Daymare 1998 does a phenomenal job of recreating the feeling of terror that struck you when you first played through Resident Evil 1, 2, or 3. It’s clearly built by fans of the original survival horror greats, and is very much inspired by them. While it manages to hit the mark on replicating those games as if they were built today, somewhere along the way certain elements have suffered.
However, this game was built by a much smaller team than any triple A can boast today, and the budget was much smaller. With this in mind, I can’t help but be in awe of just how good this game looks and feels to play for the most part. It’s definitely got some issues, but for the most part it is a survival horror fan’s dream.
Developer: Invader Studios
Publisher: Destructive Creations, All In! Games
Platforms: Windows PC, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One
Release Date: September 17th, 2019 (Windows PC), April 28th, 2020 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
The story of Daymare 1998 is a great excuse for the gameplay, but little more. An early betrayal seems to be setting the characters up for something that never quite pays off. The cast of characters each have their own reasons for throwing themselves into danger, but none of them have a level of deliverance that I found groundbreaking.
This is also where one of the most persistent issues in the game rears its head, but I want to forgive the developers for it. Clearly no one who worked on this game spoke English as their first language. At times the instructional text, and even the dialogue is laughably bad. Though I think that this is more of a case of nuance being lost in translation.
What is good about the story is the extremely deadly virus that is dispersed over a small town in the first hour or so. It infects any living being, but brings humans back to life, forcing them to track down the living and infect them with their vomit.
As you’d expect, this virus comes from a shady organisation that has been working behind the scenes in the aforementioned shady town. Every character would have been better off if this virus had nothing to do with reanimating corpses, and was stored in a better location, but clearly nefarious organisations situate themselves so for a reason.
One of the best parts of Daymare 1998, and the key aspect of survival horror that it gets right, is the difficulty. There’s an option called Daymare, which is the most brutal difficulty you can go for. As a self-proclaimed veteran of survival horror, I of course chose this option and dove right in.
Within ten minutes I’d run out of ammo, and was up against the first hard enemy, not even a mini-boss. I was stuck because I hadn’t anticipated just how lacking the ammo was in this mode. I promptly took myself back to the main menu and picked a more suitable difficulty.
Even the easier difficulties still present a challenge. While Daymare is a literal nightmare, it’s an important part of the genre. Too many modern games hold your hand while you play, but Daymare 1998 isn’t afraid to push you off a cliff right from the word go.
With that said, the puzzle difficulty seemed to be set to brutal in whatever mode I played. Some are fairly straightforward, but the more arduous ones have no clues as to the solution. For one such puzzle I had to get out a keyboard just so I could figure out exactly what I was typing into a computer.
Overall I think that the difficulty is fair in Daymare 1998, but the gameplay doesn’t exactly make things easy. Every character feels heavy to move, and has pretty limited mobility due to the inventory system. This is a screen attached to everyone’s arm, the use of which doesn’t pause the game.
In a genius yet sadistic move, players need to choose between a slow or quick reload. A slow reload will move to a new magazine and store the current one, while a quick reload drops your current magazine. This is important, because you need a second magazine in order to ever reload again. This means that you’ll have to pick that magazine up again later if you want to live.
The inventory system’s UI is generally quite hard to use, but I actually really enjoyed this quirky reload system. It acts as a way to limit your movement without deliberately using tank controls. If more survival horror games copy and pasted this system, I’d love it, because it made me think about every button press.
Something similar applies to healing items, with some available at the touch of a button, and others stuck in your inventory. In a way, what must sound like an awful UI is actually a great way to make players think about the room they’re about to enter, and carefully consider the character’s health and ammo situation.
Controls are a bit of a nightmare with this game though. Characters seem to react slightly too slow to button inputs, which can sometimes end up with you taking damage. This is also the case with reloading and using items. Of course, you need to be in just the right place to use those items first.
Sometimes the environment doesn’t believe that you’re near enough to a button prompt, and this caused some very fiery rage. In a game where there are enemies chasing you quite quickly, you need to have precise controls, but they just miss the mark in Daymare 1998.
I also found that my aiming was off because of the erratic movement of enemies. They seem to move between being slow and Sonic-fast within seconds. It makes it almost impossible to feel comfortable when facing groups of enemies from a distance.
A melee attack does alleviate some of the stress though. This puts some distance between you and a foe, and works well most of the time. If an enemy happens to have some invincibility frames though, you can kiss your health goodbye.
Daymare 1998 looks absolutely fabulous. The environments are second only to those of Alien Isolation, or Resident Evil 7. Someone has clearly spent a lot of time staring at each one, filling it with items, and then reworking it to look just right. You never walk into a room in this game and think that it’s unbelievable.
While the environments are the star of the game’s visuals, the characters are probably the worst part. Everyone’s face looks scary, and I mean that quite literally. I got chills just watching cutscenes without any infected, and they put me on edge just from the facial expressions alone.
The characters might look like melted action men, but the infected look terrific. It’s almost as if the enemies were built first, and the characters were made using the same models. There’s a variety in enemies types that you barely see in triple A games, and each one matches the location it’s found in.
Some areas of the game present different gameplay challenges. One early on makes you dash between external streets in order to get inside and away from the infectious gas. I really loved how the environment played into the gameplay, and it got my heart racing.
Something else that got my heart racing was the game’s musical score and general audio effects. Sometimes the sound design was completely off, with a terrifying set of strings signalling nothing, but more often than not they were right on the money.
Enemies sound pretty great, though you can hear them in your ear even if they’re outside, on the other end of the room, behind a locked door. Environmental noises, the crunching of glass under your feet, the rain, or just the eerie silence of a street, all set the tone extremely well for this game. Ultimately there’s very little to find fault with them.
Overall I had a lot of fun revisiting a genre I love with Daymare 1998. It has everything any survival horror fan wants, but there are just some things that really take you out of the experience. My biggest bug bear still has to be a character called Sam.
He’s stationed at a fire watch tower, but has horrific hallucinations. I can’t think of a worse man for the job quite honestly. Yes, his gameplay is all the more thrilling because of his wacky visions, but all it would have taken was giving him a better job that kept him out of the gas, like a sewage worker, to make him feel a bit less silly.
As you can tell, there are definitely issues with Daymare 1998, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to play. All survival horror fans will enjoy this, and they’ll play it through a few times as well. There’s something here, underneath some of the mud, that’s reminiscent of the original horror greats.
I wouldn’t recommend this game for anyone who likes a bit of action in their horror games. Anyone who wants a restrictive camera and tank controls will also find it lacking, but the limitations in place here do bring Daymare 1998 into its own. That’s why it’s worth playing.
Daymare 1998 was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a review copy provided by the publisher. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.