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Daylight Review

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Growing up, I relentlessly sought out a good scare- whether by sneaking into an R-rated horror film or by venturing into the labyrinthine walkways of a haunted house when the traveling carnival clambered into town. Most of my fascination stemmed from yearning to predict the occurrence of each startling moment. Whether by listening for the foretelling signifiers of a movie’s soundtrack, recognizing the tropes of horror, or in the case of a frightful funhouse- absorbing all the traditional tricks that a trailer-based amusement has in its arsenal, the construction of scares were carefully securitized. After a few summers of amateur analysis, these frights lost their impact, replaced by the real-life (and less predictable) terrors of a post-adolescence life.

A journey through Daylight, Zombie’s procedurally-generated horror game, is almost like those halcyon years condensed into a two hour duration. While the recently released PC and PlayStation 4 title provides a sufficiently creepy atmosphere at first, frighteningly bad expositional elements, a reliance on horror formula, and a truncated number of game mechanics soon turns the whole experience into a thankless trudge.

Daylight (1)

Unlike most horror games which force a protracted prologue on players, the title’s backstory is gradually doled out through the journey, which allows gamers to jump right into the action. Within seconds of leaving the main menu players are introduced to Sarah, a protagonist who awakens in an asylum, where it’s soon revealed that a number of dreadful events transpired. If that premise sounds clichéd, it only gets worse. Soon, a disembodied voice delivers nuggets of wisdom such as “wherever you go, there you are”, an axiom that was heard in comedies such as Austin Powers: Spy Who Shagged Me, The Brady Bunch Movie, and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Here, it foreshadows a excursion constructed of tired clichés.

As players begin to venture through the asylum, they discover a journey that’s accompanied by an audio track seemingly culled from Party City’s Halloween CD rack, as a compilation of creaks, crashes, and slamming doors struggle to craft a spooky backdrop. All that’s missing are the hissing cat and rattling chains. Of course, the aural ambiance might have worked if Sarah reacted convincingly to the noises around her. Instead, she issues dimwitted self-talk, asking “Is anyone there” or “what was that” when no disturbances occur. When jump scares do erupt, she’s often puzzlingly taciturn. As such, there’s a notable disconnect between Sarah and her surroundings, and players might wonder if the character’s institutionalization might just be justified.

Daylight (4)

Just as bad are the game’s attempts at constructing an overarching narrative. Daylight’s main mechanic revolves around Sarah gathering photos and new clippings, referred to as remnants in the game. While constructing a storyline from scattered extracts is undoubtedly challenging, most of these collectables read like stunted synopses of horror films, alluding to acts of witchcraft, and yes- even construction atop of a Native American burial ground. What’s more, these elements provide a confusing chronology of the facility, with the site shifting between an asylum and prison countless times. By the time the game’s substandard conclusion comes around, players might wonder if the entire narrative is anything more than a collection of Goosebumps fanfic.

While Daylight’s story is an irrefutable stinker, its coding provide good intentions. Powered by the Unreal 4 Engine, the title seems like a showcase for advanced lighting techniques. Throughout the game, Sarah uses three tools to illuminate her surroundings: a cell phone, glow sticks, and flares. The first also functions as a mini-map, drawing a diminutive maps of each milieu, while the second bathes the environment in an eerie emerald hue, revealing the players footprints. The game’s flares also serve as weapon, allowing players to dispatch the game’s solitary ethereal enemy. Although, Daylight commendably foretells the presence of an encroaching specter (and periodically fooling the player into thinking one is near), actual combat is underwhelming, with the presence of a flare determining the outcome of the encounter. Ideally, confrontations would have involved more of a battle, rather than relying on a binary assessment.

Daylight (2)

While the integration of procedurally-generated environments does extend the proposition of replayability, the design decision isn’t without fault. For each level, players have to collect a specified number of remnants, before converted those artifacts into a sigil which opens the level’s exit. With them remnants randomly located placed around levels, finding the final collectable can induce a tedious amount of backtracking. Since the frequency of antagonistic shadows growing in portion to the number of found artifacts, players can expect the search for a remaining remnant to be more frantic than frightening. In essence, players will quickly learn Daylight’s obligatory approach, which involves searching through a limited set of hiding places. Once these tactic is adopted, most of the game’s frights can be foreseen, stripping Daylight’s of much of its impact. It should be said that the game’s explorations do improve once players pass the halfway point, as confined hallways give way to an expansive forest setting.

The game’s other flaw can be found in its box-pushing puzzles, which are not only are simplistic, but often shift the camera’s around. When moving a crate to create a traversable walkway, the title often wrestles control away from the player to show an event happening in the environment.  Climbing across object does the same thing- with the game trying to simulate scaling in a first-person perspective, but providing a disorienting point of view. On the PC version, controller support seems like an eleventh hour addition, without any mention in the game’s user interface and a crippling bug when players are in the remnant’s menu.

Daylight (3)

Although Daylight seems engineered for multiple playthroughs, most players will have seen enough of the game’s catalogue of jump scares during a single, two-hour game. That’s a shame because underneath the dimwitted storyline and simplistic key-and-door based exploration, the title could have been the interactive equivalent of a trek through a truly harrowing haunted house. As it stands, Daylight’s one saving grace might be its Oculus Rift support. With the headset on, the game’s sense of immersion might just be strong enough to overcome some of its inadvertently nightmarish design elements.

Growing up, I relentlessly sought out a good scare- whether by sneaking into an R-rated horror film or by venturing into the labyrinthine walkways of a haunted house when the traveling carnival clambered into town. Most of my fascination stemmed from yearning to predict the occurrence of each startling moment. Whether by listening for the foretelling signifiers of a movie’s soundtrack, recognizing the tropes of horror, or in the case of a frightful funhouse- absorbing all the traditional tricks that a trailer-based amusement has in its arsenal, the construction of scares were carefully securitized. After a few summers of amateur…

Review Overview

Gameplay - 40%
Story - 15%
Aesthetics - 80%
Content - 70%
Accessibility - 75%

56%

Poor

Summary : A rigid structure and cliché-ridden storyline mean that most players might empathize with vampires, finding Daylight thoroughly abhorrent.

User Rating: 0.7 ( 4 votes)

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert 'DesertEagle' Allen is Tech-Gaming's resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

23 comments

  1. A 15% for story? That’s the lowest score I’ve ever seen. Good god, this must be bad.

    • It was written by Jessica Chobot, best known for licking a PSP and being the T&A in Mass Effect 3.

      This is what happens when you hire a non-writer.

      • Well the review seemed well written but I can’t help but feel that Robert was trying to talk Chobot’s writing down. It seemed a bit too mean and he’s much nicer on JRPGs that have worse stories/writing.

  2. Wow, that was brutal. The reviewer really did not like the game, gored it like Jason killing kids at Camp Crystal Lake.

  3. Laughing at “you have too many Glowsticks” “Search containers for useful options”

    It the game a parody?

    • That dialog is pretty odd.

      Blame the Chobot, I guess.

      • Ok, but someone on the team must have said, “this story is lame”, why would they let their game be sabotaged by someone who can’t write?

  4. ” an axiom that was heard in comedies such as Austin Powers: Spy Who Shagged Me, The Brady Bunch Movie, and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.”

    HAHA! Admit it, you looked that up! No one could know such useless information.

    • It’s also in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome- a fact I knew and did not have to look up. As for the Brady Bunch movie, well, I had assistance.

  5. My favorite line:

    By the time the game’s substandard conclusion comes around, players might wonder if the entire narrative is anything more than a collection of Goosebumps fanfic.

  6. I have to admin I like this side of Robert. He should let it show more often.

  7. I picked up the PS4 version, since I’ve been craving a new game, and…..man, this game is disappointing.

    I end up running around (that way the witches wont catch you) to collect the things, after the fourth level it gets really boring. I jumped once or twice but you can tell when most things will happen.

  8. Actually this review was too nice.

    Dtoid: 40
    Gamespot: 30
    Edge: 30
    PC Gamer: 43
    Joystiq: 50

    Metacritic average: 53.

  9. Michael Dougherty

    Really good review. Pretty much my feels as well.

    I would place this again on Rift, but other that that- one play and I’m done.

  10. Now that does sound scary.

  11. I’m not quite sure how 56=3/5 stars. But Deagle’s not alone:

    Eurogamer – 7/10
    Daylight has neither the creeping sense of psychological dread of Fatal Frame nor the poster man antagonist of Slender, and its reliance on cliché lacks distinction. But if the game’s straightforward purpose was simply to panic and upset its player then it is an indisputable success, no matter how cheap the tricks employed.

    Gamespot – 3/10
    Daylight makes for an interesting experiment in audience participation, but no crowd of online viewers can make the poor writing any better or the themes any less hackneyed. In creating a game designed for return visits, Zombie Studios ironically forgot to make a game worth playing in the first place.

    Gamesradar – 2/5
    Daylight is a mess. Its procedurally generated design doesn’t succeed in creating unpredictable scares, and the enemies that populate the spooky locales prove to be more annoying than frightening. The randomized levels offer a slightly different experience if you take a second trip through, but you’ll have seen just about everything Daylight has to offer after only a couple hours of play–which, regrettably, isn’t much.

    IGN – 5.8/10
    Daylight has a good foundation of scary atmosphere and interesting bits of story. All of that is squandered by the first half, where poor level design, unnecessary box-pushing puzzles, and impotent enemies deflate the scares before it even gets going. By the time I reached the more interesting second act, I’d grown immune to its tricks and could only see it as a mediocre series of fetch quests.

    Polygon – 5/10
    I would be lying if I said Daylight didn’t scare me, because it did, and often. It’s kind of fascinating to see how much of its mechanical design was crafted in the interest of eliciting an emotional response from the player; all the theory and psychology behind its scares. But those moments of fear and panic were just that — moments — amid a whole campaign of boredom and frustration.

    • I bet this will be free on PS+ in a number of months or maybe as a Rift pack-in. With OR support at launch, this seems like it was designed to be a demo for the system.

    • If you look closely, it’s slightly less than three full stars. A 50% would be two and a half stars out of five.

  12. Last night I watched a guy play on Twitch. Granted he had a beer or two in him, but he feel asleep playing.

  13. Antique, dirty, porcelain dolls faces are so played out they’re not scary.

  14. I played through two levels of the game and I’m waiting for it to get better.

    It’s not very scary and not all that fun.

  15. Sad to hear about Anthony. I always liked him: http://m.neogaf.com/showthread.php?t=826408

    • I don’t see how people can feel bad for people involved with a poorly conceived and developed project. Why should we reward mediocrity?