The horror genre of video games has come a long way since the days of The 7th Guest, Resident Evil, and the infamous Night Trap. While those titles were scary for their time, nowadays Sean Connery’s outfit in Zardoz is more terrifying.
The fact is, people like to be scared, and while a horror movie can elicit shrieks, the medium upping the fear ante today is video games. Daylight, by Zombie Studios (Blacklight) and Atlus (Catherine) is the latest attempt at interactive terror. Your protagonist, Sarah, wakes up in an abandoned hospitial/mental ward with only her cell phone to provide both light and company…at least until the ghosts arrive. Will you get out alive? Will you solve the mystery of the maze? Will you piss your pants while playing? Will it outsell and out scare Outlast? Let’s find out.
1. How Many Abandoned Hospitals/Asylums Are There?
As Sarah wakes up in the lobby of the hospital, suffering from Swiss-cheesed memory and packing nothing but a smart phone, you’ll likely get a sense of d?j? vu. If you’re a fan of the genre and feel like you’ve been stuck in a place like this before, it’s because you have…multiple times.
We get it. Asylums and hospitals are scary places. Abandoned ones even more so. The idea of taking a bunch of crazy people and locking them up together seems absolutely ludicrous. Add to that some of the barbaric treatments dispensed in even more recent times, and the formula is perfect spooky location for your game, except for the fact that so many have used it before. As effective a location as it is for Daylight, it feels like there was some effort missing in the process. Why not an abandoned boarding school where children were experimented on? How about a foster home run by a twisted psychologist? There are just so many other places that could have been used instead of falling into the habit of clich?.
2. There’s Easy Mode, and Then There’s Daylight
Survival horror games, particularly ones in which combat is limited to running, hiding, or getting your ass kicked, generally rely on the gamer having to explore and discover secrets and solutions to puzzles. Some games make this relatively simple, some are facepalmingly difficult, but Daylight is almost frustratingly easy.
The two primary items you will find in the game are glow sticks and flares. Flares are your only defensive weapon in the game, and defeating an attacking ghost is as simple as lighting the flare. There’s no need to throw or engage in fiery melee combat; lighting the flare kills any malevolence in its rather generous range. The trick is hitting the right button while trying not to shit yourself.
Glow sticks, on the other hand, aside from providing a green-tinged light source, also show you exactly where everything is hidden. Can’t find an object in a room? Just crack open a glow stick and the object playing hide and seek will start glowing with a strange, maze like pattern. Both the flares and glow sticks are limited; however, you can just backtrack to the beginning of the current level to replenish your glow stick supply from a seemingly TARDIS-like backpack. While flares are slightly harder to find, flare boxes occasionally found on walls also seem to have trans-dimensional properties.
Even getting lost isn’t so much a problem, as your ever-present smart phone has an automatic mapping app that draws a map as you walk. If that weren’t enough, for some strange reason your footsteps leave ghostly prints on the ground, visible by glow stick for a short time. This helps to prevent you from backtracking, but has the inadvertent side effect of scaring the piss out of you the first time you see it, and was therefore responsible for my first change of underwear only minutes into the game. The end result of the simplistic gameplay is a game that my five year-old could successfully complete in a matter of hours, if it wouldn’t cause him to be the third occupant of my bed for the next month.
3. Sarah is Annoying and Dated…Like the Plot
While I can’t imagine someone in a situation similar to hers would stay silent, Sarah’s dialogue is more of a distraction than anything compelling, filling potentially tension-inducing silences with almost emotionless expressions of her fear and confusion. Sarah will often, almost randomly cry out in fear, exclaiming “What the fuck was that?” when not a thing is going on, at least that the player can see. I would have preferred an almost Chell-like silent protagonist rather than the limited but oft-repeated phrases Sarah spouts off.
The nameless voice on the other side of the cell phone is much more effective. He often discloses clues to Sarah’s story, observations and the like, all dripping with malevolence. It’s that voice who is the true star of the game, aside from the ghosts.
Unfortunately, along with Sarah’s dialogue, the plot is also lacking. This writing debut from nerd culture icon Jessica Chobot certainly has geek cred, earned early on with a quote from Buckaroo Banzai, but the story quickly falls into the conventions used so many times in other horror games, just like the location. The Shyamalan-style twist at the end was a nice touch, but in a game trying to be unique in a world of competitors, there were missed opportunities for creativity.
4. Impressed by the Ghosts, Not by the Visuals
If there is any technical aspect of the game that is truly weak, it’s the visual. That’s not to say that it’s bad, but nothing particularly stands out, which is slightly disappointing since the game uses the brand new Unreal Engine 4. Granted, in the dimly lit world of Daylight, the challenge of having hyper-realistic graphics is daunting, but the game feels like it was being developed for last generation consoles, and was quickly ported over to Unreal 4 at the eleventh hour, all for the sake of being the first game released to use it.
5. Palpatine Needs Limitless Power; Your Games Shouldn’t
One of the benefits to console gaming is not needing to be on the ever present cycle of upgrades necessary for PC gamers to maintain. Granted, PC gaming still typically brings the better experience, but there is something blissfully convenient about being able to pop a disc into a console and not have the slightest bit of trepidation that the game won’t work.
The PC system requirements aren’t particularly beefy: a dual core 2.0 GHZ processor, 4 GB of RAM and a Direct X 11 video card. In reality, though, I can’t imagine playing the game without a PC exceeding those specs. It was rather choppy at times on my test PC which contained an i7 processor, 8 GB of RAM and a GTX 560 video card. Additionally, some initial bugs with lighting forced me to completely remove and reinstall Direct X 11 as well as my video drivers.
While the PS4 version of Daylight was not available for review at the time of this article, I fear that the performance with the lower powered console will be disappointing. Regardless, based on the visuals and the game play experience, it doesn’t feel like a game that required cutting-edge technology, and could have been easily been released on both the last and current generation consoles.
1. Never Has a Game Scared the Shit out of Me so Much
The first time I was ever scared by a video game was in 1994, playing The 7th Guest for the first time. It was late night in my dark bedroom at my parent’s home (I was 16 at the time), a pair of headphones cloaking the sound from the ears of the parents who thought I was asleep. Old Man Stauf was teasing me with a riddle which culminated with him screaming directly in my ears, sending me falling out of my chair, the headphone cord nearly pulling my PC off the desk, the noise informing my parents of my late night gaming session.
No game has quite frightened me like that since, until I started playing Daylight. No matter what criticisms I have for it, the fright factor exponentially increased the amount of fun I had while playing.
Unlike recent releases that try to capitalize on scares like Outlast and Amnesia, Daylight plays the subtle card to perfection. While the game follows a pattern of rather safe exploration sessions followed by more tense and dangerous item gathering portions, at no point is your sanity safe. Many times it lulls you into a false sense of calm just before scaring the piss out of you. Even when Daylight was at its most benign, goosebumps still covered my arms. I don’t want to spoil any surprises, but the scares in Daylight are more than worth the price of admission and the increased amount of laundry you’ll need to do.
2. The Music Is as Haunting as the Ghosts
In most survival horror games, when it comes to music, less is more. The clich?d high-pitched vibrato of violins usually signals your impending doom, while the rest of the action is filled with less than memorable tunes. The soundtrack in Daylight has a much more distinctive sound which sets it apart from its peers.
It can still be frightening, but it’s also hauntingly beautiful at times, particularly when exploring the history of the hospital in relative safety. Sure, some of the typical horror game music conventions are still there, but the music isn’t a distraction in the slightest, and adds both beauty and tension in perfectly balanced amounts.
3. Infinite Potential for Horror
At between two to three hours of game play in the story, it would be very easy to write off Daylight as a game not worth the investment. Thankfully, the developers have provisioned for this, making each game experience randomly generated and unique. In the two times I’ve completed the game, there were similarities, but for the most part, each experience had me exploring some different sections of the hospital, finding new clues, and exploring mazes which, while having the same aesthetic, were unique in layout. Over repeated plays, the frights seem to lose their potency, but I’m sure taking some time away from playing will bring back their strength when I decide to play again.
4. Voyeurism at its Finest
In recent months, the copyright demons have been raining down fire and brimstone on places like YouTube. Let’s Play videos, reviews and the like have been removed in record numbers with no end in sight. Atlus and Zombie Studios have a different take on sharing gameplay: they encourage it. It’s this encouragement that adds a whole new level of fun to Daylight.
Built into the game is support for Twitch.tv live game streaming. While it’s relatively simple these days to stream your gameplay, Daylight brings a whole new level to the game by giving your viewers the opportunity to interact with your game via the chat window. Someone typing “meow” in the chat window could cause a cat to shriek in-game. To add to the fun, no list of commands is being made available; observers will just have to figure out creative ways of screwing with broadcasters through trial and error. It’s hard to say what in-game events were caused by the game or by my stream viewers, but some of the sounds I heard included screams, whispers, cats, clanking cans, slamming doors, and even what sounded like a Metal Gear Solid alert noise…or maybe it was all in my head.
I’d be lying if I said Daylight was a great game, even if there are some excellent moments. The game itself, while borrowing from ancestors like Eternal Darkness, The 7th Guest and others, really isn’t particularly groundbreaking, aside from some of its unique features like Twitch interactivity and randomly generated maps. Thankfully the game doesn’t have to be groundbreaking to be a hell of a good time. What Daylight lacks in polish, writing and ingenuity, it makes up for with the experience. It’s very similar to Outlast, but the subtlety off the horror, the genuinely creepy mood of the game and the randomized levels make Daylight a slightly superior product., This truly is a terrifying game, and that fear-induced fun (and the randomly generated levels) is what will have me coming back for more, that is, once the rest of the extra laundry is finished.
Wednesday night join me for a live stream of the first hour of the game, 11pm EST at TwitchTV and yes, Twitch commands will be on.
Previously By Jason Helton