Biker culture took form after World War II, but broke open post-Easy Rider, a 1969 film reflecting post-Vietnam’s isolation. Easy Rider used America’s roads as a means of escape from social reality. But imagine if, instead of Easy Rider, social rebellion stemmed from Days Gone. Still an anti-culture influence, but also unhinged, cruel, and without focus.
Some themes work. There’s protagonist Deacon St. John, paired with a friend, cruising the expensively rendered forested west. There’s the isolation – the world is against St. John, pacts exist as temporary truces. St. John scrounges, even steals, to keep himself moving. That road calls. It’s certifiably outlaw, maybe too cool with Jones’ liberal rejection of right wing radio, yet a segment of biker-dom.
It’s the zombies that don’t fit. That’s where Days Gone goes wrong. They exist as a marquee attraction, but really, they pounce for the sake of something to do, something to kill less a player become bored with the usual material scrounging because that’s not interesting; neither is violence inherently, but it’s big studio videogaming’s ready-made solution to its own bloat.
Strung together with various clans, each with their own distinguishing code, Days Gone understands the bonds of riding, the mutual respect, and urge to escape. The zombies though interrupt that. Days Gone only cuts as deep as its derivative shell allows. St. John hacks at people with machetes, he stabs them with knives, or takes down entire camps because they happen to be on his trail. Living people, that is. St. John cuts deep into zombies too, but Days Gone hardly differentiates when knives come out. Thankfully, Easy Rider came first.
Outlaw doesn’t refer to lawlessness in biker context, but a means of individualization – social strays, some of whom do right with toy drives, communal protection, and charitable causes. St. John is a miserable, depressive ghoul who shuns all for the sake of himself. The ghoul who according to game rules cannot kill government agents (they wear unbreakable armor, so says a screen prompt) but freely uses a fireaxe to split skulls of people camped around his territory. The outlaw who puts his hands up when faced with authority, but is allowed to draw blood of others without provocation. Scratch the wartime, anti-government PTSD metaphor then.
Days Gone is a videogame about traveling western states on a vehicle celebrated for their guttural, loud engines, through territory controlled by sound-sensitive undead. It’s hollow, draining nonsense. Recalling thematic anxiety of the Bush war years or the crushing pressures of modern middle east conflict is asking too much. War, its bonds, and camaraderie anchor the culture Days Gone purports to represent. Like so many of this ilk, this narrative is instruction manual fodder, something not to be bothered with or think about except by a select few, but publishers don’t include paper manuals anymore. Few ever seek out digital ones either.
In short, Days Gone is a game about a bike that doesn’t make contextual sense, the aimless driver in the seat, zombies that exist to exist, and a world of beautiful nothingness.