It’s safe to say that I’m a horror fanatic. Whether it’s short stories or feature films, if the goal is to make me hesitate before turning off the lights at night, I have to check it out. For this reason, horror games have always been a passion of mine, as they mix two of my favorite hobbies into one package. However, although they can provide incredible experiences when given the proper amount of attention, poorly-crafted horror titles can end up being absolutely abhorrent.
Recently, I was provided with the opportunity to experience Zombie Studios’ Daylight, which did, admittedly, manage to get me a few times. I’d be lying if I said otherwise, but I can’t say for certain if that was because it offered something truly frightening, or if I had simply been shocked by brief departures from its tedium.
When you first plunge into the world of Daylight, you wake up as a young woman named Sarah who’s regaining consciousness inside of an abandoned hospital. Luckily, Sarah is a woman after my own heart, and has managed to keep her cell phone by her side. Her phone serves as your map and light into the darkness, as well as a portal for a creepy guy to make references to her past while sending her on the arduous task of running errands through haunted locations. Because… well, truth be told, I don’t know why. Nothing is really explained at the beginning, and you’re left to figure it all out on your own.
As Sarah, you’ll search through your prototypical horror environments to dig up clues on what happened in the game’s fictional small town. By reading memos, newspaper clippings, letters, and by looking at the occasional photograph, you’ll learn that the locals accused a group of young girls for bringing forth the “Dark Time,” and did everything in their power to stop it. People have traditionally done some pretty heinous things to keep demonic girls from bringing forth the end of the world, and this is no exception.
In each of the game’s four procedurally-generated areas, you’ll have to find a few specific remnants before a sigil will be released into the world. These are usually pinned to a wall or on a desk, but you’ll have to search through containers to find a few of them. Luckily, you can crack open a glow stick, which not only allots you more light, but also highlights searchable items.
As you collect more remnants the curse gets worse, increasing the probability of you running into a witch. Of course, the only defense you have in Daylight is being able to light flares which cause said witches to explode into flames in front of you. Truth be told, the witches are a high point in this game and Zombie Studios does a fantastic job of building up the tension with them. You’ll see your phone scramble for a second, maybe see a message pop up in the bottom corner of your screen reminding you that “They Will Consume You,” or maybe you’ll just hear the audio crackle a bit. Then again, these could be false alarms, but they’re enough to get you to sit up straight in your seat, not knowing if she’s lurking right behind you or around the corner.
Once you make your way to the sigil, you’ll have to find the exit and use it as a key, unlocking the ability to do it all over again in a new locale. To heighten the tension, you can no longer use your items while holding the sigil, turning this into a “run for your life” type of scenario. Unfortunately, I learned pretty quickly that it’s not too hard to simply sprint past any witches if you have a decent idea of where you’re going. It does destroy a bit of the suspense, though, when you can simply juke around them and dash for the exit.
Once that feeling of suspense is rattled, Daylight completely comes apart. Each of the four areas are literally the same thing: search for remnants, find a sigil, hit the exit, and avoid witches. It becomes more than a bit tedious once you know what you’re doing, as you end up just fumbling through the area for that one desk you haven’t searched yet.
What separates Daylight from the rest of the genre is also its greatest weakness. Its levels are procedurally-generated and essentially randomized, making sure that you’ll never see the exact same map twice. This sounds like an absolutely brilliant thing on paper, and I’ll be the first to admit that I was beyond stoked to see how it was going to play out. However, in practice, it just highlights many of the scripted sequences in the game. The first time I watched a wheelchair fly towards me before vanishing as it was about to connect was a great moment, but after seeing it a couple of times, it had completely lost its edge.
After I played through the game, I asked my girlfriend to give it a try. My thought process behind this was twofold: One, it would be awesome to get the impressions of someone who’s not traditionally a gamer, in order to see how well some of these mechanics work on someone less jaded, and two, it was going to be absolutely hilarious the first time she jumped out of her chair because I poked her. While I was definitely right on the second part (sorry about that…), I was ultimately left a bit disappointed that her play through felt identical to my own. Sure, she turned left when I turned right, but nothing of importance ever differed.
The game is littered with collectible remnants as well, serving to offer some insight on what’s happening around you. While they certainly were able to spark my interest, they did very little to actually keep it. Hinting that something went wrong with a patient but never giving me any closure on how or when felt pretty meaningless. Even at the end of the game when everything is supposedly revealed, I was left wanting. The potential for a great story is there, but it often felt like it was simply ignored.
As for the audio, there’s a duality that’s impressive in how disappointing it can be. The audio cues and background noise are masterful. Creaking floors, sounds from behind walls, gentle music that ramps up for no reason, it all combines to present a master class in horror audio. I honestly feel that I was more uncomfortable from what I heard than what I saw a good portion of the time.
However, on the polar opposite end of the spectrum, the voice acting is horrible. The voice actors themselves did a fine job (the creepy guy leading you through your journey is great), however, between him and Sarah essentially babbling about nothing, things became frustrating very quickly. Our faceless narrator makes comments that don’t even remotely fit at times, while Sarah seems to be capable of only four or five distinct thoughts, none of which are ever kept inside. After the hundredth time she muttered, “Is anybody out there?” it almost became comical.
Visually, this game is a waste of the Unreal Engine. The textures are often blurry and background objects are recycled ad nauseam. However, by the time you make your way outside, the visuals take a decidedly positive turn with the moon casting long shadows through trees. Of course, by that point you’ve completed three quarters of the game.
One of the most ingenious things Daylight does is offer a new level of Twitch.tv integration, the likes of which I had honestly never seen before. While you’ll still have to stream it through a separate program, the game accepts commands through chat, which allow your viewers to queue certain sounds. Unfortunately, it’s limited to just queuing up a few sounds, hammering down the idea that Daylight thinks random sounds alone can be enough to build a scare as opposed to implementing something more concrete. It’s not perfect, but it’s a bold step into a world that now has things like TwitchPlaysPokemon, and it’s honestly something I’ve wanted in a horror game for years. I really hope that if nothing else, this takes off and we see it in more titles.
Like I said, I won’t claim for a second that Daylight didn’t scare me in the three hours it took me to make my way through it. There were some genuinely great moments, such as when the witch appeared just for a split second in the corner of my eye, causing me to lose my shit, and some of the jump scares worked to perfection. The issue is that after you get past those jump scares and a few set pieces, you realize the rest of the game just isn’t that great. What could have been a fantastic title that had the potential to keep players up at night is, instead, a glorified Easter egg hunt located within a haunted house.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which was given to us for review purposes.
Daylight works great if you’re just looking for a few cheap scares, but if you’re itching for something more, you should look elsewhere.