Genre: Survival Horror
Reviewer: John Rien
Overall: 4 = Below Average
2.3+ GHz CPU, 4 GB RAM, Nvidia 470 GTX (DX11 with Feature Level 11) 5 GB Hard Drive space
Amnesiacs have it rough. Not only are they completely bewildered the moment they regain consciousness, but they tend to be placed in the worst places possible: behind the wheel of a wrecked car, on a killer’s chopping block in a remote cabin in the woods, or in the case of Daylight, in a haunted and abandoned hospital. After being told by an unseen narrator to find the remnants of her past, the game’s protagonist, Sarah, is up and off to explore the sprawling, filthy complex. Armed with only her cellphone, glow sticks, and flares, she must find six of the remnants—notes, photos, etc.—before a sigil appears, the key to unlocking the door to the next portion. So apparently there’s another negative side effect to memory loss: doing whatever some stranger says because they said it.
Sarah might be in a nightmare world, but at least she still has that cellphone. By taking advantage of its incredibly robust battery life, she has access to a never-ending source of light and a mini-map for her surroundings. The ‘Get Me the Hell Out of Here’ App marks out the rooms wherever she goes, including the location of the sigil and area exit, discovered items, and the player’s location. The map can be difficult to suss out at a glance, but it comes into its own whenever the sigil is spawned. Up until that point, a specter that looks like a ghastly witch is a constant threat, but most of the time, players can be ready to burn it away with a flare by listening for her growls and keeping an eye out for any flickering on the cellphone display. Once the sigil is in hand, however, flares cannot be used and it’s a mad dash for the exit. These are the most tense parts of the game, and having the exit saved from running across it beforehand is a godsend for the nerves.
Each found remnant will slowly reveal more backstory. The notes describe strange patients, detail odd occurrences experienced by staff, and document bickering between personnel. These and the black-and-white photos, which look more like public domain stock photos, ultimately fail to immerse the player in a world that seemingly has a past as unsettling as the nightmarish present. I would also like to point out that the notes have distractingly bad font choices, and the text isn’t a part of the item but set on top, as if the crumbled-up paper was a background rather than the note itself. Presenting this type of information without breaking immersion hasn’t been a problem since Resident Evil, so it’s especially jarring here. Random flashbacks occur throughout, such as hallways suddenly filling with flames and flashes of screaming victims or the surrounding environment for a few seconds, but these suffer from the same diminishing-returns effect that plagues the entire game. The cyclical nature of the game and the lack of anything new after the first few minutes make the remaining two hours feel increasingly like a chore.
The problem is that the game just doesn’t do much with what it has and relies far too much on jump scares. Imagine if I had periodically come up behind you and screamed as you read this review; sure, you might jump more than you would like to admit, but you would also find me a little trying and my insistence on doing the same thing repeatedly, despite it being expected, very annoying. The story, which serves as the main draw to propel players through the world, is too basic and not helped by the heavy reliance on notes about eerie sounds from the basement and black-and-white photos of filled hospitals and empty jail cells. The witch, while good for the occasional boo, is the only enemy, and overexposure means that she becomes less threatening as time goes on; coupled with her slowness and the abundance of flares, the experience devolves into just running as fast as possible to collect everything and get out, knowing Sarah is either too fast or too well prepared to be in serious danger. A Twitter feature that allows others to set off sounds by using specific unspecified words in chat, with built-in delays to avoid irritation, is admittedly neat but not much use for those who don’t use Twitter.
The plot, pacing, and environments are on par with those C-grade horror flicks that Netflix seems to license by the dozen, the kind that seem to be stitched together from every known convention: wheelchairs, desks with drawers that open on their own, loud sounds, creepy woods, soiled mattresses, and protagonists that like to give away their position by yelling. Gaming gives power to those tropes because of the developer’s ability to engross players in a world they’ve molded, which is what games like Fatal Frame have done so well for years. But that only works when the creators have a compelling vision for their tale, and that just isn’t the case for Daylight. Because of this, the procedurally generated elements fall flat. If the game didn’t provide the promised thrills the first time, switching around hallways and item locations isn’t enough of a draw to command a second time.
Daylight’s handful of tricks provides few frights. For a game about exploring creepy buildings, uncovering a mysterious past, and being on guard against murderous spirits, it can be surprisingly boring. The lack of anything to do when wandering through the meandering halls other than move the odd switch or box and gather the same item types takes its toll quickly. It feels as if the player is walking through the same three rooms in a haunted house, and after each pass, the staff switch a few chairs around, drop a few notes on wheelchairs, and nail a few pictures to the wall. It’s unsettling at first, but after a few minutes, it becomes so routine that there’s no more fear. The game’s short and cheap, and the inclusion of Twitter commands and procedurally generated layouts for subsequent playthroughs add something new to the genre, but in the end, there are much better titles out there for gamers itching for a scare with $15 to burn.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)