What is a hands on gaming review?
Hands on gaming reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a new game based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to try it out ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to play, even if it's only an embryonic view.
With Days Gone, we spent a few hours with pre-release code and specific sections of the game, courtesy of the developers.
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Primarily known for its work on the Syphon Filter series and the well-received Uncharted games for PS Vita, SIE Bend Studio has stepped into the big leagues with its first blockbuster PS4 title, Days Gone.
An open-world survival game, Days Gone sees you take on the role of Deacon St. John (Sam Witwer, who gamers may recognise from his role as Starkiller in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed). Once an outlaw biker, Deacon is now just a man who'll do anything to stay alive and help his friends.
In the opening part of our preview session, we meet our protagonist just as all hell is breaking loose in the Pacific Northwest (specifically, Oregon). A horrifying epidemic has swept through the country, turning regular people into snarling, ravenous monsters known as 'freakers' (because all great zombie fiction needs an unlikely alternative to the 'Z' word).
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Having picked up some life-threatening injuries during the chaos, Deacon's wife Sarah finds a place on a nearby emergency helicopter. Of course, with a badly hurt biker brother on the ground and not enough room for two more on that bird, Deacon is forced to make a heartbreaking decision that will leave him separated from his better-half, possibly forever.
Immediately, we were struck by the high level of production value displayed in the game's cut scenes, along with terrific voice acting and motion capture across the board. Sony knows a thing or two about stellar game presentation (you only have to look at past PS4-exclusives like Uncharted 4: A Thief's End and God of War to see that the publisher is untouchable in this regard), and Days Gone is no exception.
Fight to survive
The story picks up again 731 days later, and Deacon has yet to be reunited with his love. Did Sarah even survive that night, and if so, will Deacon ever see her again? The answers to these questions were only hinted at in our three and a half hours with the game, and we imagine they won't definitively come until much later in the game's roughly 20-hour campaign.
Thankfully, Deacon's decision to stay on the ground wasn't a total waste – his buddy Boozer managed to survive that hellish night, and now the pair spend their days roaming around the Oregon countryside on their motorcycles scavenging for scrap metal (which you'll need to repair your bike), doing jobs to earn cents (not dollars) and looking for animals to hunt and eat.
Of course, the reality of this isn't quite as leisurely as it sounds – freakers are practically everywhere, and chances are that if you stop to take in the sights, a group of these ghastly creatures will likely show up in no time.
Occasionally, you'll have to pass through dark tunnels infested with freaker nests to get to where you're going, and these moments proved to be by far the most intense in our playthrough. You'll want to keep a good supply of Molotov cocktails on hand to burn them down – just be ready to kill all the flaming ghouls that spew out.
As bad as these freakers are, they aren't the only menace to contend with – human enemies are also prevalent across the heartland, with a murderous cult known as the Rippers being the worst we had the misfortune of meeting,
During a mission which saw Deacon searching an abandoned garage for a much needed motorcycle part, the Rippers manage to get the drop on poor ol' Boozer, once again leaving him horribly injured and forcing you to abandon your bike in a mad rush back to the safety of your compound.
Fear and bullets
With Boozer out of commission, you're now free to take off on your own across the beautiful Oregon wilderness. Of course, you'll need to arm yourself to the teeth to have any chance of survival, and thankfully, there are plenty of options available to you.
Aside from the aforementioned Molotov cocktails, you're able to craft a number of throwables on the fly, such as pipe bombs and grenades, using bottles, rags and other collected materials.
At any given time, you're also able to carry a primary weapon, such as a submachine gun, shotgun, rifle or crossbow, along with a smaller sidearm and a melee weapon. Options include knives, bars, baseball bats with nails sticking out of them (Escape From New York-style), planks of wood and machetes (our personal favorite).
While there's definitely a risk factor in getting close to the freakers who are trying to tear you apart, taking down enemies with these can result in some seriously brutal (and satisfying) kill animations.
Like Naughty Dog's The Last of Us, melee weapons will break down the more you use them. However, if you're particularly fond of a specific weapon, you can maintain and repair it at the expense of your collected scrap metal.
Combat generally feels pretty good in Days Gone, with firearms proving to be especially tight and responsive in the aiming department. Like most games of this type, headshots will usually put enemies down in an instant, while body shots, effective as they may be, will whittle down your ammo supplies almost as fast.
With so many freakers on the loose, playing in a stealthy manner is likely the best approach in any given situation. That said, stealth isn't quite as much of a focus as it is in something like The Last of Us – enemies in Days Gone will generally leave you alone once you've broken line of sight, and it's hard to travel quietly when you're riding on a roaring hog.
Hell on wheels
After some mild investigating and a visit to a populated nearby camp, Deacon regains access to a motorcycle, allowing him to hit the road once again. Provided you have the cents, a mechanic in the campsite will install upgrades to your ride, such as improved nitrous, suspension, wheels, frames and more.
Motorcycle repairs can also be performed here, though you can hop off your bike and fix it yourself at any time – so long as you've got plenty of scrap stored up.
Our advice? Keep your bike gassed up and in prime condition whenever possible – you don't want to be caught out in the open with hundreds of freakers on your tail.
With such a large territory to cover, your motorcycle quickly becomes your most important resource in the game. Beyond acting as an instrument for quick traversal and even quicker getaways, Deacon stores his ammo and first aid packs there, giving you quick access to supplies when you really need them.
Of course, keeping your bike stocked up is important, and you'll find more supplies inside the many abandoned police cars, fire trucks and ambulances that are scattered across the game's sizeable map.
SIE Bend Studio has placed a lot of attention on how Deacon's motorcycle feels to ride, and we're pleased to say that it's certainly nailed this important aspect of the game. There's a terrific sense of weight to Deacon's ride, and an included power sliding mechanic makes flying around curvy dirt roads an absolute blast.
Deacon the protector
One way to earn money in Days Gone is to take on jobs from local campsites. Upon our arrival at Copeland Camp, an enigmatic leader (named Copeland, funnily enough) informs Deacon of the importance of helping out his fellow man.
Before long, Deacon's back on the road again and undertaking dangerous tasks for Copeland, such as thinning out freaker numbers in bases around the map.
One mission later in our preview saw Deacon enter a suburban area that was swarming with enemies. The goal? To find a missing girl who's been separated from her parents and fending for herself since the outbreak.
We eventually track the girl down to her old family home, where she's managed to survive on her own amidst unbelievable odds. Understandably, the trauma of what she's had to endure has left the girl almost completely broken.
Although the girl is absolutely terrified about leaving her self-made sanctuary, Deacon eventually convinces her to come back to camp with him by suggesting the unlikely possibility that her parents may be there waiting for her. It's in these emotional moments where Days Gone is at its most resonant.
Of course, the pair is attacked by an enormous grizzly bear as soon as they leave the house, leading us to believe that the young girl probably had the right idea.
Days Gone has all the characteristics of a top-tier PS4-exclusive, with its movie-quality presentation, engaging characters and beautifully-realised open world setting.
That said, the story in Days Gone hews very closely to the well-worn zombie apocalypse rulebook, with its biker angle being the game's only real distinguishing factor amidst a sea of similarly-themed titles.
It will be interesting to see whether Days Gone has any real surprises in store when the whole shebang launches on April 26, 2019.