There has been a huge movement in the horror genre in the last couple years. It has become a bit of a chic genre especially among the online gaming community, and I’m sure we have all seen the videos featuring popular youtubers with the now infamous scare cams. Among this backdrop we are looking at Daylight, an offering from Seattle based Zombie Studios.
The thing that made this game especially note worthy is that is was the first game to feature the new Unreal Engine 4. A lot has been made of this new game engine but the main question that needs to be asked is if it’s particularly evident here that this game is using new technology?
Now, I will freely admit that I am not that familiar with the intricacies of Unreal Engine 4, but just coming from a blind outlook of the game itself, not really. Don’t get me wrong, the game certainly looks nice but it features nothing I haven’t seen done better in games in the past.
It doesn’t really use any advanced physics techniques aside from a cloth effect that you can turn on in the options, yet this effect is only used in one area of the game. Everything else is dark hallways, dark forests, dark sewers, and dark prison cells. Lighting in the game is very well done, as it has to be in a horror game to set the mood, but again, I’ve seen it done better in other games.
You will notice that as an overall theme to this entire game review. A lot of what this game does is initially impressive but it doesn’t really do anything that sticks with you as particularly revolutionary and the overall package comes off as a very bare bones and generic horror offering meant to cash in on the current youtube craze.
While playing this game I couldn’t get another game I reviewed out of my head, that game being Shelter. The similarities between the two games are quite striking despite the fact that they come off as totally different. Both games start off very hot and I was especially blown away by the initial level in Daylight. You are basically thrown into the game without any major tutorial sequence and the atmosphere here is phenomenal.
Lots of moody sounds, screaming voices, great use of lighting, dank areas, and the list goes on and on. Your best ally is your smartphone which functions as both your flashlight and your map. Flashlights have been used in games like this before but I really appreciate how they used the smartphone interface because it gives you an always on screen map so you don’t have to keep pausing the game to look at the map.
Not only is it great for convenience, but it keeps you in the game and immersion is half of what makes these horror games so popular to begin with. Now I’m sure you getting envious of the amazing battery life on this smartphone that she has, but when you consider the length of this game it’s a lot more understanding how you are able to display a flashlight and an on screen map on a single phone charge, but I’ll have more on that later.
Another really unfortunate reason that this smartphone will become your best friend is that the level design is overly repetitive. You will find yourself walking down multiple hallways with the exact same rocking ceiling light and the exact same boxes stacked up in the corner. You can imagine how much of a problem this would be without your map.
The goal of the initial level is to find six notes scattered throughout the stage that give you insight into the story, after which the sigal reveals itself, which you must then find and then proceed to the exit. Along the way you will find glowsticks and signal flares. The glowsticks serve two functions, they give you more light and they reveal hidden items and secrets, while the flares are used to fend off the enemies you will encounter.
These are fun to use at first, but the excitement of lighting up a glowstick fades quickly when you realize that glowsticks and flares are the only two items you will ever find, and there is really only one enemy type in the game and all of them are simply defeated by lighting up a flare and pointing it at them.
There is a throw function in the game which I assume is used to throw the flares at enemies, but I never personally needed to use it as simply walking up to them with flare in hand was enough to dispose of them, and that is generally the only way to defeat baddies in this game.
Yes, this is certainly not an action game despite the fact that there are enemies, and I can appreciate that, but if they were going to have enemies which you can defeat and not just run away from, I really would have liked to have seen some other disposal options to switch it up. Repetition is a theme of this game unfortunately.
Each and every level follows the same formula as far as design goes with the exception of a forest sequence towards the end. You get to a large open area without enemies where the story progresses and the guy talks to you through your smartphone, then it’s back to the narrow hallways where you must find the six notes, find the signal, and reach the exit. Rinse, wash, repeat, over and over again.
This is where the game separates itself from Shelter a bit. While both games started off hot and then fizzled out a bit as previously mentioned, at least Shelter just repeated set pieces while keeping the actual goals in the levels somewhat fresh. Daylight has you doing the same thing over and over again until the end with nothing changing. It’s unfortunate to see a game nail it so well in the first level with atmosphere and then drop the ball so hard when it comes to keeping that feeling of terror and tension.
When you first see a ghost pop up you will be terrified and frantically pressing the 2 key on your keyboard to light up that flare, but by the fifth stage you will be running around with plenty of flares, as they are readily available everywhere, dispatching these horrifying beings as if they were nothing. I thought it was clever how the steam achievements don’t pop up on the screen, to make sure you don’t break immersion, nice touch Zombie Studios.
Now, I’m certainly not a game designer but I would like to compare this to Resident Evil as that was the first horror focused game I ever played. The zombies are scary and when you first encounter them you will be unloading way too many handgun bullets to defeat them. However, shorty, disposing of these zombies becomes routine so they introduce dogs and the meter goes from routine to horrifying over again.
All throughout the game the enemies get tougher and tougher to keep pace with the cooler and cooler weapons you will find. The game offers a wide array of enemies to kill and tons of choices on how to kill them. Would Resident Evil be as revered as it is today if you only fought zombies and you never got anything other than your initial handgun? Certainly not I would think.
Unfortunately, this game falls victim to what seems like lazy design. It seems to me that they just wanted to get something out as quickly as possible to say they were the first game to use Unreal Engine 4. This is almost more apparent in the story than with the design of the levels themselves. Quite frankly, it makes no sense. Throughout the game you will find notes upon notes upon notes scattered throughout that give you insight as to why things are the way they are at the various prisons, hospitals, and construction sights you visit.
They are fun to read in a macabre kind of way as they feature lots of stories of crazy people doing crazy things like ripping their eyes out because they see ghosts, killing themselves, killing others, etc. But, none of it really ties into an overall narrative structure. You never really find out who you are or who the guy talking to you is until the big reveal in the end, and even that falls totally flat as you have no connection to either character in even the slightest way.
I just really have to let out a big sigh at this point at all the missed opportunities. There was the potential here for a classic, but, as I mentioned before, everything comes off as rushed to get it done as quickly as possible. I’m sure you are asking yourself at this point why I would finish a game this repetitive and exhausting. Well, this game clocked in at a whopping two and a half hours in total length.
See why the battery life on that smartphone isn’t such an otherworldly thing now? The bad thing about this though isn’t the length itself as I’ve played good games that were very short, as I previously mentioned Shelter. The problem here is that it just sort of ends and nothing, absolutely nothing clues you in that you are heading to the climax of the game. No final level drama, no story sequences, just the big reveal, which falls flat, and then the credits.
By the time I finished this game I wanted nothing more to do with it but then I remembered that it had procedurally generated levels. Sure enough, I started up another game, and things were different. However, I quickly added it to my list of things with potential that this game just drops flat on it’s face.
What is the point of what amounts to a randomly generated game if there is nothing special or different you can do throughout it? Sure you could up the challenge by not using flares and stuff like that, but having randomly generated levels kills any ability to map the game out, which kills the majority of interest in speed running the game which this game would otherwise lend itself nicely to.
Anyway, if you are a horror junkie you will probably find something to enjoy here and I would recommend it for the thrill of the initial level alone if you are a fan of the genre. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be doing yourself a disservice by skipping this one. I’m not going to outright not recommend it, by all means, try it out yourself if you want.
Our reviews are just a guide if you need help with your purchasing decisions and are no way meant to be taken as gospel – but really, only the most hardcore horror game junkies need apply, or Unreal Engine junkies, but the game wasn’t that spectacular.
Daylight was reviewed using a code provided by Atlus. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s reviews/ethics policy here