Release Date: April 29, 2014Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4Developer: Zombie StudiosPublisher: Zombie Studios, AtlusGenre: Survival horror
In the first-person horror adventure Daylight from Zombie Studios, players are cast in the role as Sarah, a young woman who wakes up in a haunted and abandoned hospital with no recollection of how she even got there. You are guided along your journey by a distant and mysterious voice from your cell phone, as you search the shadows for clues and start to unravel a plot of evil rituals and witchcraft. Your tale begins in an abandoned hospital, before gradually moving to a prison, the sewers, and then finally the forest: all staple locations of the horror game genre today. And unfortunately, that sense of predictability isn’t the only thing that ends up feeling stale with this one.
You know how most horror games like to embellish their worlds with various collectable files or documents that help to fill in the backstory of what’s really going on? Well here in Daylight, collecting these documents is the primary mechanic of gameplay. The basic structure of each level goes as follows: find at least five or six of these documents called “remnants” (they are usually briefs notes or the occasional photo), bring the remnants to a designated symbol to acquire a special artifact called a Sigil, and then use the Sigil to open a magic barrier and continue on your way. Rinse and repeat, and then the game ends.
Sarah has two different actions to help her escape the hospital and continue on her document treasure hunt: using glow sticks to help illuminate interactive objects where some remnants might be hiding, and lighting flares to ward off incoming witches. The witches are the only enemy you’ll come across in the game, and although they’re scary in appearance, they burst into flames almost instantly at the sight of your flare. You’ll also have to pull the occasional lever or climb on top of a crate, instances of which happen so infrequently that you may as well call them the game’s set pieces.
One of the more unique aspects in Daylight is Sarah’s dependence on her cell phone as a flashlight, and essentially, her lifeline. This is a good choice in keeping with the game’s simplistic nature, and the screen displays a map that magically gets filled in as you go along. In fact, it actually makes me wish the developer tried to utilize the phone in a few other ways besides the light source, the map, and the compass, which I’ve seen used in a few gameplay videos, but never learned how to activate in my own playthrough. The light from your cell phone is so bright that it’s actually not even an issue when your stockpile of glow sticks and flares has run dry: I was always able to see just fine.
Sadly, the poor and repetitive graphics do little to craft a believable and frightening atmosphere. To be fair, Daylight did make me jump a few times, but all of the scares felt incredibly cheap, and not the result of a haunting atmosphere. Each scare is derived from the seemingly infinite number of witches that can pop up in front of you without any warning. It’s kind of like those internet videos where a picture of a crazy monkey pops up right at the end along with a loud noise. Yes it scares you, but it also makes you annoyed more than anything by the cheap lengths at which the maker went to get that rise out of you.
The sound effects don’t help matters all that much, either. You’ll have the expected banging on doors and low howls in the distance, but it’s Sarah’s own commentary that ends up being the biggest thing at fault here. Sarah has about three or four different dialogue options that she cycles through densely and incessantly, with weird choices of pausing by the actor like “Is anyone………there?” and “I can’t see anything!” and “I know someone’s there!” Well yeah Sarah, there are clearly witches there, remember?
The replay value of Daylight is almost nonexistent, even when taking into account its procedurally generated nature. The thing is, the game itself is so lifeless and devoid of any actual gameplay, that it’s incredibly hard to justify experiencing the adventure for a second time at all. The inherent randomized nature of the level designs also works against the atmosphere itself, as it’s easy to see when identical room builds have simply been copy-and-pasted into your path. I completed my first playthrough of the game in under an hour and a half with a good amount of exploration, and without dying once.
The game also suffers from a number of performance issues, even when running lower graphics options on a capable PC. Whenever a witch shows her face on screen and Sarah starts to take damage, the framerate takes a massive nosedive. When a big swarm of witches appeared at the very end of the game, Daylight crashed my computer entirely, forcing a cold restart. And at the end, I was even awarded achievements that I had not earned, like one for completing the game while only using a single flare. It’s all a real shame, especially considering that the game runs on the powerful Unreal Engine 4.
In terms of both a game’s atmospheric scare factor and enjoyable gameplay, Daylight is essentially a poor man’s Amnesia, and doesn’t even come close to the current king of the genre, Outlast. The game does have some good ideas going for it, but so much is lost in the actual execution that none of them even matter anymore: from repetitive environments, to mind-numbing item-collection, to nonexistent gameplay. At least the ride is a short one, and you’ll likely be done with it before you even take a hit to your cell phone’s battery bar.