Game Review: Daylight [PS4/PC]
As you know, there has been a recent emergence of exploratory horror games. Games in which you can’t fight back, and have to either run or hide for your life. Not only is Amnesia and Outlast excellent examples of that, but they both try some great things in horror as well. Now, we can’t say Daylight doesn’t try, as it sure does. Unfortunately though, it tries a little too hard and forgets the essentials in horror while doing so.
The basic plot revolves around your character Sarah, as she tries to find fragments of her locations history in order to piece together information that details what exactly went on there, and what caused their downfall. However, of course, judging from experience, abandoned mental institutions, hospitals and sewers are not fun places to be alone, as not everything is as welcoming there.
The basic gameplay is very simple, too simple in fact, but with a little twist to it. For example in the hospital, you’ve got to find fragments which are basically notes and medical journals talking about anomalies and proceedings with one unruly and disturbing inmate, respectively. In these levels there are two key areas of importance, the key room and the exit to another part of the hospital. You basically need to find both these rooms, and can only use the exit once you have obtained the key from the key room. Each key is a different object that had come in contact with the disturbed inmate I was talking about before, stuff like scissors and a teddy bear. However, for the keys to even show up, you first need to find all the fragments from the different rooms.
The areas might seem overcrowded and confusingly designed at first, but the game helps you overcome that situation by placing a smart phone in your hand. The smart phone basically generates a map according to the surroundings you’ve discovered, and notes down key areas like the exit and the key room in the game. It not only helps you locate those two rooms once you’ve already found them, but also gives you an idea of what rooms you’ve already been in. Making it easier for you to find the fragments. You can also zoom in on the phone to get a clearer view of the map.
The fragments are either pinned to the wall somewhere or are hidden inside cabinets and drawers. If they are pinned against the wall somewhere, you will be able to see a strange symbol on them glowing, making it easier to locate them. If they are inside something though, it won’t be that easy as you’ll have to use your glow sticks in order to find interactive structures that emit a white light.
Now the game does have a challenging aspect though, and you can’t just wander around carelessly looking for fragments as there are ghosts involved. These ghosts, which are all lazy clones of each other mostly, tend to appear at several points throughout the game. They are definitely scary looking, but there isn’t much variety to them. Oh and they are not only there to scare you, but are also capable of hurting and killing you. Now because this game has no hiding mechanic for some reason, you have to light a flare each time a ghost gets close, to drive them away. Flares are consumables like the glow sticks and can be used whenever you’d like. You can find these items either in cabinets or drawers, or in bulk from some filled bags lying around. However, you can only carry a set number of each. So basically, a glow stick helps you locate items while a flare stick helps keep you from harm.
Moving on to horror, as I’ve said in the beginning the game has a unique twist to it. Most of the scares that happen, and the rooms or environment you’re in is procedurally generated. So, you will have a different map layout each time you play, with different scares happening. Unfortunately, this is the main reason the horror doesn’t work so well. You see, these scares are basically objects like phones that ominously ring or drawers that unexpectedly start ramming their compartments. These objects are randomly scattered around each level and activate when you get near them. It was definitely scary the first few times, but gets so insipidly boring by the tenth. Even the cloned ghosts start feeling boring after a while.
Effective horror in my opinion is a very delicate art to craft. It not only has to have a properly thought build up, but also has to feel authentic to its setting. It honestly doesn’t make sense for the drawers and small phone carrying tables to be sitting in the middle of a corridor somewhere. Seriously, what are the drawers even doing there? I understand that the phones might be scattered around the place for security reasons or convenience, especially considering the hospital was functional when the technology we’re comfortable with, didn’t exist. However, drawers? Also, most of the horror is built up on sound. So you will hear more than you see. Unfortunately, your brain needs a healthy dose of both in order to immerse you in the experience. After a while, I got bored of the sounds, and didn’t pay attention to them.
In that regards, the developer definitely could’ve put a bit more effort. The person who definitely seems to have done their job right though, is the writer. The notes and medical memos you find around the place are so authentically written that it’s creepy. Furthermore, they are interesting enough to get you to find more. The only tiny problem that I had was with some plot holes. Like for example, the inmate in one of the records had come into the possession of a sharp item, which seems to be a pair of scissors we acquire as a key for that particular level. My problem is, how exactly did she get that? In my opinion, these details can be more interesting than what events they perform, as for it to really sit with you, your brain has to register that as at least plausible, especially more so if horror is involved.
The selling point of the game, which is the procedurally generated levels and occurrences, is what sadly stands in the way of effective horror. You can’t just throw stuff everywhere, keying them to go off whenever the player is near, in hopes of scaring them. You need to build it up first, get the player a little tense before you can truly shake them, not shake them and then make them tense. One of the keys to all that is authenticity, as whatever you throw at them has to feel relevant to the situation they’re in. You can’t have a blood thirsty horse(which is damn scary) running at you in a hospital, or a ghost chasing you around the moon for no reason. You have to make sure the player knows what is happening, otherwise the brain will start noting down the events in the weird category rather than scary.
Lastly, I just want to talk about how bad the PC version of the game is. I understand that UE4 is an absolutely new engine, one that requires a lot of work. However, they really needed to find a better way to optimize it. Why have the lower settings make your game look like an unclear mess? But instead, have them remove the taxing effects that don’t make the game look so muddy if they’re missing. You can thank the resolution up-scaling settings for this. Basically, it is an extremely taxing option that makes the game look really messy if it is not on one of the higher of two settings.
I mean, I understand what it is supposed to do, but you can’t just make the game look unplayable in order to have it run for different rigs, you have to find a better way, especially if it looks bad at even 1080p. Just look at the image above. Also, the cloth special effects make the game take a looong time to load, and don’t add much in my opinion. Oh and Fraps doesn’t even work properly with this game, it even made it crash my computer, forcing a manual reboot. I really think I may have enjoyed the game a lot more if it ran properly at least.
Basically put, the scares don’t line up with the creepy nature of the story, and the procedurally generation mechanic is lazy in the way it’s implemented, providing for an unauthentic experience. In fact, there isn’t even much variety in the game, and you are forced to do tasks which quickly become monotonous. There is no hiding or ducking behind cover, just the flares. If that isn’t enough, some PC players might not even get a playable version, due to some weird optimization techniques. While Daylight does have its fair share of scares, it also rather feels much like a missed opportunity too…which is a shame.