Daylight [Review]

Although weakened by some bad gameplay and design decisions, Zombie Studios' Daylight will still shock and delight horror fans.

My experience with Daylight was mixed. Did it scare me pretty bad? Oh yeah, it did. At the same time, it also managed to frustrate me through its cliche-ridden story and some odd design decisions. I really liked the scary aspects of what is, at its core, a very simple game, but found that little things through my playthrough took away from the sharp little fear engine that Zombie Studios created. If you don’t like jump scares you might want to keep on walking, but those of us who do are in for a nice little treat in this game. Your tolerance of a couple of nuisances in the game will directly relate to how much you can enjoy it, though.

The game’s simple, as I said. You are dropped into an abandoned asylum in the beginning, and are told that you need to collect Remnants in order to get through it. It’s note collecting all over again, just like in Slender: The Arrival, and your foe is just as persistent and willing to cheat to grab you. Unlike in those games, the area is a bit more structured, leading you through the halls of the asylum and outlying area while the cell phone you use as a light creates a little map. If the cell phone light isn’t enough, you can use glow sticks to really brighten your way, and if spooky things happen to creep up on you while you’re going through drawers, you can snap on a flare to keep them at bay. That’s it for the whole game, but given a complete run only takes two hours or so, I felt that was more than enough to keep it going.

We do need to stop right here and acknowledge Zombie Studios for something, though. Now, when a ghost showed up, I was often using a glow stick to look for something, and then would have to switch to a flare to get rid of it. Once the ghost was gone, I needed to switch back to glowsticks to continue my search. They limited my inventory to only holding four of each, and I thought they might be jerks and make me lose a flare/glowstick every time I selected one. They didn’t, giving each an invisible use meter, so you only actually use the item up after you’ve used it a certain amount. This means the same flare can get rid of multiple ghosts, and you can put your glowstick away for use later. Thank you for that little design decision. It saved my behind a couple of times.

Daylight [Review]

Anyway, the simple design of the game works, because there’s not much for you to be worry about besides finding stuff and not getting caught by the ghosts. You have a Remnant count in most areas, so you have to poke around the various rooms and hallways until you pick up enough items to spawn something you need to exit. Most of these items have a red glow to them and can be seen from great distances, which I liked, but others could only be found by using glowsticks. Certain objects glow with weird shapes when lit up by a glowstick, and can only be searched in that kind of light. It was a bit of a nuisance, but glowsticks are plentiful and I rarely didn’t already have one lit anyway. Still, the only in-game hint that you needed a glowstick lit to find stuff was the game telling me that glowsticks let me search deeper. I didn’t even know what that meant until I re-entered a room I’d been in before and couldn’t search anything, putting it together once I realized my glowstick had gone out.

Other things aren’t communicated that well, either. The game doesn’t exactly explain what the remnants are at first. They’re notes, yes, but not every note you pick up seems to count as a remnant. As such, I had no idea why the count went up some times and didn’t budge others. Not only that, but since the game is a free roam maze most of the time, you can find important rooms you can’t use yet. I stumbled across this room that was covered in symbols, but had no idea what to do in it. I didn’t know that you couldn’t do anything in this room before finding all the remnants, and the game never even hinted at something to tell me. I figured it out myself, but wasted a lot of time in doing so. It looked pretty important, so I thought I had to do something there as soon as I found it, so I think a small note in the hint window wouldn’t have hurt in this moment.

Once you do have all the remnants and head to that room, I still wasn’t sure what to do. The room was lit up, stuff was swirling around, and I just had no clue what was happening. This also stems from the problem that you have to be looking at the exact right spot on something to interact with it. I ended up just clicking around until I picked up something that was apparently a teddy bear floating among the odd debris, but this is an issue in other places, too. In some spots I had to look at a locker’s handle in order to open it, but in others I could just glance at a desk and my character would know to open the drawers on it. It just seems needlessly fussy about when you can and can’t pick some things up, and it does lead to some frustration and missed items. I walked by a lot of lockers and didn’t open them simply because the prompt didn’t show up when I looked at them, not knowing I had to look straight at the handle to open them.

Daylight [Review]

You really can’t afford to be missing much since some of these levels get pretty big, and backtracking can get annoying. Many rooms were recycled all over the complexes as I played, and I started losing track of which ones I’d searched thoroughly after a bit, too. The six items aren’t always hidden all that well, but when they are, you’re going to need to sweep through everything in some really big spots to find them. This was really bad in the prison, due both to the amount of hiding spots and the aggressiveness of the ghost for that area. It’s a lot of area to comb over, and if you miss one important spot, it’s going to take a long time to find it again.

This is where the procedural generation comes in to make things harder, too. Each time you enter an area, or each time you die, the items get shuffled around, and the layout of the area changes a little bit. It wasn’t anything huge on a first playthrough, and since you have to comb through the entirety of most areas it didn’t matter much. It just meant you couldn’t locate things based on memory on repeat runs, something that forces the player to always go through the same creepy feeling of slow exploration. It works to keep the player working as the devs intended, but didn’t add all the touted variety to the game it apparently should have. I was just looking for similar items in a slightly different asylum, that’s all. You can find more items on further playthroughs to give you a more complete understanding of the plot, although this could have been accomplished with a solid new game plus as well. It works, but doesn’t add a whole lot to the game.

Anyway, all of your exploration has to be done while the game does a good job building up tension, too. There are some nice ambient sounds in the background, and the music is played just above a quiet drone, constantly toying with your emotions. Objects in the environment will suddenly whip around or be sent flying, followed by nothing happening. The dark just outside of your glowstick’s light will feel like it’s creeping in around you, and running just seems out of the question. You can run as much as you like, but that small cone of light meant that I only ever wanted to run a step or two before stopping to make sure I was safe again.

Daylight [Review]

It’s also frightening because we’re dealing with ghosts, and ghosts don’t have to play fair. The ghost in Daylight was pretty scary in passing, which was the only way I saw it for most of my playthrough. I’d catch glimpses of it down a hall, turning and fleeing before I saw more. Other times, my phone would begin to flip out with weird symbols when I only saw some dark shape among the shadows of the room. I was gone a moment later, taking off running. There were even point where I’d just step out into a hallway, only to find a pair of glowing eyes and screaming face appear in front of me, practically tossing me away from my keyboard. The ghost can appear anywhere, at any range, and exposure to it for more than a few seconds will kill you, so its appearances almost always got me good. It’s been a while since I jumped this much at a game.

I said almost always, though, and that’s due to some nuisances. Now, the game has a meter that fills up as you collect Remnants that’s supposed to tell you how much danger you’re in from the ghost. This meter doesn’t mean much, to be honest, as I’ve been left alone when it’s full and dogged to death when it was only at a quarter. The ghost just sometimes isn’t around, or is around so much it’s impossible to get rid of her. I was searching through one prison block, and I swear she was appearing ever single moment. Using a flare would get rid of her, but within a second or two she would just spawn again. This got old really fast because I apparently wasn’t supposed to be that haunted yet, according to my meter, but also because it made searching the area impossible (I knew there was an important item there and had to find a mechanism to get to it). On the other side, I rarely ran into anything at the end of most chapters when my meter was full.

Seeing her a couple dozen times in that room really let me get to know her, though. Seeing her eyes and mouth filled with light was actually pretty scary, and made her stand out whenever I turned her way. There was never any question of whether I’d seen something or not. I also got to get some rapid fire experience of how quickly she could get the jump on me, as there were many times when I would turn and she would just be there. You don’t take damage until you look right at her, but the damage is related to your range from her so a face-full of ghost is never a good thing.

Daylight [Review]

Speaking of the light from her face, I really liked the lighting in the game as well. I scared myself with shadows quite a bit, and the various kinds of light cast all sorts of interesting ones. It’s a nice effect, adding a bit more scare value to the game and making me feel that having so many different lighting styles was worth it.

What wasn’t worth it at all was the voice acting and story. The story is the same tired old spooky asylum full of creepy people storyline that shows up in all horror games lately. The Remnants all reflect this all well, basically boiling down to the following three styles of note: 1 – Inmate does whacky thing. 2 – Whoa that inmate did a whacky thing we should all quit. 3 – Hey can someone do the laundry and also the guy who wanted to quit died terribly. You know the drill. Anyway, it does form a story, but it’s one you’ve heard a few dozen times before.

Luckily, most of the story isn’t read aloud by the voice actors. The main guy reads things in a purposefully creepy voice that never really works, and the actress for the main character is just unpleasant to listen to. There’s just very little life in her lines, and it isn’t helped by the fact that she yells a lot of them at random. Shouting “I can see you! Who’s there?” when there’s nothing around doesn’t make me more frightened – just more annoyed. It makes the character seem like an idiot, one whose voice I got sick of fast. Stop shouting at nothing, you moron.

I enjoyed the fear and tension that Daylight built up over its short play time. The ghost’s ability to appear anywhere rarely failed to make me jump, resulting in some pleasant dreams the night after I played it. Lighting and sound worked well together to keep me scared, too, combining well with the simple design to ensure I didn’t have much to focus on besides finding notes and trying not to be scared. Unfortunately, little gameplay flaws sucked some of the fun out of it, like the constant backtracking and poring over some aspects of the environment. Not only that, but figuring out what to do could be a chore at first, and the voice acting and story add little appeal to finishing the latter part of the game. A bad story is always worse than no story at all in a horror game. Even so, Daylight is still a decent, scary game to spend an evening with.

Daylight is available for $14.99 on Steam.

Joel Couture
Joel Couture
Joel Couture

MASH Veteran

A horror-obsessed gamer, Joel is still spending his days looking for something to scare himself as much as Fatal Frame. Even so, he has ridiculous action games and obscure gems to keep him happy in the meantime. A self-proclaimed aficionado of terrible retro games, he's always looking for a rotten game he hasn't played yet, and may be willing to exchange information for candy.

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