Daylight Review

By Blair Nokes on May 5, 2014

They say the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over again, expecting different results. This seems to be the underlying concept behind Zombie Studios' indie survival horror title, Daylight. The genre has become ever popular since the critically acclaimed Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Of course, survival horror games existed well before then, but Amnesia really seemed to kick start this trend for first person survival/psychological horror games. Since then, more and more developers have tried to emulate the genuine horror and feeling of your sanity slipping away, but ultimately rely on cheaper tactics and tricks like jump scares seen in Outlast, or even here in Daylight. Developers seem to have missed the point that it's not just about cheap thrills; the scares shouldn't come from a jump, or from screeching music, but something more organic than that. That's why Amnesia is held in such high regard.

In Daylight you play as a woman named Sarah, and you are thrown into the game head first armed with a smart phone, which is your primary light source. The other two items you are given are glow sticks, that help find clues or collectibles, or interactive objects, and flares, that are your main combative weapon against the supernatural ghosts that haunt you. The point of the game is to lose yourself in confusing mazes to scour for logs referred to as "˜remnants.' The catch is that with every remnant you uncover, markings will appear on your arm, thus attracting the haunting ghosts known as the shadow people.

As previously mentioned, a quick use of a flare will immediately set enemies ablaze, though on more than one occasion a glitch was encountered where the frame rate dips rendering this defensive technique useless.

After all the remnants have been found in each location, Sarah must then locate something called a Sigil, an item of important significance to the actual plot. The plot itself is mind-numbingly boring, and incredibly thin. There's virtually no attachment to the character, no real care as to why she's here, what she's doing, and the finale grabbed a bunch of different clichéd twists, endings and ended abruptly "“ which only offered more questions than answers.

Navigating through the mazes actually did have some moments of tension, but unlike Outlast where you are fighting for batteries to fuel your light source, in Daylight it's permanent. As a result, you never really have much urgency to do much of anything. Flare and Glowstick stations are peppered throughout the game, and can be found in random drawers and cupboards that you also never have the problem of running out. Not only that, but some stations would actually have either an infinite supply or enough that you will never have to worry so you could just sprint back to these locations if you ever run out and restock with ease. Zombie Studios are certainly not new to the horror scene, as they also made the two Saw movie-based games, and both of those games suffered from the same lack of tension and merely offered the same cheap scares that are present in Daylight.

Daylight is a procedurally generated game, where each of the 4 settings presents a maze like map and enemies are randomly spawned for added jump scares. The settings are typical locales in a horror game, film or series: the abandoned hospital, a murky sewer, an abandoned prison, and a foggy forest. All have the potential for intriguing or even scaring the player, but all feel very generic, and a lot of that has to do with how short the game is.

It feels like no time or care was actually put into the crafting of the levels or making them feel atmospheric. Instead they relied on audio cues to fill in the atmosphere and tension. Parts of the levels were actually cut and paste "“ most notably in the hospital section. Whether or not this was a design choice to evoke confusion or deja vu remains unclear, but it was done in a lazy way. Making you feel like you've been in an area before is one thing, but reusing the same stock photograph for a wall, or identical chairs in identical corners just seems careless. Especially because none of it added to the scare factor, and most of them were placed in places you wouldn't pay attention to, as the game would direct your attention to scripted events like haunted drawers, footsteps from a floor above, or a moving chair. There certainly was promise in the original design, but as a game, it really doesn't feel like it left the drawing board.

Visually, this was a real eye sore. This is the very first game released using the Unreal Engine 4 and unfortunately it looks like a poorly made Unreal Engine 3 game. Lighting and flame animations are all poorly done, textures are muddled, and there's an awful grain filter that just doesn't do this engine justice. From all the tech demos and videos shown showcasing what the UE4 is capable of, we effectively see none of it in Daylight "“ the engine's debut. On the PS4, the framerate would chug as it was loading and generating future parts of the levels and in some cases would remain to stutter well after it was loaded.

The audio is quite possible the best thing about the game. Despite the cheap screech sounds that indicate upcoming scares, the ambient sounds were great! Footsteps running faster and getting louder had me nervous at times, and when things went quiet with Sarah's breathing being the only thing you can hear, it made for great immersion.

The game is very short, clocking in at just two hours. You could certainly replay the game again if you missed collectibles or wanted a harder difficulty, or if you wanted to attain the trophy for not dying (something I apparently received despite dying three times), but there really isn't much that warrants another play. It wasn't an impressive game during the initial playthrough, and has a boring, and at times absent story so there's nothing that really calls for round two.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Daylight is one of the least impressive engine debuts for a next gen engine. It seems less like a tech demo and more like a street cred grab for merely using it. The game doesn't look like it needed it at all, nor does it seem like it would be outside of what the Unreal Engine 3 can do. The game itself had potential, but suffered from poor design choices and cheap tactics to get quick scares out of players. It's short, repetitive, buggy, and not visually impressive. Being an independent game isn't an excuse; some independent games outshine AAA games in art style, imagination and even visuals. This does not.

The ambient sound
Interesting maze like concept
Had one or two good scares
Far too short
Awful showcase for the Unreal Engine 4
Nonsensical story
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