Horror, like comedy, is extremely subjective. What will scare the poop out of one person will make another yawn and shrug out of boredom. Both horror and comedy are also two things that video games have a very hard time in implementing. The nature of player interaction in these two different modes of operation go against their designed and scripted nature. But while video games are starting to find their footing with comedic games like the Portal, Saints Rows and The Stanley Parable titles, horror games I believe still have a much longer way to go, which is a shame that you don’t see a lot of them anymore, especially big-budget horror experiences.
This very reason makes Daylight an exciting games to see arrive. Not only is it a new first-person horror game from a AAA game maker in Zombie Studios, but it also engages with modern design elements like procedural generated content to try and shake things up a bit. And perhaps this element could work in the horror genre, but would have to elsewhere, as Daylight is a very poor game.
Daylight begins with the player character Sarah waking up in an asylum with nothing but a cell phone on her. She has no memory of who she is, where she has come from or why she’s there. But once a mysterious voice calls her from the cellphone and sinister supernatural forces start to stalk her, Sarah has no choice but to move forward, hoping to escape the terror that threatens her.
While it does a good job of throwing you into the experience right away, Daylight’s actual story is one of the most painfully generic tales in any video game in recent memory. Almost every single horror movie plot point from Indian burial grounds, witches, asylums, mad scientists, and so on are thoroughly used and exploited in Daylight. All of which are told with a straight and uninterested face, with Daylight never playing with these concepts in any unique or entertaining ways, supported with weak and amateurish writing in both the character dialogue and in the written notes you’ll collect.
And you will have to collect these note to move the game forward. Daylight is heavily, heavily inspired by the groundbreaking horror game, Slender. Even so much as copying its exact structure where you have to collect a bunch of collectible notes in the environment before you can move forward. And the more notes you collect, the “scarier” the environment becomes, with an intensifying score and theoretically more terrifying forces chasing you.
The first problem with this is that the Daylight’s soundtrack is always pretty heavy-handed, screaming at seemingly full volume almost constantly, so any changes in the score goes unnoticed, And the single enemy type throughout the game that chases you, a pretty unoriginal looking witch, never changes or gains new powers, and is easily dismissed with a lit flare that you can pick-up in the environment. But all of this means that even when you travel to new environments like a sewer or a forest, you hear the same soundtrack and see the same enemy, while doing the same collecting notes thing over-and-over again, making the act of playing Daylight very, very repetitive.
Daylight does try and change things up, promising to be a procedural generated experience where every playthrough will have new levels and story notes to pick-up. This feels almost false, as the level block pieces it mixes around all feel the same, and having played through some levels multiple times and watching various playthroughs, nothing ever jumped out at me as different enough to take note of. And with the story being as painfully generic as it is already, I don’t see any appeal at all in seeing what other movie clichés that the story exploits. Not to mention that being how repetitive the singular mission objective is, playing through Daylight multiple times sounds more terrifying than the actual game itself.
There is some okay production values in Daylight, with decent voice acting, serviceable technical graphics and an atypical but effective sound design. It’s all horror sounds you’ve already heard before, creepy whispering and creaking wood and so on, but still does the bare minimum job of making me slightly uneasy. The visual design of the game is fairly plain with a boring art style, but is rarely offensively bad looking. What makes Daylight so disappointing visually is that Daylight is one of the first finished Unreal Engine 4 games out there, and if Daylight is anything to go by, Epic Games’ new engine is an incredibly unremarkable and unimpressive upgrade from Unreal Engine 3.
But I also ran into a ton of glitches and technical problems with Daylight that made it feel more like an Early Access game than a finished project. On the PC, the game crashed multiple times, requiring me to replay entire past levels over-and-over again, even when I seemingly got past to a new area before it crashed. When I exited the menu where you can view all of the notes you’ve collected, the main menu would remain in the middle of the screen during play, with no way to get rid of it apart from exiting the game. The game would also display keyboard prompts when I played the game with a 360 controller, which was constantly annoying. All of these were the big issues I frequently ran into, in addition to a ton of smaller issues like random framerate drops and graphics issues, which all combine together to make Daylight feel like a very, very unfinished product.
As I said before, horror and comedy are very subjective things, so there will be people out there who will find Daylight very scary indeed. But to me, Daylight always just felt like a bad joke with its miserable and generic story, repetitive and single-minded design, and myriad glitches and issues. It’s nice to see another horror game on the market, but not one which is so uninterested in moving the genre forward, instead seems to be more concerned with being stuck in the past philosophical spaces of other much better horror movies and games.
TWO OUT OF FIVE
(A bad game with an abundance of flaws which outweigh its positive aspects)