Daymare 1998 belongs to a sub group of games that has become quite popular in the last couple of years – those of nostalgic throw backs. Games that ‘take a stance’, so to speak, on modern design by trying to emulate titles of old to provide an experience people consider to have disappeared from modern games. Be those platformers like Yooka-Laylee, an actual remake of Resident Evil 2, or the whole sleuth of Doom style shooters you can buy on PC. It’s not a terrible trend and comes from more than just nostalgia (though this certainly helps), as the simplicity of older titles inspires the developers to try and focus on crucial gameplay – the idea of removing over-complexity to focus on the pure fun of the game – and also there’s a certain challenge to some of these classics that contrasts starkly with modern games’ tendency towards hand-holding and attempting to appeal to all. Daymare 1998 takes its inspiration from the survival horrors of the late 90s, more specifically Resident Evil, and this is apparent in a number of ways – from the obvious inclusion of Zombies and Bio warfare, to item management and puzzle solving. But does it actually work for Daymare? In some ways it utilises this concept effectively, informing us of a style of gameplay that some of us are missing, but in others, and like some of its peers (I’m looking at Yooka-Laylee), it also reminds us that some things are best left in the past.

Daymare begins with you in the boots of a special operative being flown in to a facility to deal with a crisis. We soon find out that this crisis is an outbreak of zombies. Your team is tasked with cleaning up the place and securing some vital ‘cargo’, which you do ruthlessly and (boldly for the game) gladly, as your team is also instructed to dispose of any survivors which they do with sociopathic indifference. Things promptly take a turn and, without going into too much detail, you end up crash landing during your helicopter extraction. From this point we then inhabit another character, a forest ranger who sees the helicopter fly overhead before crashing. While not a soldier, he quickly becomes embroiled in this conspiracy as the town he is on the fringe of becomes transformed into a zombie/monster haven and he tragically loses his wife. The story flits between the surviving special operatives and the forest ranger, showing how they progress through and pursue an escape from the infested town.

The gameplay will be familiar to anyone who’s played Resident Evil 4. While this game claims to take more inspiration from the earlier survival horror titles, there’s no getting away from the over the shoulder camera and deliberate movements that were used to such effect in Leon Kennedy’s best outing. You move through the linear levels, keeping an eye out for the limited resources, and taking on both slow moving zombies and larger (sometimes faster) mutated creatures. Combat requires precision, even with the shotgun, and with low stocks of ammo it is important to make each shot count. Thankfully, the game provides both a melee option for when enemies get too close, as well as the ability to run backwards – preventing awkward turning when you want to create a little bit of distance between you and the enemy.

There are only a few different weapons on offer – these being the handgun, submachine gun, shotgun, revolver and magnum – but there are some additional ammo types that, while providing no visual or audible difference, do noticeably more damage. There’s unfortunately a lack of enemy variety, with the zombies being your main foe – you will frequently encounter the same character models – and there only being 3 (excluding the few boss encounters) mutant creatures that rarely show up. Thankfully the level variation is a bit more significant, and Daymare 1998 actually provides a decent contrast of environments, albeit in the same gloomy brown aesthetic. From secret facilities to streets and forests, our cast of characters take us throughout the town and its surroundings, and it makes for a more overall interesting experience getting to experience the outbreak from its source and seeing the impact it’s had on everything around it.

The gunplay is relatively simple and encounters are not challenging beyond the occasions when a ‘conveniently placed’ enemy grabs you from behind a corner, or when a tougher enemy comes at you when you’re low on ammo, but overall it’s not unenjoyable. Unlike old Resident Evil games, Daymare 1998 didn’t stress me out in combat on its normal (easy) difficulty (there is a standard easy difficulty and then a hard difficulty), but on the flip side of that the combat was also fairly uninteresting. You have a breakaway mechanic when grabbed by an enemy, which involves hammering a key, and you can utilise and craft (combine from items) stamina, health and accuracy serums for when you need them (I never needed the stamina or accuracy serums). The gun sounds and impact on enemies is reasonably well done though, and using the more powerful weapons packs a satisfying punch.

The next facet of its gameplay will also be familiar with its selection of testing puzzles. These take the form of items based and environmental puzzles. At its simplest you may be charged with finding a code in the environment, or an item to use, but there’s also brain teasers and good old fashioned riddling. Being asked to answer a set of questions to unlock a computer, for example, requires you to examine a selection of paintings of Greek Gods, then enter the answers using a combination of Greek letters. Being entirely frank, this is a great idea for a puzzle – very creative and interesting – but also a tad unfair as left totally unexplained and unaided in translating the Greek characters. Thankfully the majority of the puzzles are not this difficult, but there are definitely a few instances where the game could have offered a bit more of a helping hand.

This is an instance where I start to wonder if it was worth trying to revisit those nostalgic sensibilities. There are a few parts of the game that feel poorly explained or contain puzzles a little too stressful for what they’re worth. Puzzles don’t have to be easy, but if your brain isn’t wired in just the right way for some of the more complex conundrums, they can seem utterly indecipherable. As I said, thankfully there’s not too many of them like this, but when they do come around I feel they hamper the game’s pacing.

Speaking of which, the game’s narrative and flow from chapter to chapter is smooth and generally keeps you in the action throughout. It took me around 11 hours to reach the final section, and looking back on it, during that time you cover quite a lot of ground moving between characters and through some fairly sizeable levels. It’s a positive attribute as it means the game doesn’t give you a chance to become bored, while also, perhaps due to its simple story, not feeling rushed.

But having said this, where the game doesn’t impressive with regards to the narrative is in its presentation and delivery. I won’t fault the game too much for not being pretty, after all it isn’t exactly expensive, but the voice acting is terrible from start to finish. It’s cringe worthy to listen to, and the writing of the dialogue doesn’t help the situation either. You could perhaps make an argument for this providing some kind of ironic B movie quality, but I wouldn’t be convinced – I didn’t find it amusing, and in fact it takes away from the game’s gloomy atmosphere.

Another trait of its retro influences is in item management. The concept is essentially another puzzle in itself – managing your inventory and the environment to get around it in a particular order, dealing with enemies with limited resources and judging what to take and what to leave behind. Daymare, however, doesn’t feel like it suits this mechanic. It works in some ways such as with ammunition, having this restricted creates a challenge and prevents you from “stocking up”, but the way the levels are designed there really isn’t much strategy involved beyond this. Aside from a couple of instances, you don’t have to worry about carrying puzzle items around with you, and so effectively all the item management forces you to do is pick what resources you prefer. For example, I found no use for the accuracy or stamina serums, and so when I realised this, would either ignore them in order to pick up some ammo or health, or store them in the convenient drop off points to never be looked at again. It’s not an obnoxious feature in any way, but it does feel unnecessary and as a result adds nothing to the game.

Daymare is also a little rough technically speaking. I didn’t experience any crashes, but minor frustrations such as not being able to shoot an enemy that’s too close (your gun barrel poking out the other side of them) and being a little clunky in its movement and hud/menu management made the experience more frustrating than it should have been. And of course one final bug encountered at the very end of the game that actually prevented me from completing it. For whatever reason the boss encounter at the game’s conclusion was impossible for me to get away from – requiring the player to open doors and flee while it maliciously strides towards them, the boss in my game charged instead of walking, not allowing enough time to open the doors. I checked this against footage from other players and it is definitely a problem with the game, and unfortunately something that wasn’t solved by simply reloading an earlier save.

Honestly, this is the main reason why I didn’t give Daymare 1998 an above average score, which you can take as a positive in a way, as this was clearly a unique issue and otherwise the game is at worst serviceable and at best intriguing. It is indicative of slightly shoddy design, however for creating an atmosphere like that of its inspirations I think the game does a solid job. The notes and audio logs left around the environments reveal a story with a deep conspiracy, and actually I think the game had the potential to do a bit more with what it had. But it didn’t, and much like with the gameplay, while decent enough, it’s not really anything special. I think there’s a section of people out there who might really like Daymare 1998 if they restrain their enthusiasm to experience a modern take on the late 90s survival horrors, but personally I found it disappointing and unexceptional.

You can read our console review of Daymare: 1998 here.