Zombie Studios certainly didn’t make life easy on themselves. Coming off the heels of a genre re-ignited by games like, Outlast, Amnesia – and popular indie game Slender – Daylight had a lot to achieve if it wanted to be considered a great of its own. The right team was certainly put in place to accomplish that goal, with over 100 years of combined experience having churned out titles like F.E.A.R and F.E.A.R. 2, Condemned 2: Bloodshot, and so on.
Unfortunately, Zombie Studios missed out on a real opportunity for success with Daylight.
Playing as protagonist Sarah, I had no idea what was going on. Waking up in what could only at first be described as an abandoned hospital, I had just my cell phone and it’s light to guide me through the dilapidated halls. Quickly I realized the gravity of the situation – I was stuck, with nothing to tell me why I was there.
Then, a voice echoed from my phone.
Willed on by this mysterious man, I began searching for clues, with nothing but his voice and my footsteps echoing into the long, maze of hallways ahead. Paint peeled from the walls, lights fell from the ceiling, the place looked and felt genuinely creepy, and my play was initially fueled simply by the desire to get the hell out of wherever I was.
Moonlight screamed through boarded up windows and drew me to areas that I wouldn’t have normally gone to, eventually leading to the discovery of two new light sources, green glow sticks and bright red flares. It was made clear they were to be used to find clues, and fend off ‘shadows’, respectively.
Subtle differences like the green aura from the glow stick, to the red of the flare, made it abundantly clear the situations I’d be finding myself in. The atmosphere of it all compounded and communicated the goal of the game even more. I was scared. Despite my fear, there was, unfortunately, the occasional issue that removed me from the illusion, like excessively repetitive objects, minor clipping and texture distortion, all despite running at some of the highest settings. It was a rare occurrence, but severe enough to be distracting.
Despite the eerie vibes throughout, I was drawn, and required, to explore each and every crevice. Seeing what looked like people out of the corner of my eye, and shadows that drifted in the dense and musty air of the building, tension quickly began to build. Each step was a loud symbol of my imprisonment, but a necessity for escape.
A silence slowly grew that served to make the creak of a door or sharp breath from my character make an even bigger impact. No big budget soundtrack was going to make my predicament any more harrowing than it already was. A perfectly placed drawer slam, a shiver, footsteps in the distance, or voices directly behind me – I was going mad hearing things. Wearing headphones was the definitive way to experience the audio in this game, and gave the audio the full-effect it needed to make my heart race.
It wasn’t until later in the game that some sounds became an unwelcome disruption of the games’ slowly building narrative. Loud, piercing screams would frequent later levels, but in such a way that was more annoying than scary. I found myself at more than one point even state aloud to my monitor that I was aware of the spirits’ presence, and that I would appreciate if they could just make some quieter scary noises.
That being said, there were certainly times where I found myself saying other words to my monitor aloud. In one instance I repeated a certain four-letter word roughly 27 times. Daylight made it clear early on there was to be no build-up scares. These enemies weren’t in it for the long-game. They wanted you to crap your pants, and for you to do it right away. The issues with a shallow method such as that quickly revealed themselves, though.
Early on, a light would flicker, a box would get pushed over, an IV stand would slide out of an operating room, and it was all subtly terrifying. When I first encountered an enemy directly, they suddenly appeared behind me, and (after a what I’m sure was a minor heart attack) I backed away, sure of my impending doom due to my lack of flares. However, the spirit gave no chase, and I simply walked away.
Neither a novel or difficult experience, encountering an enemy was as simple as running away and breaking line of sight, or running directly at it until I touched it, at which point it disappeared. Although I jumped from my chair nearly every time an enemy came up to me, that quickly eroded from a frightened response, to one of simple surprise.
One of the strongest things Daylight has going for it despite some of the aforementioned flaws, is its procedural generation. Whether it was from dying, re-loading a level, or just starting a new game, items often moved around . Although the story, entrances and exits of each level, and major events never changed, simply changing locations of items and enemies made for a fairly good replay experience. That feature alone made me want to replay the game outside of this review’s play-through.
The only issue I took with replaying the game was the story. Obviously I knew the ending but I hoped for minor detail changes in dialogue, maybe a slight deviation from the sub-par voice acting of the man in my phone, or even a line or two difference here and there to liven up the narrative. Luckily for most players, you’ll be compelled to find every remnant you can in-game, leading to the unfolding of a fairly interesting story, although at times the information discovered was very unhinged and seemed out-of-order for no apparent reason.
The story culminated with little predictability and a bit of surprise, but unfortunately also very little impact. I felt disappointed and slightly confused upon completion, as Sarah’s back story had explained unfolded, but not in the context of solving the motivation for her plight.
Daylight is a solid, mostly polished game, but falls short in many categories. The story arch and game play never really find cohesion, which leads the game just to function on the bare minimum of scary noises and spirits. Zombie Studios can certainly take solace that the game accomplished its overall goal of being generally scary, as it often made me yearn for my happy place, but it was never consistent. Faults were painstakingly clear, often they were easily exploited, and overall led me to feel like I was simply completing a creepy maze rather than advancing a story. Plagued with frustrating implementation and vague explanation of their level system, particularly in the latter parts of the story, Daylight unfortunately became its own worst enemy. Complete with procedural generation, and integrated Twitch streaming the game carries longevity for any dedicated fan base that will be hard to compete with, I just don’t know how easy it will be to find that fan base.
Daylight is definitely worth it for any fan of horror games, but won’t be a mainstay in their collection.
This review based on the PC version of Daylight provided by Atlus.