They call it the Nightmare. It is the world outside the camps, beyond which extend the natural landscapes of Oregon, now open-air cemeteries, where they rust the carcasses of cars, rotting corpses and banqueting the infected. The air is dissatisfied with the stench of death and putrefaction: only a few drops of rain, or a light blanket of snow, can wash away the blood clots from the hands of those who, like Deacon St. John, continue to live in a “nightmare” that lasts two years, homeless, earning their bread as a bounty hunter, no matter if of men or monsters. After all, most of the time they are the same thing. But Days Gone is not only the story of a “stray” biker: it is rather the bruised and ruthless fresco of an entire society on its knees, a mosaic of faces and personalities trying to survive at all costs in a habitat that is no longer under their control.
With the aim of creating an interactive novel about a post-apocalyptic world as beautiful as it is damned, Days Gone is one of the most money-making examples of what is meant by “open narrative world”. The main propellant of Sony Bend’s work is in fact the desire to structure a surprisingly multi-faceted plot, able to take its own time, to dictate its own rhythms with a very great authorial style. Despite the undoubted fascination exerted by the construction of the environment and the screenplay, on Days Gone from time to time the shadow of ambitions perhaps too high, which flood the engine of the gameplay and the story, proposing a trend not always well balanced. And yet, even if in some stretches of the journey this survival game remains without petrol, it’s still worth getting back on the bike, filling the tanks, arming oneself with patience and completing a beautiful journey along the dead road.
731 days later
It’s very easy to lose track of time in Furious Oregon. The days always follow one another in the same way, between a raid, an assault on the marauder’s camp, a deer hunt or an escape from hordes of screaming abominations.
Daily life is mostly marked by the routines of the infected, who change their actions according to the time of day and the climate of the region in which they nested. But for Deacon St. John it’s different: every single moment away from his wife Sarah is a boulder from which he still can’t get rid, even though two years have passed since the beginning of the epidemic that eradicated the foundations of society. The last time he saw her, she was on a helicopter of the suspected NERO (National Emergency Responce Organization), injured and with tears in her eyes, ready to leave for a refuge where perhaps she could have been saved. Deacon, however, did not board with her: his belonging to the culture of bikers forced him to stay with his “brother” Boozer, to help him sell his skin in a burning city. What has become of Sarah remains a mystery, and the chances of her dying are very high. However, Deacon does not want to give up, and as he tries to pick up some credit by cutting off the ears of the furious, he continues to follow in the footsteps of his beloved, with the hope – perhaps in vain – of being able to hug her back. Around this starting assumption stands an incredibly ramified narrative ecosystem, which very soon ends up stealing the spotlight from Deacon’s primary objective.
By removing all moral choices, Days Gone wants first of all to tell the story of his universe and the protagonists who live in it. In this way, with a precision and depth worthy of a novel, he strives to portray a set of characters characterized by wonder, each with its own personal story.
In essence, Sony Bend broadly embraces the concept already expressed – albeit with different results – by Red Dead Redemption 2: it chooses to design an open world where the plot is the founding element, and in which every sortie beyond the walls bends to the needs of the narrative. It’s the developers who set the pace for the adventure, who decide when to speed up and when to expand the times, who focus on apparently insignificant remnants of humanity, but which in the overall vision represent a very important part of the Days Gone design.
The work of Sony Bend Studio orchestrates a punctiform story, made up of many small protagonists able to paint the new post-apocalyptic society. The vastness of Days Gone’s screenplay leads us into a swing made up of dizzying climbs and steep descents: Deacon’s entire journey will take you no less than forty hours, not all of which, unfortunately, have the same qualitative homogeneity.
If the first moments are of break-in, useful to have a general overview of the nature of our biker, of Boozer and of the other survivors with whom they collaborate, in the most advanced phases suddenly the story rears up, introducing compressors and sequences with a very high emotional charge. There are scenes in Days Gone that mix a poignant everyday life with rants of ferocity and melancholy, alternating them in a whirlwind of emotions really overwhelming.
Deacon, above all, is an anti-hero of unexpected intensity: a survivor in the true sense of the word, cruel when necessary, merciful if necessary, and moved by a peculiar code of honor, not always supported by a dubbing in Italian adequately in part. When Sony Bend concentrates on its protagonist and the world around him, Days Gone therefore shows its full potential. Unfortunately, the way to go is dotted with a few holes in which the story ends up stumbling: at a certain point in the progression, the game knows a turning point that perhaps comes too late. And here the team begins to press on the accelerator, to hasten the times, to take a less consistent turn with what was previously written. Though it’s still fascinating as a whole, the last quarter of Days Gone didn’t prove to be as effective as we would have liked it to be. Looking at the overall picture, at the end of the credits, a product takes shape that would have deserved a better balance in terms of narrative rhythm.
What strikes more than any other aspect, in any case, is the excellent cohesion that unites each mission of the game: more than a single main quest, in Days Gone there are many stories that intersect well with each other, so that almost no task seems to be completely unrelated to the context and inserted as a simple filler.
Although there are clearly secondary activities, this is a minority that is mainly linked to endgame. Before reaching the end, therefore, you will experience numerous stories that frame the portrait of an impervious and enchanting land.
The beauty of a destroyed world
When the eye doesn’t dwell on the corpses eaten by the beasts or dismembered by the Furious, on the blood trails that brush the asphalt or on the mountains of rubbish that crowd the streets, Oregon offers a breathtaking spectacle. The knot of bumpy roads cuts through the forests, and branches off along the green expanses to create a pleasant mixture of urban and naturalistic.
Taking full advantage of the Unreal Engine, Bend Studio has modeled a very detailed open world, full of screen elements and well differentiated in each of the six regions that compose it. The map then has an extension that is almost frightening, very difficult to explore in its entirety because of the obvious limitations when moving with the bike.
What takes shape is a powerful visual impact, which shows off its muscles especially in the definition of Deacon, his clothes and his polygonal model. Less complex are the traits of the compatriots, with some features that tend to repeat themselves to the bitter end in the various survivors we will come across.
If the team has done a commendable job on the design side, the same cannot be said for the general optimization of the code: Days Gone is an immense product, whose size extends as far as the eye can see, but it is also undermined by some imperfections that weaken the visual performance. In particular, there is an invasive use of pop-ups, not to mention the plethora of graphic glitches and slowdowns that diminish the taste for exploration. The latest patches improve the situation but are still a long way from resolving it altogether, and it’s a shame that the scale of such an open world has not been supported by more massive polishing work. Surmounted by some more or less serious defects, we rediscover the beauty of a world in continuous change, lashed by the rains and caressed by the snow.
The dynamic weather is one of the best achievements of Days Gone, able to change the landscape around us in terms of aesthetics and play. Stopping to admire a thunderstorm that turns the soil into mud, or the flakes whiten the forests is an ecstatic experience, made even more striking by the fact that the gameplay suffers noticeable consequences, related to both the reactions of the furious and the management of the motorcycle.
My bike is my best friend
Don’t think you can venture without a shot to hurt yourself in the heaths of Oregon on your two-wheeled racing car. Just like fiction, exploration is also dictated by the rhythms imposed by Sony Bend, and involves a very careful management of their expeditions beyond the gates of the camps. The obligation to monitor fuel supplies and engine integrity deliberately reduces free exploration, making each trip a real adventure.
Since it is our only means of transport, the bike is our best companion: the first, we will find ourselves riding a scrap of little importance, slow and ramshackle, difficult to maneuver and heavy to handle. This is a limit clearly imposed by the team, which asks the user to fully identify with the precarious conditions of Deacon St. John. That’s why we’re going to proceed very slowly at first, cursing the instability of the bike, stopping at every gas station to refuel, collecting scrap to repair the damage and looking for the shortest route to the destination.
A sacrifice that the study imposes on the player in order to maximize the involvement, even at the cost of sacrificing the immediate fun. Entering into the production perspective, however, we will realize how the choice of Sony Bend has been as brave as successful: in this way, we feel on our skin the dangers that wind through the streets of Days Gone, constantly assailed by anxiety that enhances the survival soul of the work.
In this way, we will learn how to dose the gas, how to leave the accelerator on the descent to reduce gas consumption, how to get away from the pebbly paths so as not to damage the frame: in essence, we will turn into real bikers, connoisseurs of our vehicle and the path we will take. Once the first adversities have been overcome, when we start to collect enough credits, the time will come to improve the performance of the motorized beast, adding the NOS, increasing the resistance, enlarging the tank, and customizing the bike in every detail, from the headlights to the liveries.
Along with the upgrades, the rideability will also benefit from it, all to the advantage of a less anxious exploration. Although the worries will not cease to exist even for a second, handling the vehicle more carefully, controlling the drifts and traveling with a more substantial load of fuel takes on the flavor of a conquest obtained by the sound of sweat and fatigue.
Even when we are fully armed, riding on an iron horse with roaring nitrite, it will be appropriate to sharpen our eyes at all times: after all, in a completely random way, we can be prey to ambushes, attempts at theft, and assaults in full swing by bandits and infected, always hungry for our resources and our meat.
Marauders, Repugnants and Furious
In Days Gone, Oregon is our first enemy, but it is not the only one: in fact, it is populated by both the marauders, simple bandits dedicated to raids of all kinds, and the Repugnants, a sect of potted people who profess the cult of the Infected, lovers of suffering, prone to self-harm and with a strong propensity to corporal punishment.
But men are not the only monsters: the world was plunged into chaos by the Furious, creatures with a strongly aggressive nature, fast beasts, ravenous and almost unstoppable, sensitive to light but attracted by every slightest source of noise. We can get rid of the threats either by crouching among the tall grass and sneaking up on them behind, or by wielding our improvised weapons and pouring rivers of lead. Stealth is reduced to a minimum, but it does its duty: tactical planning, before sneaking into some outpost, is quite basic, and simply involves a brief reconnaissance with binoculars to mark the targets in the area. After a few silent kills, most of the time it will happen to engage in direct confrontation, now using hand-to-hand weapons, now firing from a distance with makeshift rifles. Consistent with the growth of narrative, the first even the tools of death available will be of questionable quality, and our talents in using them will prove extremely limited. This translates into less effective aiming, more approximate ballistics, and unfinished precision: in short, firefights will be coarser and more rudimentary, in which a sense of heaviness and poor feedback of the shots will prevail.
When we continue in the adventure, we will obviously get some experience points to consume in a tree of talents consisting of three branches: fighting in melee, distance and survival. In doing so, we’ll hit the target with more accuracy, speed up reload times and stabilize the aim, accomplices also new mouths of fire that we unlock during the progression.
When we get a more dignified equipment, the shootings will experience a significant improvement: just as for the history and control of the bike, even the shooting obeys a rather slow growth, in line with the evolution of Deacon.
Days Gone requires patience, a predisposition to let oneself be guided along a rhythmic and phlegmatic development, which gives its fruits on long distance but that in the first hours weighs down the advancement. With a good part of the skills obtained and with a more satisfactory arsenal, the shooter phases will have an extra gear, but they will still remain a bit ‘rough, because of hitbox not always well calculated and an artificial human intelligence at an all-time low.
Tourist activities in infected Oregon
It may no longer be an ideal place to spend your holidays, but Oregon still has a lot of activities to entertain its brave tourists with. Most of the missions belong to a single main narrative macro group, but there are also the classic optional assignments to replenish the already colossal longevity of the game: we will therefore expect the inevitable liberations of the enemy outposts, the destruction of the nests of the furious, the massacre of the Repugnants in their hideouts and some random events in which to save the survivors from the clutches of robbers or abominations. Such “amusements” will increase our confidence with the refugee camps in which we will work, allowing us to obtain extra credits to buy weapons, care and parts for the motorcycle. Finally, the BLACK garrisons will be scattered around the map, where we will have to enter after having restored the current and massacred the Furious who hang around the area: here we will not only find documents that will deepen the narrative background of the infection, but also injections with which to expand health, vigor and concentration to slow down the time when we take aim. In short, even if afflicted by a disease that changes men into cannibal creatures, Oregon remains a pleasant place to visit far and wide.
More adrenalinic will be the battles against the Furious, beasts of various types, who attack with their heads down but defend themselves with a surprising responsiveness, also trying to dodge the incoming bullets in case we lose a lot of time in taking aim. To cope with them properly it will be better to put all the reserves in place: scrutinizing every ravine of the setting, we will have to grab bandages, beams, ammunition, kerosene and so on, to build nail bats that are consumed with the use and healing medikits, molotov and traps, through a menu of rays not always comfortable to use. Not very dangerous if taken individually, the Furious are absolutely lethal when they assault us in groups: in front of their advance, we can give us to escape in motion, or play cunning and take full advantage of the means in our inventory. It is in these phases that the Days Gone gameplay plays its best cards, suggesting to the user to enhance their resources according to the most creative methods possible, minimizing the waste of bullets or raw materials. Nothing too far from what other survival games propose, but Sony Bend’s open world has a couple of tricks up its sleeve not to be underestimated: the first is represented by the “battlefield”, that is Oregon itself that – as we have already pointed out – has a distinctive personality, such as to make it both stage and co-star of the action; while the second is predictably embodied by the now iconic Hordes that have accompanied the game since its first appearances.
The roar of the Hordes
At the exact moment you meet your first horde, a shiver of terror mixed with exaltation will run down your back. A bunch of screaming beasts pile up in a single point, creating a swarm that floods the view without giving us a break.
Their real threat will not be revealed immediately, and indeed it will take a few hours before they can face full strength: but when the time comes, Days Gone will explode in all its explosive charge, even inserting completely new gameplay mechanics. Some hordes, on the other hand, can be dammed using the setting: for example, we will have the opportunity, depending on the place where they are gathered, to barricade the entrances, close the shutters or overwhelm them with the beams.
We will therefore have to study the area of the clash, assess the escape routes, find the explosive barrels, memorize the narrowest passages where they can not follow us quickly, and then unload on him any type of weapon at hand. Dozens of hordes await us on the map, and only a few of them are mandatory to break down for narrative purposes, while the rest is left to the will of completism of the players.
Not all swarms will guarantee the same degree of difficulty, and indeed some groups appear much less nourished than others. This does not mean that even the smallest gathering will not be able to give us a hard time if approached with superficiality. Every effort will have its reward: seeing huge mountains of bodies catch fire in front of our eyes is in fact the greatest satisfaction that Days Gone will be able to offer its survivors.
For better or for worse, the work of Bend Studio is a game that goes beyond expectations. It’s first and foremost the story of a world on its knees, of men trying to get back up, of a life that stubbornly struggles not to be crushed by death. Days Gone, in this sense, is an open world far from derivative, and indeed clearly shows a vigorous personality, unique and recognizable. It puts the story at the center of the recreational infrastructure and folds the gameplay to the needs of the plot, imposing an imperfect rhythm on the player, yet captivating and enthralling enough to make the path pleasant to the end. Alongside a swinging narrative dimension, made up of extraordinary characters and sequences full of humanity, but also of somewhat forced implications, the survival spirit of the product makes its way, poised between solidity and approximation. Days Gone therefore lives on ambivalence: it is a journey with a few too many obstacles in the path, but so intense as to make us appreciate every single kilometer spent riding a bike. And this is why we will hardly be able to forget all the days spent in the Nightmare.