Sarah wakes up in an abandoned hospital, with no idea or memory of how she ended up here. A disembodied voice acts as both a guide and a foil, telling her to find the secrets of the hospital and reveal it’s criminal past. Utilising her cell phone as a map, Sarah needs to find a way to escape.
So that’s the plot of Daylight summed up. It takes every typical horror trope and cliché found in most B-grade horror films and mashes them into one boring and unappealing blob. The twists are completely expected and I found myself scoffing at the painfully uninspired letters and notes that are left around the area, trying to instil a sense of menace and terror yet failing miserably since half the notes look like they were written in a Word document. Daylight’s story is weak and it’s a shame that the narrative is so painfully dull, no effort is given to creating Sarah as an actual character; we have no attachment, no motive to find out what happened because the very mystery of herself is so utterly detached and boring that there simply is no interest in the story. It’s a story that starts off with potential but botches the execution and ends terribly.
As the first playable Unreal Engine 4 run game, Daylight looks pretty good. Smooth edges, frame rate is solid and there are a few options you can tinker with to really utilise some interesting effects. The lighting is the most important part of Daylight (pun intended?) and it does show here; cracking a glow stick or lighting a flare to ward off ghosts looks not only great but strangely scary, given the violent nature of the flare bouncing shadows and flames off the walls, and the flickering lights do create a genuine sense of atmosphere. The locales, while unoriginal, do look good and it’s neat to be able to actually go right up to background objects like newspapers and articles and actually read the fine print instead of it being a blurry mess. UE4 at work for you.
Aside from the engine itself, there’s not much here. Interaction with most objects is minimal, and the design of the ghosts are quite bland and uninspired. Worst of all, because of the emphasis on randomness, assets are recycled over and over again. There’s nothing worse than moving from one room to the other and realising they look identical. Thank the developers for at least putting a map on the cell phone, which marks places you’ve been, places where you’ve picked up notes and where the exit is.
Daylight, like most successful horror games, emphasises flight over fight. The very fact that you can fight and vanquish horrors is easily the biggest criticism of mainstream horror games. (Dead Space and Resident Evil have fallen under accusations of aiming towards action rather than horror in later instalments.) Daylight’s solution is to remove combat altogether. Instead, primary gameplay is made up of finding remnants (just random notes most of the time), then collecting a sigil once the required amount of remnants are found, and then moving on to the next area. The higher the difficulty the more remnants you have to collect, so it’s basically padding out the shockingly short length (playing on the default difficulty had me finished at about two and a bit hours). The gameplay is repetitive, pointless and not engaging. The very nature of picking up notes and avoiding the enemy is something ripped straight out of Slender, and it’s a shame that we still have not seen much progress in the indie horror department outside of that maddeningly simplistic concept. It fails here, as Daylight can not engage on an emotional or an interactive level.
And yes, collect enough remnants and the ghosts will start to pop up and scare you, but I say that in a very half-hearted manner. Daylight relies on the cheapest, most pathetic form of horror: the jump scare. Turning around a seeing a ghost pop up scared me the first time, but pretty soon I was barely starting at the same damn scares being recycled over and over. Whether it was in a hospital, a prison or the woods, the same scares were being used with the same ghost. Proper horror games showed that the less you saw the scarier it would be, but here it’s shoved in your face and the same ghost was used over and over again, so once you saw it once it stopped being scary; worst of all, the design and look of the ghost isn’t even scary. Daylight makes a big deal about the whole ‘procedurally generated’ experience, stating that no two play throughs will be the same, and yes, levels change on the most base form; rooms are differently structured, remnants, sigils and exits are different but overall it’s the same place, the same rooms, the same boring gameplay, the same jump scares.
Most perplexingly, odd hints and tips would keep popping up on the bottom left screen, reminding me of the same damn things over and over since there are really only two things to do: light a glow stick and light a flare. Worst of all: the hint to light a flare would coincide with an immediate appearance of a ghost, so the hint was ruining the scares. I felt no fear from this game, just an impatience to reach the end and the occasional start from a cheaply implemented jump scare. I will say that collecting remnants was oddly satisfying, if simplistic. But it’s not engaging, nor fun, it’s just the simplest form of gameplay imaginable.
As a final note, I did not play the Twitch-enabled gameplay (which opens up some interesting scenarios where the viewers can control some of the scares) so I cannot judge it here. It could very well be Daylight’s saving grace.