Daylight is a new entry in the horror game genre that seems to want to capitalize on the Twitch streaming fad that has sprouted over the last couple of years. Zombie Studio’s latest game is the developer’s third foray into the horror genre after releasing two SAW games based on the film franchise. With horror game experience under their belt and the power of the new Unreal Engine 4 at their disposal, Daylight seems poised to become a worthy new entry in the horror genre.
Upon starting the game the player inhabits the shoes of Sarah, a woman who wakes up in an abandoned hospital with no recollection of how she arrived there. A disembodied voice comes through your cellphone and informs you that you must collect ‘remnants’ which have been scattered throughout the level. Your cellphone is your main tool in Daylight, it allows you to see in the dark and it fills out a map of the level as you progress from room to room. This map is important seeing as the game is based on procedurally generated levels that change whenever you die or start a new game.
Early previews of Daylight boasted its use of procedurally generated layouts and while this sounds like a great idea on paper, the execution falls flat. Levels are made up of rectangular hallways and square rooms. The differences between these hallways and rooms are what’s inside them and what art assets are randomly chosen to dress them up. A pipe might burst while you walk down a hallway, a door will mysteriously board itself up. These attempts at creating jump scares for the player are mildly novel the first time and incredibly boring and predictable each subsequent time it happens.
The levels themselves are a chore to walk through. The developers claim that no two experiences will ever be the same and that is technically true given the different layout and remnant locations that are generated for every game. However, one aspect of each play through remains consistent throughout; the game is boring. The bulk of the game will see you running down countless hallways while you scour countless rooms for scraps of paper which make up the remnants you need to collect. For each remnant you find a threat level will increase which means that monsters are more likely to spawn. These supernatural beings come in the form of vague shapes running across a doorway or appearing and quickly disappearing just out of view, only one creature in the game can actually harm you.
Once in a while a ghostly, witch like figure will appear in the level and begin to make it’s way towards the player. You have two options here: light a flare to quickly and very easily vanquish the specter or turn around and run away for a minute or two until the creature despawns from the level. Horror games incite fear by threatening the player with failure, usually via monsters that need dispatching or puzzles or obstacles that need to be cleared within a dwindling window of time. In Daylight all you need to do is light a flare (Which are plentiful and easily found) or run away for a bit. There is no tension in Daylight, there is no fear of failure, and there is no fear period.
The remnants in this game are made up of newspaper clippings or various pieces of text which attempt to build a creepy backstory for the hospital and its adjacent prison or to flesh out the plot. Every time you pick up a remnant you’re greeted to a paragraph or two of text which is just not interesting to read. This is what you’ll be doing most in Daylight, an already short game which should take most players just around an hour to complete. These pieces of text fail to induce tension and instead only serve to break up the pace of the game as you’ll be collecting dozens of them by the time your play through is over.
Once you’ve collected all of the remnants in a level a sigil will appear somewhere on the map. What the sigil is as well as its location is randomly generated and it can take the form of a handful of things like a teddy bear or a bible. This is mostly an aesthetic touch and has no real impact on the proceedings, each time you collect one you’ll need to race to the exit and use the sigil to unlock the next area. I can’t for the life of me figure out why the protagonist cannot carry one of these sigils and a flare at the same time so your race to the exit will leave you without a means of retaliation against the ghost-witch. Still, it doesn’t really matter since you can easily outrun her on your way to the exit.
While the story is filled with horror clich￩s and tropes, the game’s voice acting suffers more in terms of quality. The atmosphere of dread and oppression that the game attempts to cultivate is stymied by the hokey voice acting. These performances seem like they belong in a B-movie horror film or something self-aware of how silly it is. However, the game takes itself far too seriously to believe that these performances were intentional; they are more comic than tension or fear inducing.
Daylight incorporates Twitch streaming and viewers can influence the game with chat commands. All this amounts to is the generation of a few sound effects. Viewers can write ‘static, feet, meow, owl’ and a few other commands to create these sounds while the player traverses a location and only one command has a gameplay affect. Typing in ‘witch’ will summon the only enemy in the game closer to the player, but as I’ve said, this enemy poses no real threat, unless you count mild irritation a threat. Daylight‘s randomly generated levels will see you traverse through an abandoned hospital, a dark forest and a similarly abandoned prison block. There are pre-designed sections between these level templates which pose environmental puzzles which are a welcome change to the core gameplay. If only Daylight tried to create a more authored horror experience rather than a procedurally generated one then perhaps the game would have been more enjoyable.
As it is, Daylight is a chore to play through, tedious and slow and utterly devoid of anything fear inducing. It is the first Unreal Engine 4 game to be commercially released and even that aspect of it is a disappointment as the levels are purposefully grungy and would be hard to discern from a game made in older engines. In fact, it might have been better if the game were made in an engine more familiar to the developers since Daylight suffers from frame rate slow down and bugs related to player and level collision. Don’t be fooled by Daylight‘s bullet points as a procedurally generated, Unreal Engine 4 powered, Twitch streaming supported horror game. Daylight is boring, not scary and a chore to play through.