Put on your running shoes and stock up on glow sticks and flares, because Zombie Studios has opened the doors to its abandoned, tumbledown hospital. So if you happen to be a pronounced masochist then suit up, because the institution’s long, dark, ghost-stricken hallways are calling your name. With dilapidated walls and wheelchairs galore, Daylight joins the latest movement of survival horror bred advocates and invites you to uncover the mystery behind its death-ridden hospice. There are many dangers lurking in every corner of this PlayStation 4 fright fest, but does it have the zeal to scare the daylight out of horror veterans alike, or is it just as familiar as it is predictable?
Daylight puts you in the shoes of a young woman that wakes up in a hospital with a serious case of amnesia, unknowing of how or why she got there. You awaken to the voice of an ominous man – your trusty narrator – who flaunts you with mystifying poetics and instructs you to move onward, indicating that he knows more about you than you do. Surely, you’re given a cell phone that serves as your communicator and permanent source of light. More importantly, it plays the role of your map, which steers you in the direction of finding the many notes – or remnants – that dole out the exposition and drive the story forward.
Familiar? Immediately you’ll notice that Daylight is not a great deal different from other games that are currently lingering in the shadows of the cult genre. Much like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Outlast, the game relies on you to find notes that dish out the bread and butter of the story, but unlike its older peers, it solely relies on this method as a means for progressing with the campaign. You’ll collect a required number of remnants, usually six, which will then unbind the sigil that you’ll need to open a magically barred door that takes you to the next part of the chapter. From there you just rinse and repeat, and while there are puzzles, they lack intricacy and thought, only requiring you to move a box or to turn on the power to get X and Y door open.
In this respect, the game suffers from the dreaded note-collecting syndrome, and it dulls the experience in a way that makes the game too predictable. To alleviate this though, Zombie Studios worked hard to incorporate procedurally generated levels. This is a nice touch that adds replay value to the already short campaign, which clocks in at around two hours long, but it doesn’t feel random enough to make an effective impact. The hallways you cast around are all too recognizable in post-playthroughs with the only real difference being the placement of rooms and collectibles. Sure, your sense of direction becomes unpredictable, but then you realize that you have to collect another set of remnants, only in a newly fabricated labyrinth. It’s a double-edged sword in that it’s both fresh and frustrating.
Where Daylight truly shines brightest is in its atmospheric presentation, though in truth, I mean awfully dim here. Graphically, the game lacks horsepower and doesn’t take full advantage of the PS4’s hardware, let alone the Unreal Engine 4, displaying washed out textures that are just borderline next-gen. The visual polish does remain consistent throughout, from the rusted walls to the begrimed windows, but it’s the thin spread lighting that carries the mood more than anything else. The story equally distributes your journey through different locations, ranging from a prison to a fog engulfed forest, which at least keeps the scenery from getting too stale. The game’s performance is also a bit finicky, sporting occasional frame rate drops and unacceptably long loading times. The highlight is easily the sound landscape, which is filled with dread and tension, always leaving you with the feeling that you’re being watched and followed. Every whimper, moan, and footstep that echoes through the space is skillfully executed, albeit repeated and recognizable by the time you reach the final chapter of the game.
As for the game’s ghastly creeper, well, do expect that it will test your ability to survive the horror – at least initially. The game successfully generates its menacing phantasms, identified as Shadows, on a random basis. Its AI is highly unpredictable, revealing itself whenever it feels the need to scare the pants off of you. It’ll pop up in front of you, around the corner, or even behind you, and sometimes without warning. My only qualm is how easy it is to maneuver around it, and it’s a shame that the novelty quickly wears off because of this one fatal flaw. Even so, spend too much time staring at its balefully gaping mouth and pair of eyes and you’ll be dead in mere seconds.
On the survival spectrum of things, the game doesn’t take enough risks to make things hard for you. For the most part your inventory consists of glow sticks and flares. The purpose of the glow stick is to highlight where an item or remnant can be found, while flares are used to keep the big, bad ghosts away. I rarely found myself using flares, even to get myself out of a rock and a hard place with Shadows because of how easy it was to dash around them. The sheer darkness of the atmosphere also lost its mystery midway through the game, and this is because your cell phone never runs out of battery and is always providing you with a source of light. Admittedly, it got to a point in the campaign where I no longer felt threatened or challenged.
Zombie Studios did little right to make this a thrill ride worthy of a horror addict’s admission, and it certainly didn’t take enough risks to make it something memorable. The game doesn’t succeed in moving the genre forward with its cheap scare tactics, but it does showcase the amount of attention that is finally being applied to this rapidly growing breed of games. At moments it packs a real punch, and at moments it leaves you wishing that it packed more. Daylight tries hard to scare you with its soundscape and atmosphere, but unfortunately it treads an all too familiar haunting ground that leaves you sitting impassively in your seat rather than at the edge of it.