Days Gone #Review addendum

It turns out that the game has three of what I’m going to call “epilogue” missions; the interweb is fond of calling them secret endings but they just give them to you as regular missions if you keep playing, so it’s not like you can miss them so long as you don’t quit after the credits. (Which I wouldn’t blame you for, for the record.) Two of them are just nice character bits, but the third was 1) unexpected enough and 2) genuinely jarring and scary enough that I’m awarding the entire game an extra (and meaningless) half point to its score.

Then again, if you wait until after the credits for your most original and disturbing moment, maybe that’s a sign that the game really is the perfect 7.0 game, because a fair number of even the folks who finish the game won’t see this.

At any rate, the scene I’m talking about begins just after the 3:00 mark on this video. It probably won’t have the impact it should if you haven’t played through the game but still. Even if you don’t know what’s happened in the game, if nothing else you’ll get a good idea of why I praised the facial animation by watching this.

#REVIEW: Days Gone (PS4)

After spending a couple of months playing almost nothing but Sekiro, and hitting yet another boss– the very last one I have to beat– and getting stuck for several days again, I decided that I needed to take a break and go back for the last few achievements later. Enter Days Gone, a game I’d been aware of for months and months but which poor reviews (and, well, Sekiro) had kept me from picking up. I found it $20 off and off to the races.

And, well. I beat it last night– or at least the credits rolled, although there’s still some stuff to do– so I might as well talk about it a little bit. As it turns out, Days Gone is damn near the Platonic ideal of the 7/10 game– a game that has enough good things about it that I beat it, but enough obnoxious things about it that I’m complaining about something almost the entire time I’m playing it.

Interestingly, this means I have more to say about it than I might have had I really enjoyed it, because the ways this game fails are as fascinating as they are ridiculous. So I may rattle on for a bit. We’ll see.

Let’s start with the good stuff– the game’s basic feedback loop (go here, shoot something, rinse, repeat) is fun. There’s a decent variety of weapons and craftable items, and the game does a pretty good job of making everything useful in some scenario or another. Toward the end of the game, where you’re taking on huge hordes of what the game calls Freaks and everyone else on Earth calls zombies, there’s a great frenetic poetry to the way you have to set traps, use the environment to your advantage, and know when to best use everything in your inventory. The largest hordes have 450+ zombies in them. Taking them all out is awesome.

Okay, so, it’s a zombie game, right? What else is it? Well, really, not much, except for the inevitable post-apocalyptic Maybe The Humans Are The Real Problem shit. You shoot an equal number of people as you do zombies, if not more, although you don’t see the hordes and people tend to shoot back rather than just chase you forever. You play as the rather extravagantly named Deacon St. John, a biker. Now that you know he is a biker and that he is the protagonist of a video game you know his entire personality. At the very beginning of the game, you see St. John put his injured wife onto a helicopter, give her a ring, and tell her that he wants it back. The game then jumps ahead two years; the apocalypse has apocalypsed and Deacon never found his wife. Insofar as the game has a plot, it’s “Deacon tries to find his wife.” It’s one of those games where you know from the jump that there’s no way they won’t be reunited by the end; it doesn’t even count as a spoiler to me because it’s so obvious from literally the first few minutes of the game.

An interesting thing: the zombies may as well be aliens. There’s constant talk about a virus, but at no point during the game do any of the characters display even the slightest concern about becoming a zombie or contracting the virus. There’s no concern about blood, or being eaten, or being bitten, or really anything at all, and you never come close to that zombie apocalypse trope where you tearfully shoot someone in the head to keep them from turning. There are a couple of points where people burn bodies to “keep the freaks from getting them,” but there’s not a moment of concern about anyone catching the virus, ever. It’s weird. There’s a brief scene near the end where (this also will not surprise you) Deacon’s wife figures out that her company had something to do with the apocalypse starting, but it’s so underwritten that it’s barely worth taking seriously. How Everything Started gets barely any attention at all.

The game also has a major problem with Idiot Plot, where characters keep secrets from each other for no particular reason other than that the writers thought they should, and it never makes any damn sense. For example, this is a decent look at Deacon’s neck:

He has his wife’s name, Sarah, on one side of his neck, and the word Forever on the other side of his neck. Late in the game there will be a scene where Deacon joins a militia camp where he believes he might find his wife. He gets into a conversation with a character about his previous life and they discuss his wife. The other character asks him her name.

“Beth,” he says, after transparently thinking about it for a moment.

Dude you have the phrase “Sarah Forever” tattooed on your fucking neck.

Not only will no one ever mention this to him, once he finds Sarah, neither of them tell anyone they’re married, he continues the “Beth” thing, and the fact that her first name is Sarah and they are conspicuously associating a lot never comes up. Plus, the guy he’s talking to in the first conversation is wearing the ring that he gave Sarah, a fact that he does mention to him once but which does not receive anywhere near the follow-up that you think it might.

A compliment: the game has amazing facial animation, and watching Deacon and Sarah in particular have conversations is incredible. The voice acting is pretty good except when it isn’t– I’ll get to this in a bit– and while the load screens before the copious cutscenes are obnoxious the direction, for lack of a better word, is generally pretty compelling. The score and the sound effects are quite well-done as well. Again, I’m complaining, but I did put 30+ hours into this thing before I beat it, and chances are there’s still gonna be a few more hours before I get tired of killing hordes.

(Also, and I’ve never said this about a video game before, and I wouldn’t even mention it had the game not commented on it, but … Sarah has an amazing ass. Like, there are a couple of cutscenes where you have to walk behind her for a while. They put some work into animating this woman’s posterior. Forgive me; it needed to be said.)

Let’s see, what else? I mentioned the voice acting. If anything, the game’s biggest gameplay weakness is that damn near every mission boils down to “Go here, and kill everything that moves.” Every mission. Sometimes you’re killing Freaks and sometimes you’re killing people, but it’s every mission. Now, I play lots of video games, and I’m used to the notion that the main character in every game is going to have killed thousands of people by the time the game is over. Days Gone does this thing with Deacon, though, where by about the 1/3 point of the game I really felt like someone ought to have sat him down and had him retire to gardening for the rest of his life.

Deacon is really really angry, guys, and he really likes murder. The shit that he mutters to himself while he clears out an ambush camp or a Ripper enclave is fucking creepy, and I’ve never played a game where I so fervently felt like the main character needed serious psychological intervention. He talks about murder so much, while murdering, that it just keeps driving it home to you that, most of the time, these are people he’s killing, and it creates this weird sort of guilt about all the killing you’re doing. Yeah, yeah, I know, just a video game, but … man, this guy really likes murder. And not in a fun slapsticky sort of way.

(I spend five minutes trying to find an appropriate YouTube video, and fail, but check this out.)

Also, you spend far too much time having to listen to far-right political nut job bullshit than I want to have to do in something I paid for. Way, way too much time.

Anyway. I can’t give this an unqualified recommendation, but once it’s down to $19.99? Grab it if you’ve got a hole in your gaming schedule you want to fill.

A couple of reviewlets

I took a shower after getting up this morning, as I do every day before work, and I had a coughing fit after my shower, as also happens damn near every day. I don’t know why this happens, but it’s been a feature of my life since college: finish shower, coughing fit.

The coughing fit going on for so long that I puke was new, though. As I have A Rule about these things, I quickly amended my half day off because of Ongoing Medical Disaster to a full day, took the boy to school, hoping that no further esophageal eruptions would occur, and took a nap. Then I got back up, finished reading a book, and beat a video game. Then I puked again, right after beating the video game.

It was some kind of day, I’ll tell you what.

I have read one Sam Sykes book in the past. Well, started. His The City Stained Red bounced off of me hard, in the sort of way that leaves you suspecting you’re being unfair to the book somehow, but I like him enough on Twitter to be willing to give him a second chance, and man, am I glad I did, because Seven Blades in Black is a monstrously good book despite the terrible, Monty-Python-esque cover. It’s nearly 700 pages long and I blew through it in about three days because I didn’t want to put it down– and right up to the last 100 pages I was pretty convinced I was reading what would eventually become my favorite book of the year.

Unfortunately, the book could probably stand to be about a hundred pages shorter, and this may be a consequence of having read it so fast, but a number of its tropes started feeling really damn repetitive toward the end and it started to wear on me a tiny bit. This still leaves it good enough that it’s a solid candidate for the end-of-year list, but I liked the first 5/6 more than I did the end. This is gritty, violent, profane fantasy literature that somehow manages to be high-magic and low fantasy at the same time, not a combination that I see all that often (or would have thought possible before reading this) and the most amazing thing about it is that Sykes makes it feel so easy. I don’t know his process at all, but this feels like it was written in seven or eight ten-hour bursts over the course of seven or eight days, and in case it’s not clear I mean that as a compliment. For all I know, he agonized over it for a really long time, but on the page it just feels … I dunno, I don’t want to repeat “easy” again but the whole thing just comes off as really organic somehow, like it wrote itself.

And I love Sal the Cacophony, even if she looks ridiculous on the cover. Check the book out.


I finally finally finally finally finally finally finally fucking beat Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice today, a game I started playing approximately six years ago, and no shadows die at any point in the game and in fact the word “shadow” is never uttered once anywhere by anyone and it’s the worst subtitle in the history of video games but that’s okay because Sekiro might be my favorite game ever right now. That said there are four endings and I just got one of them, and the one I got involved beating a different final boss than the other three do, so … I’ve got some more fucking work to do, because I’m getting every damn trophy this game has to offer and no one and nothing is going to stop me.

You should buy this game and you should dedicate your life to getting good at it because it is insanely Goddamned difficult and it will break you down and make you cry and force you to play on its terms no matter what you want to do. And you will do it anyway because the game is just that fuckin’ good. 15/10 would cry again. Probably will tonight, as a matter of fact, because I have two active save files on two different last bosses and I only beat one of them today. Time to go back to the other one.

I figure it’ll take another week, minimum.

In which I brag about meaningless things

This motherfucker right here …

I’ve mentioned I’m playing through Dark Souls 3 again. This was my third playthrough. The first one, I hit a wall and had to stop playing because I couldn’t come even close to beating any of the game that was left. The second was as a strength-focused build and, while I beat the game, there was still one boss I couldn’t come close to killing no matter how hard I tried. He was optional, though, so I could just skip fighting him and still beat the game.

I was playing as a sorcerer for this run, for the first time. Playing as a sorcerer in Dark Souls 3 is kinda strange. You’re frankly just not that tough for most of the game until all the sudden at the very end you turn into a monster. My wife went to bed early last night, and I’d gotten to the point where I had three bosses left to beat the game– Lorian & Lothric, who I’d beaten once with the strength build, the final boss (ditto) and the fucking bullshit-ass Nameless King up there and his bullshit-ass dragon that he rides in on that you have to kill first. I had never beaten the Nameless King. Never even really come close. I told my wife I was gonna take a couple of stabs at the last couple of bosses and then come to bed, hoping that I’d get through one of them in half an hour or so and then make a sensible decision.

I beat Lorian & Lothric on my second try, and frankly I only lost to them the first time because I got overconfident and sloppy, and Dark Souls is a series where the most basic enemy in the game will demolish you if you stop paying attention for a minute. It took over an hour of trying on my last build to get through them and I still felt like I’d gotten kinda lucky at the end there.

“Screw it,” I thought, “I’ve been playing for less than ten minutes and I’m still not ready for bed.” (In my defense, it was barely nine– I wasn’t kidding when I said Bek had gone to bed early.) “I’m gonna give the King a try.” Now, this was dangerous– I know what I’m like, and it was entirely possible that I was sentencing myself to a night where I was still up at Goddamned midnight frustrated and tired and still losing to this annoying-ass boss and his annoying-ass dragon over and over again. Because, again, I’ve never beaten this bastard.

And then I demolished his ass– over half my health reserves left– on the first try. And everyone else in the house was in bed, so the proper response to an achievement of this magnitude– tearing my pants off and running around the house yelling swear words while waving said pants over my head– seemed inappropriate. So I just sat there in mild disbelief for a moment, thought “Ah, fuck it,” and went and beat the game. Which also took two tries, but mostly because the last boss does something halfway through the fight that I’d forgotten about and I got way too close and he wasted me.

So, yeah. If you’re a Dark Souls fan? Try a sorcerer build. It won’t come together for a while, but when it finally does? Holy shit.

SPIDER-MAN PS4: Final verdict

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I am, in general, very skeptical of “give it a chance, it gets good later on” types of arguments for anything I had to spend $60 to get.  For $60 you need to be fun in five minutes and you need to stay fun for however long your game ends up being, and I’d rather have a lean, entertaining 30-hour game than a 100-hour game filled with … well, filler.

I’m nonetheless very, very glad I stuck this one out– I just beat it half an hour or so ago, although I’ve left a number of the mop-up tasks for later.  I may or may not get back to them.

But: forget the game for a moment.  Spider-Man PS4 is one of the best Spider-Man stories I have ever encountered, in any medium.  Comics, movies, whatever.  And even that, as I said in the piece from earlier today, takes a good long time to get rolling.  But once it does … wow.  I was in tears during the final act.  I’m not gonna bullshit around.  I’m a grown-ass man and a video game just made me cry because the story was that good and they get this character that thoroughly.  Fucking tears.

And then, the three movie-style stingers after the credits?

*kisses fingers*

Can’t wait for the sequel.  And if they put the same people in charge of writing it, I’m not gonna have shit to say about the gameplay.   Because with a story this good, I’ll chase fucking pigeons all day if I have to.