Days Gone received one of the lowest scores among Sony-exclusive, triple-A singleplayer videogames, „ending” the recent success streak of critical acclaim towards Playstation Only games. Having finished it, I will not, by any means, agree with many arguments, some of them amusing, that were brought up in most of the third-party journalist outlets.
The game is great and so is its production, despite being the first project of this scale by Bend Studio. I agree, as many fans have said by voicing their opinions or making the game Player’s Choice for April, that there is a lot of heart put in that project. However, beginning this review, I want to be honest and say that had not been expecting such a nice surprise. I had not been expecting the music to be the way it is, either.
The entirety of the score works in Days Gone as a major support for the game’s central theme of struggling to find hope in a broken world (noticeably, America).
The composer for Days Gone is Nathan Whitehead, previously known for the Purge movies and additional music in Gears of War and Bioshock series. When I first heard the score and found out I was the one to review it, I was…surprised. I’d seen some footage of Days Gone and seeing how it was advertised previously, I was expecting music that is neither lyrical and orchestral nor so positive (because of the composer and the genre). It is not somber, bleak or nihilistic at all, which is why I was afraid for the game itself, not really seeing how it would work. In the end, it works and I think Days Gone is indeed music about „tenacity of the human spirit and the value of relationship”, even though I have some personal gripes with it.
Days Gone opens the soundtrack as the main theme of the game, hinting at a journey motivated by hope and love in quite elevated tones, considering the genre. Focusing on the strings with a cello on front, it repeats the main phrase, adding more boom to it. Even though I consider it a bit too overdone for my taste, especially on the ‘epic’ feel in the middle part, it’s a nice track, especially in the second half where the theme shines played gently by strings only. It certainly is a main theme and I found myself repeating it in my head a lot of times.
We’ve All Done Things (and Light One Candle later)are one theme of the Lost Lake subplot, adding some guitars and percussion that play alongside another lyrical, catchy and positive melody for strings, which is not as grand and overblown as the main theme’s orchestration, handling things slowly and with restraint. These two themes are the highlights of the score, presenting hope for humanity, what it represents and what it can be despite awful circumstances. As such, I think of Lost Lake music as one of the most memorable videogame themes in recent memory, being the first since Beyond Two Souls that I actually adore.
Regardless of some moments when music was ramping up the tone a bit too much in some scenes (What Did You Do?) or gameplay sequences, the music presents the game’s themes well, maintaining the hopeful mood throughout darker parts of Days Gone and keeping my emotional interest despite a few shortcomings in the story (or lip-sync problems). These are, however, easily made up for by a couple of songs that are given the spotlight during riding sequences. Soldier’s Eyes is my personal favourite and it plays in this one moment of the story when having some time to reflect on things with a bit melancholic music is all you need. I also adored random instances when music (pieces for percussion and guitar) would kick in as I was driving in the sunrise, compellingly selling me the idea of freedom that comes with being a biker such as Deacon.
Whitehead is putting more emphasis on melody and illustrating character’s motivations instead of their political views and heritage, not delving into stereotypes. It’s very human in that regard.
Of course, you will get American vibes in some of the tracks, like the ones that you may have recently heard in Far Cry 5. Those appear quite often in tracks like: I Remember, You’re Safe Now, Sarah’s Theme, We’ve All Done Things. Speaking of Sarah’s music (Sarah’s Theme and I Remember), despite them being in line with the rest of the tracks stylistically, I found them a bit too cheesy in some moments, not really hooking me up to the story that much. However, this Americana stylization blends itself organically with the rest of more conventional elements of the score, not delving into empty efforts of using instruments like banjo for the sake of sounding stereotypically American. No, Whitehead’s score is a bit „reserved” instrumentally (strings, drums, guitars), putting more emphasis on melody and illustrating character’s motivations instead of their political views and heritage. It’s very human in that regard.
Freakshow is where Whitehead shows some teeth and his experience in the horror-thriller genre. Spooky electronics, nervous beeping and steadily beating rhythm is what Freakers’ music is, and it is a highlight when it comes to sound design of this score. Despite the track remaining slow and strings coming in for a few seconds from time to time, it finally lets all this suspense out and turns into pure macabre, playing with aggressive strings. Truth be told, I am spooked by it, but we must give it to the developers that they managed to make the Hordes work.
There is nothing to be not scared about when it comes to Hordes and Whitehead ramps it up to horror level with this piece. He does so similarly in The Rager Bear, accentuating the rhythm and beat, which is how I prefer action music in videogames that require quick thinking. The tracks are menacing and oppressive, some sounds are horrific, and even though we hear them a lot of times, they are catchy and simple enough to not bore you after tenth or so listen.
Days Gone soundtrack is a success in my eyes. Even though the album slows down a bit and becomes less interesting as it goes, the entirety of the score works in Days Gone as a major support for the game’s central theme of struggling to find hope in a broken world (noticeably, America!). A lot of the music is calming, lyrical and sentimental, not giving in to the hopelessness and violence, trying to see the positives and focusing what „can be” instead of „what was”. Even though I dislike a few parts of this score, I enjoy its limited approach to action music, lack of filler, instrumentation and convention that — despite my general aversion to „big and emotional” music — works and fleshes out the emotion in some scenes without being too optimistic, cheesy or overdone (with a few exceptions for my taste). Days Gone, contrary to others, has the courage to see some hope in us in bad times. Musically and directionally, that idea was executed well.
Win a Days Gone Original Soundtrack!
Describe in a few words your favourite track from Days Gone. The most interesting comments will be rewarded with the game’s soundtrack on CD. We await your comments until 20th August. The rewards are sponsored by Sony Classical. The winners will be anounced on 26th August.