"Days Gone" is going to be fine – that's what I'm getting down to after testing a near-completion version of the PS4-exclusive open-world zombie survival game. But is that enough to stand up to super hits like "God of War" or the upcoming "The Last of Us 2"? Our preview clarifies the strengths, but also the weaknesses of the tough action spectacle.
After six years of development and numerous shifts, "Days Gone" will finally be released for PS4 on April 26th. That's not over for a long time, but it seems that only a handful of hard-core zombie fans are interested in it – the "masses of the day" still feel "days gone" with a certain indifference. Why is it? Well, maybe on the topic – because on paper, Sony's bloody biker ballad has really little to offer.
Open World, Looten and Crafting: Everything had already
Again, a quick summary of what it actually is in "Days Gone": You play the heavily tattooed biker Deacon St. John, who lost his wife Sarah in the midst of an apocalyptic epidemic outbreak. A short time later, the world is overrun by drooling zombies, Deacon has left a scraggly beard and heats his motorcycle through the American northwest, always threatened by dangerous mutants and even more dangerous psychopaths.
Yes, yes, this is a private property, but you can overdo it.
Yes, I know that the developers insist their slobbering hordes are not commercial zombies, but "Freaker" – but I do not feel like taking part in this PR egg-dancing just to avoid the word "zombie" that is so worn out. Because these are the critters in "Days Gone". You know that, I know that, everybody knows that. So from now on: Zombies. So.
Because supplies are scarce in the Apocalypse, you'll also be able to search cabinets in "Days Gone," loosen valuable resources, and craft new medicine packs, Molotov cocktails, and similar lifesavers at your fingertips. In addition, you explore the game world, take on secondary tasks, improve your reputation with other survivors and unlock more and more talents and skills for your motorcycle rocker.
Your bike is more than just a vehicle: it's a friend, lifesaver, and a reminder of your dead wife.
For the horde!
The most interesting element of "Days Gone" are the sometimes abstrus big zombie hordes, which you have to face in the game again and again. Forget about "Resident Evil 2" with its two, three moderköppen per room – in "Days Gone" dozens or even hundreds of flammable mutants pursue you to bite you in the virtual butt. And in a monkey tooth: Who has seen about the Netflix series "Kingdom", already has a very good idea of how hectic and murderous can be such a zombie attack.
In fact, during my three-hour audition, I once encountered such a horde and yes, it was a little magic moment: I'm just smoking a zombie from a safe distance with energetically thrown Molotov cocktails and do the last few rags with targeted shots from my good, old shotgun.
I turn around, I want to stroll back to my bike coolly, I'm standing there in shock: A gigantic zombie man comes running over the mountain top, directly towards me, and it is getting more and more. In a panic, I try to fire a few bullets at the sea of bodies, but that brings nothing: My weapons are too weak, my shots too imprecise, my plan does not exist. The only salvation: escape.
After playing I know: The ridiculous pair of zombies there are GAR NIX.
I rush to a power pole, which is kindly equipped with a practical ladder, and climb at the last second in saving heights – the drooling pack continues disappointed. Only when the air is clean again, I venture down from my aerial observation place. I do not know if this sequence was scripted or a (un) happy coincidence, but it left an impression on me: a few isolated opponents are no problem, but I have no chance against such an overwhelming force at this early stage. Prepare, craft better gear and unlock stronger abilities is the motto.
Technically not quite up to par
The meanwhile six years of development are seen in "Days Gone": ambient textures are not necessarily photorealistic and the facial expressions of the protagonists are not as breathtakingly detailed as they are in Naughty Dog's "The Last of Us 2".
But that bothers me only slightly, because ultimately it is crucial, if I can plunge into the merciless world of "Days Gone". And with me it's clicked there very fast: Deacon St. John is immediately sympathetic to me (not least because of his swine horny tattoos and his penchant for equally hacked blondes) and any technical shortcomings, the developers have made up for it with love for detail and heart.
I admit that I was really a bit touched when Deacon and his Sarah made their vows to each other in a halting voice. The ubiquitous pain of his tragically lost great love, I buy the Rocker at any time – without that he becomes an unsympathetic Stinkstiefel (someone still remembers Aiden Pierce from "Watch Dogs" …?).
By the way, it's also nice that Sarah is beautiful, but not as grotesquely godlike as other gaming ladies.
The game world has also convinced me: Perhaps there are graphically more impressive settings, but I like the barren, rugged landscapes, the emptiness, the vastness of "Days Gone". While the open-world rivals "Far Cry New Dawn" and "Rage 2" are not all that serious and are celebrating with a neon-colored effect thunderstorm, the Sony title looks almost backward and, in the best sense, dry. If everything goes to hell, that's just a certain mood damper.
Solid zombie action – is that enough?
Everything sounds very good, right? Well, and I think that's exactly where the problem of "Days Gone" lies: maybe that's just not enough to be considered a hit today. "Days Gone" does not do anything that many other games have not done before, it does not really reinvent anything, it uses unrestrained enough familiar patterns, rules and codes – in short: it looks like a best of all the games that announced about three years ago.
Still the best remedy for the breed: Headhots.
That would actually not be a big problem, Sony would not indulge us for some time with a PS4 Überkracher after another. "The Last of Us", "Uncharted 4", "Horizon: Zero Dawn", "Spider-Man", "God of War" – the list of grandiose exclusive titles is long, some of the mentioned games have defined entire genres. And so good is "Days Gone" just not.
In terms of the pejorations that I detest, "Days Gone" will probably be a mid-70s to lower 80s. That's fine: I'm looking forward to the game, even more than before. The unspoken expectation that the next masterpiece will be presented here for eternity will, in all likelihood, not be fulfilled.
Everything is so nice here. Still.