The horror genre has experienced a revitalisation over the past few years, due in no small part to the high quality of games emerging from the independent scene and their popularity with shrieking YouTubers. With its Twitch integration and penchant for constant jump scares, Daylight feels like a game designed with the Pewdiepie’s of this world firmly in mind, delivering a platform for rigorous screams at a constant clip. Zombie Studios partly succeeds with this scare-a-minute approach but it doesn’t take long before the cracks begin to show and the scares start to lose their lustre in what is a clichéd and unimaginative entry in 2014’s box of horrors.
This begins early on as it’s clear the well of horror tropes has been thoroughly excavated, dropping you into an abandoned mental asylum with no explanation and only a mobile phone to light the way. As you venture through the eerie darkness you’ll collect various notes to unravel Daylight’s nonsensical narrative, groaning as it explores such stereotypical themes as unethical doctors, biological experiments, the number 13 and a late mention of Native American burial grounds I couldn’t help but laugh at.
“It’s clear the well of horror tropes has been thoroughly excavated”Like Slender before it, collecting these notes (or remnants as they’re called here) is your only way to progress, their retrieval slowly raising a threat level that signals an ever increasing barrage of attacks from the ghostly woman stalking you through the asylum.
In Daylight’s opening area this can be quite frightening. The sound design is suitably creepy even if it doesn’t always make sense (disembodied screams seem to exist for no other reason than the genre deems that they occur), and its unexpected frights did make me jump out of my seat quite a few times. But it doesn’t take long before the threat of the unknown evaporates and tedium takes over.
This freefall in quality unfortunately seems to begin and end with Daylight’s procedurally generated level design. In truth, the maze of corridors that comprise each area don’t change all that much from one playthrough to the next, with enough familiar layouts carrying over despite its apparent randomisation. Where this design drastically falters is in the way it seems to effect how Daylight can frighten you, foregoing any semblance of a carefully constructed house of horrors in favour of a monotonous stream of random jump scares.
I have no problem with jump scares provided they’re handled with a deft touch – by slowly building tension – but Daylight couldn’t deploy them more clumsily if it tried, erroneously telegraphing its scares and recycling them till you’re more agitated than afraid.
As you poke and prod at cabinets and desks in your search for each area’s remnants, this ghostly entity will appear before you, her arrival pre-empted by a guttural growl and static flickering on your phone’s touchscreen. Daylight specifically warns you of an imminent jump scare, revealing it’s one and only hand far too early. In the first area this is effective because you don’t expect it, but it quickly becomes far too common.
Consider the fact you can banish the ghost using a flare – of which there are copious amounts – and her constant appearances are diminished even further. With an unlimited sprint at your disposal and a flare in-hand you feel oddly powerful, trudging through the asylum like a one-woman wrecking crew. This does enhance the sense of vulnerability once you’ve collected all of the remnants and must dash towards the exit, unable to wield a flare, but once you realise the ghost can only damage you when you look at her the threat subsides once more.
“The maze of corridors that comprise each area don’t change all that much from one playthrough to the next”It’s mind-numbingly boring despite a brief 90-minute playtime, only exacerbated by the tedious search for convoluted diaries and documents that encompass the rest of the Daylight experience. Besides a few instances where you’re required to re-arrange and climb some wooden crates, the only deviation of this rote formula arises near the game’s conclusion with an illogically contrived puzzle.
You find yourself on a dock, penned in by the same wooden crates you’ve been able to move and climb over before, only this time you can’t. Instead, you need to tinker with some fuel and flares to create a gratuitous explosion and blast your way through. It doesn’t make much sense and devolves into a comedic sidebar when you’re required to then climb one of the crates immediately afterwards.
Daylight’s dialogue is also a source of unintentional humour. The speakerphone narrator who accompanies you on your journey frequently chimes in with some bewildering idioms, at one point exclaiming that “life is like a butterfly’s dream”, while protagonist Sarah notes that you can’t escape fate as she stares at a wall. Other times she’ll scream that she can’t see anything, even as you deploy two different light sources, or she’ll question if anybody’s there for no apparent reason. The dialogue’s irrelevancy and inconsistent use does little to assist the muddled story its remnants are trying to weave.
Elsewhere, technical issues pile on the misery with some lengthy in-game loads causing the game to hitch up and stutter, while sound loops and clipping problems persist throughout. Daylight isn’t exactly a showcase for Unreal Engine 4’s anticipated debut.
Built-in Twitch functionality is a curious idea, however. As you stream your experience to the world, viewers can type in commands that feed into and alter the game, triggering a few scares of their own. It’s fairly simple, only amounting to a few startling sound effects, but there’s merit to its inclusion and a promise for future innovations on the concept.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the rest of Daylight. This is as cookie cutter a horror game as you’re likely to find. Derivative, clichéd and contrived, its only aim is to make you jump, yet it never attempts to do so in more ways than one. Occasionally it has the capacity to frighten, but when that’s its sole purpose you would hope it could do so with a little more nuance and variation. As it is, Daylight is just another copycat horror game; not terrible, just uninspired and incredibly dull. Its selling point will be its procedurally generated levels, but a game designed around replayability should at least be worth playing the first time.