The ever-shifting horror world of Daylight [Preview]
A well-lit show floor filled with thousands of people may not be the best place to try to immerse yourself in a horror game, but Zombie Studios still did a good job with their new title, Daylight. The game promises to be a procedurally generated horror experience; a huge idea if they can pull it off. Familiarity ruins a horror experience, so a second play through or even just another run through an area you died in won’t be scary in the slightest. You’ve already seen it all before, so there’s nothing to surprise or shock you. Daylight is striving to change your experience every time.
I didn’t see much of the procedurally generated levels during the demo, unfortunately. There were a few items like pictures and documents that would shift to different places in the two runs I had at the demo, but that was it. I was a little disappointed at this fact, but they had set up a demo level for people to play one time and not a full run of the game. There were limits to what they could show of what they had, so it’s a drag that they couldn’t show off one of the game’s defining features. I really would have liked to see some more significant changes to the demo every time it was played, but I really doubt it was possible.
Even so, I can see the simple shift in items being something that’s interesting. I found a handful of scribbled notes and some pictures that didn’t make any sense to me on one run, and then almost nothing on another. Those little bits of information could easily provide a narrative structure for what’s going on, and I can see that narrative changing based on what you find. It’s the sort of game that might not tell you the full story until you’ve played it a couple of times, so I think that could be pretty interesting. Also, the story could shift depending on what items you see during the game; another way the game could hook its players. I don’t know how it’s going to work right now, but I definitely want to know more.
What I can tell you about the game is that it’s pretty expansive. This wasn’t some small area that was specifically built for me to run on rails but rather a huge complex. I had a lot of options on where I could go right from the start, and the game didn’t offer me any form of direction. I was just given a compass to help me find my way if I got lost, and that was it. If you wanted to find your way around you’d better be prepared to make a map or remember how many turns you’ve taken over the last few minutes. A lot of horror games put in maps to help the player, and it was nice to be left without this crutch to fall back on. It might make finding your way a little harder, but there’s that added fun of getting lost to make things scarier.
The location was dark and grim, and I really didn’t feel like I wanted to go walking down the halls. Many of the corridors went on for long distances, and there’s just something about a long, dark hallway where I can’t see the end that gives me the shivers (Honestly, the most frightening place in Kuon was an empty hallway at the start of the game). There’s something about these long corridors that just makes me feel like I’m going to run into something halfway down them. The garbage and broken items all through the hallways and rooms helped drill a feeling of abandonment into the place as well, but they didn’t make me feel as frightened as the discarded glow sticks. They were put in as a light source that you could pick up to help the player, but they honestly creeped me out. They were modern items in an old location, ones that told me someone had recently been killed in the building. Why else would a modern light source be lying around without its owner?
Those glow sticks had a neat secondary effect on some of the walls in the game. When I walked past one spot I saw this huge symbol on the wall, one that was made up of green lines going in all directions. I found a couple of these before my glow stick ran out, and on each one there was a squiggling red line at some point. The reps on the floor kept quiet when I asked them what they might mean, not even offering me a small hint as to what they were for. I’m interested to see what they mean.
One shame that I was really upset about was that the headphones I had on seemed to have something wrong with them and I couldn’t hear the sounds in the game. Sound is so incredibly important in a horror game that it isn’t funny, but I can’t say much of anything about them. Then again, I was stuck out there with all of those people under the bright lights of the show floor, and I think a lot of the game’s scarier effects would have been lost.
That’s probably why I only jumped a little bit when the ghost finally grabbed me. I tried not to go into the game knowing all that much so I could be even more surprised by whatever the enemies turned out to be, and it worked to an extent. I was startled when the ghost grabbed onto me, as it had come right out of nowhere when it attacked (maybe audio would have helped with that). When it did grab me I had to hit two buttons in quick succession to get away, but I didn’t even get my fingers back onto the keys before I was dead and the demo ended.
I got a good look at the ghost when it grabbed me, and it looked all right. Its body and face were outlined in this bright green, but the color almost made the creature look silly. The face seemed a little doughy from what I could tell, and it gave the ghost this unfortunately cartoonish look to him. He was making a scary face at me, but the whole thing seemed a little ridiculous compared to the ghosts in Fatal Frame. The washed out, somewhat blurred faces of Fatal Frame made me feel a lot more unsettled; giving me this sense that they were human, but off somehow. They just looked wrong in ways, like the unnatural bend in the hanged woman’s neck, and I just wasn’t getting that kind of feeling from the ghost in Daylight.
Part of that may have been the environment around me when I played it, but I still felt that if I was going to get that close of a look at the ghost then it needs some work to make it more unsettling. That colored outline might make it stand out during an attack, but it is vagueness and mystery that make for a good monster. Zombie Studios seems to have all of the other aspects of the game coming along nicely, so I hope the ghost designs go through some alterations to make them a little less visible and a little more unsettling.
The demo only gave me a hint of what they’re working on, but if they can stick to their claims then I think Daylight has a chance to be a really exciting horror game. With its changing items and locales, dreaded familiarity might be removed altogether and then we’ll have a horror game that stays scary on every playthrough. The ghost needs some work, but if they’re working hard on keeping the experience different for every run I think the constant surprises might make me change my mind about how scary they seem to be.