To create an effective horror experience, the developer must generate a believable, freaky atmosphere in which the player quickly becomes immersed. It’s all about the atmosphere and ambiance. It’s the sound in the darkness you can’t identify, it’s the creeping, terrifying sensation that something is stalking you, it’s the feeling you get when you’re hopelessly outmatched. Whatever is out there, it wants you dead, and you can’t stop it. This is a driving theme behind previous successes like Outlast.
Unfortunately, the same attempt falls flat on its face in Daylight.
One of the first games to take advantage of the new Unreal Engine 4, the game doesn’t look too bad. Strangely, though, it doesn’t look good, either. You won’t be impressed with the detail and design, and there’s nothing particularly remarkable about the special effects. Most of the time, you’re just wandering around in a dark, uninteresting environment. Even when it tries to scare the hell out of you, the lackluster visual presentation doesn’t quite do its job. Still, the graphics are definitely the best part of this disappointing production.
The sound isn't atrocious, thanks to some effects that satisfy the aforementioned ambiance requirement. You’ll hear slamming doors and screams somewhere in the distance and every once in a while, they might actually make you jump. But the soundtrack isn’t anything special and as such, the overall audio presentation falls well shy of expectations. It just doesn’t do a good job of raising the hair on the backs of our necks; at no point do we believe anything we see or hear. We’re just along for the ride and rather than freaking us out, it bores us. And the lagging technical elements are at least partially responsible.
Those who helped bring you F.E.A.R. and Condemned worked on Daylight, which is why its failure is so confusing. Perhaps they got too enamored with the idea of using a smartphone in a horror game, because that’s this adventure’s defining characteristic. It doesn’t really work, either. Most of the time, you’re just annoyed at the inherent limitations of your only tool, and you’re left wondering if the quest has a point besides illuminating dark hallways. Well, sadly, it really doesn’t. There are some legitimately frightening moments, but even those quickly lose their luster.
Sure, the darkness is always scary, basically by default. Some nasty thing that’s always chasing you adds to the tension and urgency, so perhaps you’ll enjoy this aspect of the quest. After all, the cornerstones of a great horror experience are here; they’re not elaborate or intricate but hey, they don’t have to be. Give us a darkened building, a bunch of creepy sounds, otherworldly specters that want to hurt us, and a background story that is so twisted and sordid, it’s almost hard to believe. What’s hard to believe is that Zombie Studios didn’t deliver on any of this. Well, there are a few creepy sounds.
We work our way through procedurally generated mazes, desperately seeking the exit. You have to collect notes and other clues in order to find the sigil that unlocks the exit door. The combination of the procedurally generated pathways and the always-hungry ghost that’s chasing you should result in a pulse-pounding experience. Instead, we’re either annoyed or bored. The first problem is this: The thing that’s chasing you? Yeah, not so scary. And it's not even that difficult to avoid; it slowly lumbers toward you, and you can easily run away. Even when you’re in a tight spot, you can just pop a flare and the thing will run away.
It’s just a stupid setup. The weirdest part is that you can’t use a flare after you find the sigil; it’s supposed to amp up the difficulty but really, it’s just illogical. It would help if the story was effective but again, expectations are not met. Some of the lines are just plain painful, especially when they’re supposed to sound deep and profound and instead come across as comically corny. In great horror games like Silent Hill, we had narratives that kept us interested in both the main character and the world around us. Here, we’re never remotely interested in either. That’s a big problem because if you’re not emotionally invested in anything, what’s the point?
I could forgive the disappointing story and even parts of the less refined gameplay if the experience simply had some effect. From a psychological perspective, all horror-based interactive experiences need to hit home. They need to make us jump out of our seats; our palms are supposed to be sweaty, and we’re always tense. That’s how it felt when playing Outlast, and there were times when playing Lone Survivor that I was very much on edge. At no time was I even remotely affected by Daylight and that’s because the entire adventure felt downright clichéd and silly from start to finish.
Okay, so you can connect your quest to the Twitch.tv channel, and you can interact with other players. Certain keywords can pop up at any time and potentially scare you but the mechanic just doesn’t function well enough. Everything feels rushed and poorly constructed because we never care about who’s reacting or why. Someone in your Twitch channel typed something and there’s a frightened reaction…well, so what? What does that have to do with the story? Why should I be scared? The nonsensical and badly written narrative doesn’t allow me to focus on anything, and the protagonist is faceless and boring, so why am I still playing?
Daylight tries to offer horror fanatics a unique, dynamic experience by giving them a procedurally generated environment and an intriguing system of “social” integration. However, just about all of it falls well short of the intended goal. The gameplay is uninspired and repetitive, the story is a mess, nobody will care about the protagonist, and the challenge is minimal. And the worst part? Nothing about this is scary. You’ll stumble across a few appropriately freaky parts but even those begin to dwindle with time. If you want frightening, play Outlast. Otherwise, save your money and wait for something else.
The Good: Tries to be ambitious by implementing the Twitch.tv aspect. Offers some minor thrills and chills.
The Bad: Despite UE4, graphics are nothing special. Protagonist is faceless and one-dimensional. Procedurally generated environment just feels repetitive. Story is badly constructed and never interesting. And oh yeah: It’s NOT SCARY.
The Ugly: “Still can’t believe anybody involved with F.E.A.R. or Condemned made this.”
5/7/2014 Ben Dutka