The game is set in an open world set in the Pacific Northwest. The players can freely explore the world either on foot or using a motorcycle. Travelling long distance will exhaust fuel, and the bike will be disabled when it takes too much damage. Players must refuel the bike regularly at gas stations and camps, and collected scraps in order to repair the bike.[6][7] Deacon needs to establish trust with various settlement camps and earn camp credits by completing missions and selling bounties and food collected in the wild.[8] As trust level increases, players can purchase new weapons, supplies and motorcycle parts which can be used to enhance its speed, durability or maneuverability, among other parameters. The appearance of the bike can also be extensively customized.[9] As players explore the world, they must collect valuable resources and different crafting components in order to craft weapons and supplies.[10] In addition to the main quests, the game has a number of side objectives that the players can complete. These quests include clearing zombie nests, rescuing hostages, clearing hostile enemy camps, capturing bounty targets, and restoring power to NERO checkpoints.[11][12] Inside these checkpoints, players can find a NERO injector which can boost Deacon's health, stamina (used when Deacon is sprinting or rolling), and focus, which allow Deacon to temporarily slow down time while aiming his ranged weapons.[11] Fast travel would consume fuel and time will pass. Before players can fast travel, all infestation nests between two fast-travel points must be cleared beforehand.[13]

The player can complete objectives in multiple ways. Players can utilize stealth tactics such as distracting enemies or sliently eliminating them from behind using a combat knife.[14] Suppressors can be attached to various firearms to reduce the noise produced when firing weapons, which may attract nearby enemies.[15] Deacon can use "Survival Vision", which highlights items of interest and the locations of hostile enemies when it was activated.[16] Players can also use Deacon's binoculars to identify the locations of enemies.[11] Alternatively, players has access to a wide variety of firearms such as pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles, submachine guns and crossbows. Different weapons have different stats, and higher tier weapons are generally more powerful. Purchased weapons can be stored in a gun locker, though weapons picked up in the field cannot be put to storage.[17] The player can also make use of explosives such as proximity mines, grenades, and craft molotov cocktail to defeat enemies. Players can also pick up melee weapons, though they are not durable and may break if they are not repaired.[18] As players complete missions and objectives, they would gain experience points (XP).[19] With sufficient XP, players can level up and unlock new abilities, which allows the players to increase the efficiency of Deacon's melee weapons and ranged weapons, and enhance Deacon's survival skills.[20]

Plot[edit]

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

In near future Oregon, the Hooligan Virus has decimated the globe, turning a large portion of humanity into violent zombies called Freakers. 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, and manage to find a helicopter run by the National Emergency Restoration Organization (NERO), with room for two more. While Sarah boards the helicopter, critically injured from a stab wound, Deacon decides to stay behind with Boozer. He promises to reunite with his wife.

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

Boozer's health continues to decline, and Deacon takes him to the Lost Lake camp, 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, offering 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, and cuts his own deal, turning Deacon over to the cult in the process. Deacon learns that the Rippers' leader, "Carlos", is actually Jessie Williamson (Scott Whyte), an enemy from his motorcycle club days. He manages to escape from the Rippers' camp and breaks the dam above, drowning Jessie and the other Rippers.

Later, Deacon remembers that Sarah, a government researcher with federal security clearance, would have been prioritized during a camp evacuation, and O'Brian confirms that she was moved to a military outpost at Crater Lake, now under control of the Deschutes County Militia. He also warns Deacon that the Freakers are evolving, and becoming more dangerous over time. Deacon wins over the militia tyrant 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 head to her old lab to obtain a DNA sequencer, whereupon they discover that her research was used to develop the Freaker virus.

At the lab, Sarah reveals that she is not working to destroy the Freakers, but to cure them. Deacon suggests that they finish the cure at her lab, but an increasingly paranoid Garret puts Sarah under 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 to find it decimated by the militia, who killed Wilcox. Deacon rallies the remaining members of the Lost Lake camp, together with other camp groups to strike back 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. Deacon is contacted by O'Brian again, who reveals that NERO always knew about the virus' mutagenic effects, and that he himself is a mutated Freaker. He warns Deacon that NERO is coming, and that nothing will stop them.

Development[edit]

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 have worked at Bend Studio since the 1990s when the company was creating Syphon Filter. Days Gone was the company's first open world game,[21] and its first original intellectual property since Syphon Filter (1999),[22] and its first game released for home consoles since Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow (2007).[23] The game enjoyed a six-year development cycle, and full production of the game commenced in early 2015.[24][25] The team was mainly inspired by World War Z, The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy, which were popular during the beginning of the game's development.[26] Bend Studio expanded significantly, as the size of the team increased from around 50 to 130 over the course of the game's development.[21][27] The game's development was completed on March 10, 2019, with Respawn confirming it had been declared gold, indicating it was being prepared for duplication and release.[28]

Design[edit]

During the game's pre-production, the team decided that the title 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 terrains 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, and that they "had to think smart and efficient with all of our design choices knowing the manpower limitations".[30] The studio initially underestimated the manpower needed for developing the project, as they felt that a team of 50 people would suffice.[21] While the game is open world, the team did not include a lot of filler content. Most of the missions featured in the game are scripted, and are connected to the main story of the game. They 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". Freakers are victims of a global pandemic, as the virus has changed their biology and turned them into aggressive monsters. The Swarmers featured 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, which may be composed for 50 to 500 individual Freakers. To better optimize the horde, Freakers are divided into smaller clusters. If they are close to the player, some fo these horde clusters will disassociate to become individual Freakers which are easier for players to manage. In a large horde, there are only 8 individual Freaker character models, but the team modified the height of each Freaker to make the appearance and behaviors of each of them unique. The team also spent a lot of time working on the group artificial intelligence to ensure that the horde will not only charge at Deacon in a straight line. They will instead spread further and make use of the terrain to overwhelm the player.[32]

Days Gone features multiple storylines that interwined with each other. This allows players to switch between storylines as the team wanted to keep the narrative interesting and fresh. The game constantly keeps track of a player's progress, with the team being inspired by Netflix's menu.[33] The game initially allowed Deacon to make decisions that can change the narrative, but this feature was removed from the final game as the team had difficulties showing players the impacts of these decisions. Garvin added that by removing these narrative choices, Deacon's personality would be better reflected, since some of these choices may allow Deacon to commit egregious or cruel actions that did not fit his personality.[34] According to Garvin, the main theme of the game was "redemption", and the journey would see Deacon, who is often seen as an outsider, grow and evolve into a capcable leader.[26][27] Garvin added that despite the game's post-apocalyptic setting, the team aimed to deliver a more hopeful theme, since the story of Deacon concerns how he can make the world a better place, and explores the theme of how simply surviving is not the same as living.[35] The story and the themes of the game were inspired by The Road, The Passage and I Am Legend.[36] Since Deacon is a member of a motorcycle club, the team conducted research on Hells Angels, a large-scale biker gang based in the United States.[37]

Music[edit]

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

Release[edit]

Publisher Sony Interactive Entertainment officially announced the game at E3 2016.[42] While the game was originally planned to be released in 2018, it was delayed to the following year.[43] The game was subsequently delayed 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 on 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] It was followed by 12 weekly challenges. In each challenge, player's performance are classified into three different rankings: Gold, Silver and Bronze. Players will receive credits which 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 was released in November 2018.[49]

Reception[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

Days Gone received "mixed or average" reviews for the PlayStation 4 and "generally favorable reviews" for the PC version, according to review aggregator Metacritic.[50] Critically, it was widely regarded as one of the weaker first-party video games released by Sony during the PS4 generation.[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, and added that most side objectives were filler content that was neither engaging nor interesting.[53] This sentiment was shared by Eurogamer's Malindy Hetfeld, who added that in Days Gone, players are "doing the exact same thing, in the exact same way, for hours on end".[64] Leon Hurley from GamesRadar felt that the open world design was fairly unoriginal despite being entertaining.[55] Shacknews's Bill Lavoy liked how the game remembered the actions of the player through its systems. For instance, once players clear out a horde, it would not respawn, and the area was safer because of it. Lavoy, however, noted the small scale of the map, and criticised how Days Gone used environmental obstacles to force players navigate longer distances.[57] Several reviewers felt that the world was empty and sparse because the locations in the game 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 shooting mechanics for being clunky, 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", as they found them to be similar to zombies.[61][65]

The story received mixed reviews. Writing for VentureBeat, Dean Takahashi felt that the story was engaging, but he was disappointed that some storylines were not completely resolved by the end of the game.[60] Lavoy felt that the story was overly long and that some of the storylines have dragged on far too long.[57] Nonetheless, some critics remarked that the story gradually became more investing as more interesting characters and more emotional moments are introduced.[57][61] In contrast, Andrew Webster from The Verge called the story bland, and compared the game unfavourably to The Last of Us, which was also published by Sony.[65] Hetfield also criticised the interweaving storylines, as they distract players from completing the central storyline to deal with narrative threads that were uninteresting.[64] Narrative missions were also criticised for lacking impacts and consequences or any form of meaningful conclusion.[54] O'Brien was unimpressed by the game's overly serious tone. While she liked the supporting characters, she felt that the antagoinsts are one-dimensional.[56] Deacon as a protagonist also received a mixed reaction. Takahashi described him as an "interesting and flawed character". He enjoyed seeing Deacon grows and evolves. Plagge was critical of Deacon as a character, calling him "selfish" and added that the story was more interested in "validating his actions and feelings above all else".[54] Webster disliked Deacon's personality and felt that it was very difficult to connect with him.[65] Witwer's performance was generally praised by critics.[59][53][56]

The game was criticised for its technical issues. Kato believed that the game lacked the polish found in other Sony's first-party games.[53] Takahashi, likewise, criticised the game's various gameplay bugs and unstable frame rate.[60] The game's frequent loading screens between gameplay and cutscenes were also criticised.[61]

Sales[edit]

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] It went on to surpass the lifetime sales of God of War and another exclusive PlayStation 4 game, The Last Guardian.[70] In its first three days after launch, it sold approximately 114,319 physical units.[71]

In North America, Days Gone was the second-best-selling video game software for the month of April, behind Mortal Kombat 11. This marks Days Gone as the 7th-highest debut in sales for a Sony-published title, and the best selling game developed by Bend Studio.[72] Days Gone proceeded to become the second-best-selling video game software in North America for April 2019. By June 2019, it 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]

Awards[edit]

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]

Cancelled sequel[edit]

On April 9, 2021, Jason Schreier of Bloomberg News revealed that Bend had pitched a sequel to Days Gone, but that the mixed critical reception and lengthy development process of the first game caused Sony to reject the proposal.[63] Shortly afterwards, Ross confirmed that 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 that 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 told listeners, "If you love a game, buy it at fucking full price", and implied that part of the reason Days Gone did not receive a sequel was because it did not turn a significant enough profit.[93] Garvin came under fire for his remarks, with arguments that Days Gone had already benefitted from fan support during its release, and that it was unreasonable to ask someone to spend $70 USD on an unknown quantity.[94] Others noted that Sony ultimately controlled sales on PlayStation games or offer 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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