What is it with all these haunted insane asylums lately? We're only six months into the new generation of consoles, and I’ve already made my way through THREE haunted insane asylums. First, we were given the terrifyingly awesome Outlast, which set the standard for horror games going forward. Then we were given Thief , which wasn't a horror game, but featured a lengthy segment where you crept through an eerie, abandoned mental hospital. Discontented with simply maintaining the underrated Blacklight: Retribution, Zombie Studios has tried their hand at asylum horror with the procedurally generated, first-person survival-horror game, Daylight. Is there room for one more haunted house on the block?
Daylight begins with you playing as the protagonist, Sarah, waking up on the floor of the deserted Mid Island Penitentiary. The only possession you have is your cell phone, which doubles as a map, and a flashlight. Mysteriously, a bodiless voice speaks to you through your cellphone, informing you that he will guide your way to escaping this asylum. He seems to have a better understanding of who you are and why you're there, even more so than Sarah, as she's currently unsure of both. In the lobby, you find a satchel of glowsticks, but you can only carry four of them at a time. They're helpful for finding clues and items of interest (such as cabinets and searchable lockers), but may also be used as navigation points, marking places you've previously been. It’s extremely easy to get lost while playing Daylight, especially during the early portions of the story within the asylum and jail. The glowsticks don’t last particularly long, but honestly, this isn't the place for a leisurely stroll. There are frightening, ghostly witches stalking these hallways, and they're hell-bent on keeping you from escaping. It only takes a few “hits” from these witches before you die, and then you're sent back to the beginning of whichever area you're currently in.
”There are frightening, ghostly witches stalking these hallways, and they're hell-bent on keeping you from escaping."
Unlike Outlast, where you have no means of defending yourself against enemies, Sarah has one other option besides running away and hiding: using flares. When you hear that spine-tingling static sound behind you (indicating a witch is near), there’s a pretty good chance that you’re in immediate danger. If you’re quick enough to light one of your flares, you will incinerate the witch and be "safe"... for a short while. They will return, however, and stalk you for most of your 2-3 hour long escape. Even on normal difficulty, if you find yourself cornered by this chilling apparition — without any flares — you'll be dead in a matter of seconds.
Although the witches that are haunting you throughout the game deliver some pretty effective scares along the way, they are the only real threat you'll have to deal with. Once you’ve located and memorized where the flare cabinets are, it’s easy to load up on flares when needed and keep them at bay. It would’ve been nice to have had a few more enemies of different types to keep me on my toes. While the atmosphere was chilling early on, hearing the same, limited amount of sound effects over and over again (throughout three-fourths of the game) became monotonous and desensitizing.
As strange as this may sound, you may actually experience more fear if you live-stream the game while you play. Anyone that’s viewing your stream can cue an event that you’ll either hear or see in Daylight. For example, if a viewer types “FEET” in the dialogue box, the player will hear — what sounds like — someone running towards the player from behind. Another good one is if a viewer sends the message “LIGHT” to the player, then the light on the player's camera-phone dims momentarily. With proper timing, viewers can definitely give players a major scare. It’s a very cool feature and it helped raise my level of enjoyment, if only for a little while.
”As strange as this may sound, you may actually experience more fear if you live-stream the game while you play. Anyone that’s viewing your stream can cue an event that you’ll either hear or see in Daylight. "
The mysterious voice that speaks to you during the game, reminiscent of Bryan Cox’s turn in Rockstar’s Manhunt, does a good job in keeping the plot moving along, and the paper clippings and notes (referred to as remnants) you must collect along the way help fill in the game's backstory. However, more often than not, I was annoyed with Sarah and her inability to keep quiet. Every time she shouted, “I know someone’s in here!” I would just cringe and shake my head, thinking, "How am I supposed to care about this girl?" because normally these are the first characters I hope are killed off in any horror story.
The "feature" I was most excited about – and ultimately most disappointed with – was the implementation of 3D. When it comes to 3D gaming on the PlayStation 4, games like Trine 2 and Zen Pinball 2 look incredible. When I read that Daylight would be supporting 3D, I honestly believed it might have an edge over Outlast. The idea of playing a game that features long, dark hallways (depth) and objects floating-around-and-flying-at-you (3D pop out effect), it seemed so promising! Considering how well those other two aforementioned games performed on next gen hardware, I’m extremely disappointed to report that the 3D implementation in Daylight is absolutely dreadful. Not only is its depth sorely lacking, but for whatever reason, the game's overall performance is greatly hindered by it as well. The controls seemed to have a major input lag, and the frame rate was bogged down considerably. I consider this failure to utilize 3D to its potential to be a major missed opportunity at adding a new level of immersion to the first-person survival horror genre. Seeing as the game runs exponentially better in its proper state, there's no real good reason to enable the 3D feature.
”I consider this failure to utilize 3D to its potential to be a major missed opportunity at adding a new level of immersion to the first-person survival horror genre. "
My other point of interest with Daylight is that it's a procedurally generated game, meaning, every time you play the game, each area is created differently. The idea was that procedural generation would create natural replayability — and in a sense, it does. Rooms and hallways were in different areas each time I played, but because the game uses the same set of limited resources, it all looked the same to me. Plus, even though the areas change, the story does not. So, unless you have an odd interest in discovering just how many maps the game can come up with, I highly doubt that anyone is going to play through this game more than two or three times — which should be more than enough to net all the trophies. Also worth mentioning, there’s some major loading going on between scenes, and sometimes that slows the game down considerably. It’s amazing to me that long loads are still a “thing” this gen.
Daylight tries its best to give horror fans more of what they want, but ultimately fails to reach the high bar that much better games, like Outlast, have set. The procedurally generated levels offer different floor designs, but still come across as generic and repetitive much like the witches who, at the very least, provide a few legitimate scares along the way. Even though the sound design is effective early on at creating an unnerving atmosphere, the botched attempt at 3D fails to add any visual appeal to an already generic looking game. The Twitch integration works well, and can actually add some much needed tension when used at the right time, but not everyone has a Ustream or Twitch channel. Unless you’re a hardcore horror fan looking for some cheap scares, you’re better off replaying Outlast, or saving your money for its DLC arriving next week.
- Twitch Integration
- A few legitimate scares
- Randomly generated level layouts create variety...
- ...even though it's held back by limited generic resources
- Poor 3D is a missed opportunity
- Lack of enemy variety
- Annoying protagonist takes away from a decent story