Daylight is a game with a singular purpose of scaring the bejesus out of players with procedurally generated level design (random), creepy atmosphere, and more jump scares than a Doom 3 monster closet. The developer, Zombie Studios, is the same group behind the free to play Blacklight Retribution and the more appropriately related Saw series so the pedigree is there for a great game along with the potential but some huge flaws in design have given players something significantly less.
The protagonist, Sarah, wakes up in an old run down asylum which is apparently the only flavor asylums come in anymore. Sarah only has a smartphone in hand that she utilizes as an in-game map. She shortly finds a few glow sticks for lighting and flares which act as the game’s only weapon and protection against the things that go creep in the night. The rest of the story is told through findable documents that fill in the plot called remnants and are the only way outside of the ending to get a sense of just what is happening to Sarah. After being taunted via a Vincent Price-esque caller, Sarah is tasked with finding a set number of remnants before being able to access an item that will allow her to pass through a supernatural gate blocking her way to the next level.
The game structure is a randomized level and a nonrandomized small inbetweeny level with some puzzle before moving on to the next set of levels. The puzzle isn’t even worth calling a puzzle as in most cases it is enter this room and flip this switch so you can go back and flip another switch that opens the way forward. This pattern happens about five times with players moving from 2 groups of levels in the Asylum tileset, 1 group in a hidden Prison, 1 group in the Sewers under the Asylum, and 1 group through the woods. The formula for progression is the same all 5 times; enter randomized level, find remnants, find the key item, pass through the gate, flip or interact with 2 items, and finally enter next randomized level to rinse and repeat.
Besides repetition, the other big issue Daylight has is that it just isn’t scary. Jump scares are a mainstay in the horror game genre with the most memorable being the zombie dog through the window in Resident Evil. Do something quick and unexpected and the player will jump. It is a very exhilarating feeling and can really enhance great games like Dead Space, Eternal Darkness, and the already mentioned Resident Evil. The difference between Daylight and those games is that Daylight was built with jump scares being its sole tool leaving the scares more expected than unexpected and turning the experience into one of disappointment.
The game utilizes the jump scare in 2 ways; a ghost woman jumps out of no where, or level props (desks, lamps, pots, etc) suddenly are thrown across the room. As Sarah collects more remnants in a randomized level, the more likely she is to be stalked by the ghost woman. Sarah has two ways to combat ghosty… either by pulling out a flare which sets ghosty on fire or just plain running away. Running away would be a great alternative except that it completely breaks any difficulty in the game. I spent a whole playthrough constantly sprinting as there is no getting tired; just the ability to sprint the entire game. The only risk I encountered was accidentally getting caught on a edge of something and coming to a halt but even then I usually moved away fast enough before I was killed.
The atmosphere of Daylight is great though and the one thing the game really has going for it. The visuals set the mood in a way not seen since Dead Space and the new Unreal Engine 4 powering Daylight is a big reason why. Unfortunately that mood is killed often by the fact that whenever Sarah picks up a remnant, the game pauses so the player can read it. This pause completely kills any fear of being in constant danger.
Procedurally generated levels work great in certain genres but I am not sure the horror genre is one of them. There is something to be said about a well designed level craftily put together by a person that wants to deliver a certain experience. Knowing that most of the levels were just tilesets wrapping a randomized maze leaves the player with a bias that the different rooms just don’t matter as they are just another random room. There is no reason to stop and smell the roses because the scenery isn’t there to help craft a thought out experience. This is of course compounded during subsequent playthroughs when the player truly sees each level is a generic maze filled with more of the same repetitive gameplay.
Daylight seems to really be a tech demo of both Unreal Engine 4 and procedural generation rather than a real game. The tech demo vibe is further sold by the inclusion of 3 other technologies, Real3D, Oculus Rift support, and Twitch integration. I couldn’t test the Real3D or Oculus due to a lack of the appropriate hardware but Twitch was given a good run.
The player can use a third party application to stream to Twitch and by also signing into Twitch through the game, interactions become available on the Twitch stream’s chat channel. Viewers have the ability to type in keywords that will cause things to happen in the player’s game such as a scream or cat’s meow. There is a coolness factor to this integration but after attempting a handful guesses on what words would cause something to happen in the game, I quickly got bored and the ones that did cause something to happen in the game didn’t really affect the experience.
The PlayStation 4 version was a considerably worst experience. Saving and loading in the game take forever and a half. I am talking about PlayStation 1 era load/save times… and worst of all is the game is running off the hard drive! A little waiting would be bearable but for most of the loading, it actually happens during the gameplay causing the game to jitter for over a minute ruining both the atmosphere and creating a strong possibility of death in the later levels. The controller also causes issue with the game wanting precise targeting of objects to interact. While this issue is also present on the PC version, the impreciseness of the controller just adds to the frustration.