This week, Yahtzee reviews Days Gone.
Days Gone is painfully generic. (...) Thanks for watching this week's Zero Punctuation; see you next time. That was 40 hours of my life well fucking spent. Odd phrase, that, "painfully generic"; when I think of "painful", I think of knees to the balls, punches to the stomach, paddles to the buttocks, splinters under the fingernails, but I wouldn't - oh, pins in the bell-end; that's the other one I think about - but I wouldn't call any of those "generic". Playing Days Gone isn't like a chisel to the elbow; it's more like having to move a large quantity of ball-pit balls from one room to another because you hadn't heard that your future prank victim was changing offices, and all the balls are painted grayish-brown and have very poor communication skills. Sorry, I'm rambling, but your thoughts will probably start rambling, too, before I finish describing this fucking game.
Days Gone is a zombie apocalypse wilderness sandbox five-a-side football simulator (not that last part; I was just making sure you're awake). It is the fucking example zombie wilderness sandbox that comes with the Zombie Wilderness Sandbox Construction Kit. You want stealthy base assaults? Limber up that distraction-rock-throwing arm and get ready to crouch-walk up to oblivious bandits like a knife-wielding Goomba! You want crafting? You'll be slapping enough Molotovs together to supply Boris Yeltsin for an entire breakfast! And you'll have plenty of time to think about how all this scrounging for crafting materials is an apt metaphor for life in modern society while you're waiting for all the fucking loooooooooooading tiiiiiiiiimes. To call the game "soul-crushing" would still be too dramatic a phrase; more like it "put a large bean bag chair on my soul and then a cat lay on it and I don't want to wake it up".
So, the plot. In a zombie apocalypse that, for all you fans of crossovers, could fit comfortably inside the continuity of about twelve other zombie games I could think of, a biker named Deacon St. John is bumming around rural Oregon being depressed because he lost his wife in the apocalypse. There, that sums up roughly the first twenty hours of the plot. The game feels so fucking drawn-out, which I partly blame on the dialogue; they should have called Days Gone "Verbal Tic: The Game". Maybe it's more naturalistic to pepper every line with ums and ers and stutters and flubs, but it's so fucking exhausting to listen to, and Deacon St. John is the verbal tic-iest of them all, constantly... er... talking like he's... (SHARP INHALE)... just woken up... and is working a--uh... kink out of his back, and... phew... really can't be bothered with your bullshit right now.
Of all the video game protagonists I've been unreasonably obliged to identify with, I struggle to think of one I dislike more than Deacon St. John. Even Jeffrey Cuddletrousers from Hatred at least had some fucking ambition in life; at least he knew how to express himself and didn't just mumble into his shoes all the time. He didn't sulk and whine every time someone asked him to do something, like a teenager when the bins need putting out, and he didn't passive-aggressively criticize them under his breath the moment their backs were turned; he'd mainly just stab them in the face and shit.
But the developers apparently thought Deacon St. John's "dynamic" personality needed to be a constant presence, so he has to comment on fucking everything. "Oh, I picked up a bottle. Another Molotov, is it? Yawn." And another thing, stop second-guessing my intentions, Deacon St. John! I walk two feet out of a zombie clear-out zone to get a better look at it, and you go, "Ooh, I guess I'll finish clearing it out later, then." You'd like that, wouldn't you, you lazy bastard?! What was your job in that biker gang you used to be in? 'Cos I think you must've been taste-testing the crystal meth.
Part of why Days Gone is so generic is that it struggles to focus on any one idea, so all its features feel very token: token upgrades, token guns, token nails added to token baseball bats to incite token head trauma. At the start of the game, Deacon divides his time between two survivor camps, neither of which he wants to officially join because he'd rather spend his mornings lying and watching MTV like the total fuckhead he is; one camp will sell him weapons and the other has bike upgrades, but one is run by slavers and the other by weirdo "truthers" still calling for the rotting corpse of Barack Obama's birth certificate. So, deciding which one to support is a semi-interesting dilemma; until, that is, you unlock the third camp, which has weapons AND bike upgrades and is run by a large, friendly golden retriever, so that initial conflict disappears unfulfilled from the game like a bloke losing his nerve and speed-walking out of a brothel.
So, the plot centers around the "nice" camp for a while and seems to be coming to a natural conclusion until we suddenly have to leave and go to a completely different camp full of completely different characters in a locked-off part of the map for another eight hours of game. GET TO THE PLOPPING POINT! And incidentally, why does every camp, even the ones cut off from each other, use the same zombie lingo? "Swarmers", "Newts", "Ragers". What, has the government been airdropping pamphlets on proper forms of address in the post-apocalypse?
"Surely, Days Gone has some unique selling point, Yahtz? This isn't the 80's, when you could just knock off another company's lawn mowing simulator and call it 'done'." Well, Days Gone is basically zombie Red Dead Redemption 2 with even less stuff happening and a motorbike instead of a horse and fuel instead of delicious hay, and you have to watch your fuel meter, which can lead to interesting organic moments when you're stranded in the wilderness and need to hoof it for gas, but the scenery's too repetitive to make the most of it; if it weren't for the map, every time I ran into a gas station, a government checkpoint, or a tunnel full of wrecked cars, I'd assume Deacon's dumb ass was going in circles again.
The only unique feature that appears in all the E3 videos in that typically suspicious "slightly more impressive than it ever is in the finished game" kind of way is zombie hordes, and yes, I suppose it's quite impressive, how it can render enough zombies at once to get a really foul-smelling Mexican wave going, but, how to put this... SO FUCKING WHAT?! You find a zombie horde every now and again; you run away from it or you die. That's all it offers. It always feels more like an "incidental" than an "integral" part of the game, especially since most of your time is spent Goomba-creeping around groups of five or six enemies sticking knives in their ears. Although, on one occasion, a horde blew through a bandit camp and killed everyone just before I could, which was galling, if hilarious.
Days Gone feels to me like a victim of the usual AAA process: an idea that has been stretched and pulled apart and reworked and put back together until no one remembers what the original idea was, or even who had it. I hate the rambling story and the fiddly two-level weapon wheel that only successfully selects the kind of ammo you want if you remember to say "thank you". And I hate Deacon St. John, the man who's less sparkling company than the mangled top half of a squirrel trying to drag itself off a road, but in his own way, the ideal protagonist for this game, 'cos in the game, he's going to do exactly what he'd do in any social situation: stand around muttering for a while and then bugger off, possibly killing a few people, but that's crunch time for you.
- On yer bike: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- So according to those flashback bits, Deacon and his wife spent every day of their fucking lives wearing the exact same outfits
- Good luck Russ