Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Daylight Review: Wasted Potential

While most of the AAA gaming industry may have completely forgotten how to make a decent horror game, certain companies and smaller studios have proved that the formula for a good horror game has not been lost. With the release of games like Outlast, and the upcoming Alien: Isolation, there may yet be hope for the genre. However, there are still horror games released that miss the mark badly or don't live up to their potential. The latter is the case for Zombie Studio's Daylight. 

Daylight is about a woman named Sarah who is trying to escape from an abandoned hospital. Her only source of light is a cellphone, and any glow sticks and flares that she happens to come across. Playing as Sarah, the player must navigate the various and oddly connected environments of the hospital and beyond to unveil the story and escape. This kind of story is pretty typical for a horror game, but that wasn't the problem for Daylight. The problem is that they try to convey the entire story and all the necessary information needed to have any idea what is going on into a game that is way too short. There is no pacing, and Daylight relies far too much on having all the story be told through scattered notes and images.

Badly implemented story aside, one of Daylight's few saving graces is that it always stays suspenseful. In each level your objective is to find the remnants that try to tell the story. Once you have all those, you can pick up an object that acts as a key on a gate somewhere in the level. The location of all these items is never the same, as all the levels are randomized each time you play them. As you collect remnants, the odds of you encountering the entity known as the witch increases. Even if you haven't collected a single remnant, the witch could appear at any time. As a result the game remains suspenseful, which can lead to some wonderful jump scare moments when you turn around and the witch sudden spawns right in front of you.

When the witch does inevitably attack, it can be temporarily banished by using a flare. As long as you have the flare up, the witch cannot harm you. However, if you have picked up the sigil needed to unlock the gate you will not be able to use a flare. In those situations, your only option is to run and hope the witch doesn't kill you or that you run into a dead end.

While the randomization of the level helps keep the game fresh, it also works against Daylight. Daylight uses a lot of locations that are standard fare in horror games, ranging from a hospital, a prison, a sewer, and even a forest near the end. None of the maze like environments are particularly appealing from a visual standpoint, and everything looks the same. Where other horror games use their environments to tell a story, Daylight does not and presents only lifeless environments that is there only for the repetitive gameplay and nothing else. There isn't any logical connection between environments, and the small transitional areas between levels where you push a switch or two is not enough to explain how the player got from one area to another one that looks completely different.

No horror game is complete without its own set of sounds that make the player stop and wonder what on earth they just heard. Daylight does this fairly well with random sounds that go off to mess with the player. Not only that, but the sound the witch makes when it is nearby becomes easily recognizable and will make the player say a few colorful words as they either run or prepare for an encounter with the frightening apparition. Unfortunately, the music and voice acting fall short in Daylight.

Sarah's voice is mediocre at best, and I found myself wishing she would be more like Miles Upshur from Outlast and not talk. Often Sarah will yell out random statements like: “I know someone's there!” or “What was that sound?” when there is nothing there. I'm not sure if she is picking up on triggers that haven't been activated or if it is just there to mess with the player, either way it was annoying. Also, who in their right mind would start yelling things like that when being stalked by a ghost that is out for blood?

From the start, the developers seem to have some idea what they wanted to do with Daylight. However, somewhere along the way that all fell apart. The end result is a forgettable, and unremarkable horror game that is only occasionally scary. There was a lot of potential here in the project, especially with it running on the new Unreal 4 engine. Yet somehow all that potential got wasted. If you are looking for a cheap horror game, walk past Daylight and go straight to Outlast. It may cost $5 more than Daylight, but you'll have a better experience with Outlast.

RBFB Rating: D+

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