Like all the best horror movies, the developers behind Dead by Daylight fully grasp the fact that tension is the game’s most valuable commodity. Much like how it is when you get a bunch of mates around to watch a grisly flick, Dead by Daylight possesses a similarly uncanny ability to keep folk staring, slack-jawed at the screen whenever a game is in session. When you find yourself clutching the pad in your own hands though, it’s encouraging to discover that Dead by Daylight loses very little of its initial appeal, as its conceptually lean take on the well-worn cat and mouse dynamic proves to be as enjoyable to play as it is watch for the most part.
A View to Kill
An online only multiplayer experience, the premise of Dead by Daylight is both reassuringly simple and easy to grasp. Following the asynchronous multiplayer mould of titles such as Evolve, and more recently, Friday the 13th:The Game, Dead by Daylight has four players attempting to escape from a fifth who just happens to be an indestructible, psycho-killer hell bent on slinging them onto meat hooks so that a mysterious entity will absorb their souls. Where the Behaviour Interactive title changes the established cat and mouse formula up a tad, is in the numerous wrinkles it introduces to it.
As one of the four survivors, players are tasked with activating five generators that are scattered around Dead by Daylight’s procedurally generated maps, which when completed, causes exits at each end of the map to open up. The problem with trying to start up these generators is that they take an *age* to be fully activated and frequent, golf-swing bar style swing tests must be successfully completed lest the generator explode and the killer becomes immediately alerted to your location. Luckily however, toolboxes can be used to speed up the generator activation, while other survivors working on the same generator can also make things happen a lot quicker; though having everyone in one place probably isn’t such a great idea in retrospect.
Being a survivor, the action is seen from a third-person perspective which allows you a far wider view of your surrounding environment than the decidedly tunnel-vision focussed lens of the killer’s mandatory first-person perspective camera. As it turns out, this extra visual awareness proves essential to your survival because as you cannot harm the killer, evasion proves to be your only course action, allowing you to pull down boards to stymie the progress of your pursuer, leap over obstacles or hide in conveniently placed lockers to avoid detection. Elsewhere, torches recovered from treasure chests can be used to momentarily stun the killer, but anybody hoping for anything remotely resembling a club or gun-shaped object to stop the killer in their tracks will be somewhat disappointed.
As a survivor, it turns out that it’s not just about kick-starting generators and running away from a murderous fiend either. With team working obviously set at a high premium, survivors must lookout for each other; using medical kits to heal their fellows, freeing them from hooks and pointing out the current location of the killer. Of course, all of this requires a decent amount of communication and, quite simply, if you find yourself in a group of mutes, your chances of survival will fall somewhere between ‘slim’ and ‘zero’.
Cast as the killer, everything, from the UI to the game mechanics themselves are geared towards predatory behaviour. With the action unfolding from a first-person perspective, the field of vision that the killer has is greatly reduced, but this fact is made up for by a number of visual cues that can be used to track down the survivors. When chasing a survivor down for example, scratch marks and tracks will appear on the environment, showing you the route that someone has taken to try and escape, while the killer is also aware, at all times, of the locations of the generators on any given map. Additionally,, while other elements of the environment, such as a disturbed murder of crows, can be used to track down those pesky survivors, sometimes it pays just to stand still and listen; the rustle of nearby leaves or a split-second glimpse of movement in the distance giving away the positions of your frightened quarry.
Something that Dead by Daylight gets especially right is how satisfying it is to lay into the survivors as the killer. Whether it’s the bone-breaking smash that your weapon makes as jagged steel collides with kneecaps, or the sickening squelch as you kebab a hapless survivor onto one of the game’s many flesh-hooks, it’s clear that the developer clearly understands how the audio side of Dead by Daylight’s presentation really cements the horror that it visually depicts. Practically speaking, your strikes can absolutely debilitate your prey too, with a single hit injuring them while a second will cripple your target, allowing you to scoop them over your nefarious shoulders and take them to the nearest hook.
Make no mistake however; the balancing between the killer and the survivors is deliberately off-kelter in favour of the former. With the vast number of visual aids, indestructibility and devastating attacks, not to mention the relative lack of methods that the survivors have to fight back with, the survivors are most certainly the underdogs in any given situation. Given the grisly silver screen classics that Dead by Daylight leans so heavily on though, this sort of design discrimination both makes sense and makes escaping a game session as a survivor in one piece a challenging, yet satisfying affair indeed.
Adding to the satisfaction that Dead by Daylight provides is just how swiftly everything happens, with matches that rarely hit the fifteen minute mark (especially if you’re a survivor), the game proves to be one that it is easily picked up and played for a quick session whenever you’ve got a handful of moments to spare. Providing yet further incentive to play is the progression system that underpins Dead by Daylight’s macabre slayings and frenetic escapes. With experience points awarded for performing role affirming actions as both the killer and the survivors, these can then in turn be put into the ‘Bloodweb’; essentially Dead by Daylight’s version of unlockable skill tree.
Where it becomes a little more sophisticated is when you realise that not only do each of the killers have their own special abilities (the ghoulish Nurse can ‘blink’ long distances, while the hunter can lay down crippling bear traps, for example), but they also have their own Bloodwebs too, allowing players to unlock all manner of perks, buffs and items for use in their next encounter.
Not a perfect killer
Where this unlocking system falls on its face a bit, is that as a survivor, all equipment is removed from your inventory as soon as you perish; something that feels really quite unfair, especially given just how easy it is to end up six feet under in Dead by Daylight. When it comes to technical aesthetics, it’s reasonable to posit that Dead by Daylight is not the most attractive game that money can buy by any stretch. Certainly with its unrestrained use of the colour brown, choppy animations and generally uninspiring environments, Dead by Daylight falls short of the visual standard that folks should be expecting from their PS4 console.
Dead by Daylight feels lean; its hunter/prey dynamic proving pleasingly easy to grasp and challenging to master. The flipside of this however, is that the game is perhaps a little too lean; without any kind of single-player mode, a poorly thought out tutorial and really what amounts to a single game mode, there’s every possibility that you’ll tire of the game’s repetitive, though engaging, cat and mouse mechanics if you play Dead by Daylight for any extended period of time.
A budget-priced effort (Special Edition copies of the game retail for between $20 and $30 in some places), it’s fair to say that Dead by Daylight is punching above its weight when it comes to the classic bucks to fun ratio. Technical roughness aside, Dead by Daylight’s main weakness is simply that after extended play, there just isn’t enough variety to keep things interesting beyond the different killers and survivors you have to choose from.
That said, and keeping in mind how the game continues to evolve on PC, it’s clear that future Dead by Daylight updates could make it mature into a more bountiful offering. As it is however, Dead by Daylight feels akin to that classic horror flick where you’re familiar with the scares, but you still just can’t quite get enough of it on repeated viewings.