Daylight Review (PS4)
You cannot physically fight enemies, you can run like hell, the stages change each time you play the game and you need to play through the game several times to get the full story. This was the information that had me excited about Daylight, the latest contender in the popular first person horror game race developed by Zombie Studios (makers of Blacklight Retribution and the Saw games) and published by Atlus. Unfortunately my excitement quickly turned to disappointment as it feels that somewhere along the line, something has slipped.
Daylight sees you take control of Sarah, who wakes up to find herself a victim of nearly every horror cliché ever created. Trapped in an abandoned mental hospital; remembering nothing but her name and with the only source of light coming from the flash in her mobile phone; Sarah must unravel the mystery of the hospital, how she got here, who she is and who belongs to the creepy voice guiding her through this place. It is a bit much but it does set the scene and is better than sending you blindly off into the unknown like a lamb to the slaughter.
Throughout each level are clues that contain information about the hospital and its goings on. Some of these clues are more pertinent than the rest, haunted and called remnants. Collect all the remnants in a level and a Sigil (a type of key that is also a clue) is unlocked in a special room. Find the room, get the Sigil and use it in another special room that lets you proceed to the next level. All this is done whilst avoiding the ghost women who look like they got lost from the set of The Grudge. Should they get too close or even touch you, you die and start the level from the beginning. They can be countered by lighting a flare which makes them dissolve in front of your eyes but the flares only last for about a minute – this adds to the tension and atmosphere of the game.
One of the things that lets Daylight down is also one of its unique selling points – the procedurally generated levels.
The idea being that it would be cool and scary if each level was different every time you play. This is fine until you discover that everything else – the scares, enemies, music, clue placement – is randomly generated as well. It also seems that the programming in charge of this process is one of extremes; I played the game on two separate nights with two separate experiences. The first night saw the completion of two levels (and dying at the door of the end of the third) with three encounters with the ghosts during a ninety minute session. There were plenty of the random screams, flickering lights and attempts at scaring you by having objects move. The flying objects were not quite timed right so they would trigger just as I passed them thus ruining the scare. This session was rather dull – so dull that my girlfriend who cannot watch supernatural horror commented that she was bored. The second attempt at a game the next night was a different kettle of fish. Gone were all the random screams and footsteps. These were replaced by ghosts, loads of them. In one room I was attacked by four ghosts. Next room three ghosts, next room saw another two flying at me. This was a constant barrage – there weren’t even the warning growls you normally get before an appearance. There was no tension or fear involved, it was just a line of ghosts attacking until I ran out of flares and eventually died. Both of these sessions seemed unbalanced and probably not exactly the experience the developers intended. The randomly generated levels are a good idea but the placement of enemies and clues could do with some tweaking. Finding three of the six clues you need in the same room when there is a rather large three storey level to search isn’t clever or lucky; it just makes game feel broken.
Within the gameplay are further niggles that can add to the disappointment. One of the rules of the game is that once you have picked up the Sigil you cannot put it down to use a flare to combat enemies. This suggests that your only option is to try and leg it to the end of the level. While this is fine in most cases, you are left with nothing to do but die when you pick up the Sigil and an enemy appears right on you. Although this is probably another example of the procedural generation not working as it should it would be nice to be able to drop the Sigil (even if you had to find it again) and use a flare if necessary. Searching for clues in Daylight can sometimes mean opening drawers, cupboards and lockers to find them. The issue here is that you need to be looking at a specific part of the object before the interact prompt comes up – the sweetspot seems to be very small indeed. Whilst this is not a major problem it can be frustrating wasting the precious light from a flare of glow stick messing about trying to find the exact angle to look at a locker before you can open it.
Graphically Daylight looks competent enough for a survival horror game. This is rather surprising once you find out the game is one of the first PS4 games released to be built with the new Unreal 4 engine and we are expecting great things from the all singing and dancing powerhouse. The fact that the Daylight looks understated is, in the opinion of this writer, fine and even suits the genre and setting of the game. There are, however, some issues that seem to have slipped by final testing. The frame rate seems to slow down in certain parts as well as instances where if you get too close to a wall to read a note you get a blank screen.
Another feature that made Daylight initially sound appealing is the Twitch integration. This allows people watching you play the game via the streaming service to activate screams, footsteps, static and faulty lights. This is a really interesting concept but does have one wee flaw. To activate these scares, the viewer simply types the scare they wish to activate. This then shows up in chat and, if you are using the chat overlay, gives you a heads up of what’s coming. If you do disable the chat window in your feed though, and also give the controls to someone who is not going to spam everything like the random generator, it can add to the atmosphere and even cause a few scares. It is a rather neat addition that does work well after a few tweaks and ground rules on your game feed.
I really wanted to like Daylight. In fact, I still kinda do. It has all the making for a decent horror title. It is well made despite some flaws in the gameplay, graphics and story. These could all be swept under the carpet if that random generation of game assets was tweaked to be more logical and consistent. Hopefully this is something a patch could address but until then Daylight is an unbalanced and frustrating experience. It is by no means a broken game; it just seems to have gotten lost in translation.
2.5 disappointed screams out of 5