Daylight is the newest entry into the “modern horror” genre, and aims to capitalize on a fear that many of us have had: wandering around in the dark with only our cell phone to guide us.
Of course, most of us don’t have to worry about creepy ghosts materializing while we’re lost, or furniture inexplicably moving as you enter a room. Add to that, the whole experience is progressive generated, which means no play through will ever be the same. This is a fantastic, yet extremely problematic, concept.
Before we examine any potential pitfalls, lets first look at what Daylight absolutely gets right. First off, the price point is great for what it is. You can pick it up right now on the PSN and Steam for $11.99 (the MSRP is $14.99).
Second, whatever Team Zombie is paying their sound designers, it isn’t nearly enough. Though I had annoyances with the gameplay elements of Daylight, the ambient and in-game effects are absolutely stellar. I wouldn’t say I had many “BOO! AAAH!” moments in the game, but I did spend the majority of the game with goosebumps. Whether it’s the rumble announcing a rogue spirit, or the squeaking of a spinning wheelchair, all of the effects you encounter throughout the short-ish campaign lend to a sense of dread. It’s a combination of ominous chimes, atmospheric background music and actual locational sounds that really makes the experience unique. Unfortunately incredibly inconsistent gameplay mars what would be an outstanding horror experience.
For starters, because the game is procedurally-generated, there’s no real baseline for level design. Sometimes, the hospital/property will be laid out in a traditional, rectangular fashion, with the stairwells (corridors, bathrooms, etc.) logically placed. Other times, the layout comes across like an entry level player on The Sims: layouts are convoluted, repetitive rooms make you second-guess your progress and spatially spastic floor plans make intricate backtracking a chore.
The meat of the gameplay is that you explore a level (or multiple levels) trying to find all of the artifact-y “remnant” letters and documents that serve to explain the semi-plodding story. In addition to the letters and documents (conveniently outlined in glowing red), you can search desks, boxes, lockers, etc. for glowsticks and flares. Glowsticks illuminate more than your meager cell phone, reveal which objects can be interacted with (which will glow green), and in a limited capacity, they’ll also show you footsteps to track where you’ve been. I say “limited”, because they disappear after a short time.
While you move through each level, you’ll encounter screaming apparitions, which will attack you, and cause your vision to darken. As they get closer to you, you’ll get audio clues, and your phone/map with begin to glitch out. The only sure-fire way to banish them is with a flare (which you’ll find with as much regularity as glowsticks), which causes them to immolate. The rub being that you can only carry a limited number of each.
Once you locate all of the contextual items, you need to return to the “power room”, where you’ll find an item floating in the air (also known as the conduit). At this point, it would behoove you to locate the exit, which, like the “sigil” room, will be glowing green. Only the sigil can unlock the gate, but once you pick up the conduit, you can’t use glowsticks OR flares. The thought being that, if you’re holding the sigil and your phone, you couldn’t possibly utilize a flare or glowstick. No flares means if you get cornered…you die; and when you die, you reset back at the beginning of the level, with no map progress, items or location markers.
When it works, Daylight is really, really creepy, and incredibly atmospheric, and you’ll run through the levels shrieking like a frightened child. Unfortunately, we only experienced that true, abject terror, about 30% of the time. The rest of the time, you’re searching through hallways and paths that you’ve traveled over countless times before. There was one time that I spent more than an hour on a single level, only to discover that through some hiccup, there was no exit. Granted, that only happened once…but it was enough of an annoyance, that it was in the back of my head whenever I started a new level/chapter.
There are also minor box puzzle segments, which felt really out of place in the overall aesthetic. They aren’t particularly hard, nor are they instrumental to the unfolding of the tale. It almost feels like there had been plans for more intricate puzzle segments, but they were all taken out. But one puzzle…a spooooooooooky, hauuuuunted puzzle…remains.
The other glaring problem is that your role in the game, and the core mechanics of the game itself, are never really explained. Sure, you’ll know how to pop a glowstick or flare via an on-screen prompt, but in terms of gathering all of the “remnants” and obtaining the “sigil”, you’ll have figure it out pretty much on your own (hint: there are six “remnants” per level).
Another major detractor is the voices in the game. Whether it’s the creepy narrator/radio guy and his “not-quite-Rusty-Cohle”-isms or Sarah repeating the same tired loop of dialogue, it adds a massive layer of cheese to an experience that would have been all the more creepy being explored with only the sound effects.
Still, the thing to remember is that this is only the second PS4 title from Zombie Labs (the first being Blacklight: Retribution) , and while the game staggers and sways, the sound design and aural interactivity are second to none. Plus, the procedurally-generated levels mean that, in theory, you have limited replay value. Indeed, I’m going to set up a darkened room at our next party and invite people to check out Daylight…it’s definitely suited to small-dose playing, and would make a good palate cleanser between matches of COD: Ghosts or other high-intensity FPS titles. And for $11.99, it’s totally worth the investment!